Thursday, January 9, 2014

Kakuta Mitsuyo's book and discovering Ueda Shoji

I read a book ( 恋をしよう。夢をみよう。旅にでよう。) by Mitsuyo Kakuta recently borrowed from the library and quite enjoyed it. It's a collection of essays about falling in love, dreaming and traveling. They are written in a light, easy and comical style; sorta like blog entries, and I especially liked the very last entry called "Has your heart been shaken up lately?" 

In that entry, Kakuta talks about her time in Vienna where she went with an editing staff to gather materials for her upcoming writing. She had free time on her last day there, so she decided to scout around the neighborhood, with no particular agenda in mind (she notes that's what she likes to do in Tokyo too; walking from Shinjuku to Okubo just to see how these two cities are really neighboring with each other, for example.) And while she was walking about the city of Vienna, she ran into an "eccentric" building, which caught her attention for some reason. She looked up the area in the guidebook and learned that it sure was built by some famous artist called Hundertwasser. Without really knowing who this Hunderwasser guy was, she decided to visit his museum, which she found in the same guidebook.

There, in his museum, she says his painting directly came deep inside, and her heart was "pinpointed and snatched." This experience was new to her, because when facing the paintings that she's acquainted with, it's usually hard for her to look at the paintings without being influenced by preconceptions, and especially in front of some well-known paintings, she feels like she must feel something. So, she felt that it was a precious experience to encounter something/someone without having any preconceptions.

This reminded me of an recent event of my own. A few days before Christmas, a grad school friend visited me in Tokyo. She is a PhD student at Purdue and was home for the winter break. She and I both spent the summer of 2012 working in a language school in Oakland, and that's when we became close. I asked her what she'd like to do in Tokyo; I wanted her to decide, because she's on a vacation! She said she liked going to museums, and we decided to go to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Ebisu. I agreed without hesitation because Natsumi Hayashi (known for Today's levitation series) exhibited her work there. I'd only seen her photos online but always thought her photos were amusing and looked forward to seeing her work. We got there and looked at her photos (such as this one below), and I felt like I was required to feel something; in all honesty however, I didn't feel anything, which came as a surprise to me.

A bit disappointed but pulling ourselves together, we went to another exhibition called "Play with Photography" by Ueda Shoji & Jacques Henri Lartigue. 

I hadn't even heard of either Ueda or Lartigue till then, but I was quite intrigued and quickly fascinated by the world of Ueda—I'm nobody to talk about photography, but to me, he has a very unique outlook on the world, and his photos are quiet but lively, artificial but natural at the same time—and my heart was shaken up, pinpointed and snatched all at once. 

Kakuta concludes her essay by saying that the same can be said about meeting someone by chance. Without having bias or caring about advantages or disadvantages, she would want to meet people in a stark-naked state of mind and get her heart shaken up unexpectedly big. I agree, and as a firm believer of serendipity, I think the key is 1) having the wisdom of not knowing everything*, 2) and appreciating unexpected and fortunate discoveries, 3) and then finally making a big deal out of them:) Encountering photography like these, and a photographer like Ueda, was a true serendipity, and whether things or people, I'm looking forward to more of these unintended encounters this year. 

*I came home and found out that Ueda Shoji is a quite famous photographer, and I even owned his postcard!! No matter how renowned he may be though, not knowing him (or noticing him) helped me face his photos without being interrupted by any preconceived ideas.  

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