Monday, March 31, 2008

Japanese Giant Salamander

The conditions were very bad for taking pictures, but you get a sense of the size from the head in the foreground.

the eyes are specks

I think I first became aware of the Japanese Giant Salamander through the 1983 Guinness Book of World Records. It was, and is, the world's largest amphibian by a huge margin, they max out at just under 5 feet in length. On Saturday, M (he is Japanese but lived in Buffalo for 8 years) and I went to Ueno park in Tokyo to see the cherry blossoms. He informed me that the Ueno Zoo had Giant Salamanders on display, and we both decided it was worth going, despite the fact that it was probably the zoo's busiest day of the year. I was not disappointed. It is one thing to read about a 4' plus salamander, it is quite another to actually see it. It is not so much the length that is shocking but the overall volume and features; the huge mute head, the flaccidly phallic body, the specks for eyes, the wide gummy mouth. You get the feeling that you are looking into the very distant past when large amphibians rule the earth. The idea of stepping on one of these in a mountain stream is horrifying.

This picture comes from here.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

An Interesting Weekend

I had an interesting weekend that included cherry blossoms, a parasite museum and a Giant Japanese Salamander. More later, pictures here.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Turn of the Century Japanese Toy Design

There is an interesting set of images of turn of the century Japanese toy design at BibliOdyssey. They link to a large archive of images here. For the greatest Japanese children's television program about a rageful red octopus go here.

Portrait of a School

cataloguing different kinds of tape (grade 4)

clock (grade 4)

Emergency exit button (grade 5)


kindergartner's photo of blue

Today is the end of my first week of working with the students of the YMCA Tokyo International School. So far the project is going pretty much as planned, although Mr. Ed (the art teacher) and myself are constantly making adjustments. The basic concept presented to the students was that we are going to try to create a portrait of their school by looking at all of the little mundane things that make up the physical contents of the building. Each child is to document, through drawing or painting, four instances of a specific physical object found in the school, (it's a long list, it includes things like; umbrellas, tape dispensers, pencils, buttons, plants, faucets, chairs, etc.). The assignments were decided upon by group discussion with each class. The project will culminate with each student gluing their four best drawings or paintings, of their assigned subject on a 25x25cm board. All of the boards will be hung together somewhere in the school. I think the results will be pretty interesting. The very small children, kindergarten and 1st grade, are too young to handle the drawing so we gave them cameras and had them shoot a specific shape or color. The results can be very abstract.

Looking Around the School

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Some Recent Purchases

A panda in a bowl of soup

Cross section of a cow

A gendered block of tofu

Ball of string samurai

I am not an aficionado or collector of Japanese toys, but I do like them a lot. I have been buying the small charms that people attach to their cell phones. The best stuff comes in capsules from small vending machines, the price ranges from $1 to $3 dollars and you never get the one you are hoping for. I plan on bringing a sack of these home.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Turning 35 in Tokyo

Today is my 35th birthday (it is already the 24th here but this post is going up on the 23rd EST). I am a bit alarmed to be at the mid-point of my 30s, but that's the way it goes. I'm in Tokyo to do an art project with the students of an international elementary school. The classes are taught in English and the student body is composed of Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Indian children (ages range from 4 to 12). Today was my introduction to the students, I gave them a short, simplified Power Point presentation of my work and outlined the project I have in mind for them. I was not sure if they would have a frame of reference for the Stray Shopping Cart pictures but they howled with laughter at the first one and then continued to do so for each following image. Clearly they were enjoying making noise more than they were truly amused, but I was a better than expected reaction. During the question and answer period a tiny little Kindergartner in the front row had his hand raised and seemed desperate to ask me a question. His question turned out to be "Who is your friend?" The kids sang Happy Birthday, which was nice. It was also funny when the song got to my name which they had all forgotten.

The images above are from yesterday. Matt and I went to the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku. We did a lot of walking and ended up in Akihabara, the center of Otaku culture. We spent a couple hours going though stores that sell a mind bending variety of anime related toys and models. I will have more to say about that later.

I am adding daily to my Tokyo Flickr set HERE.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tokyo / First Day

I'm a little jet lagged.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Flight to Japan

I arrived in Japan yesterday afternoon (4 in the morning my time). The flight from DC to Tokyo was long but the view out the window was phenomenal. We flew over Hudson Bay, across Canada, over the north coast of Alaska, and over Western Siberia. It was ice all the way. More later.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Buffalo-Japan Connection

I just started reading Ian Buruma's Inventing Modern Japan: From Empire to Economic Miracle 1853-1964 (2003), and I noticed a couple of Buffalo connections to a key event in Japanese history (we who live in the 2nd and 3rd tier cities are always looking for ways to connect our communities to grand historical narratives). The big connection is that Buffalonian Millard Fillmore was the president who sent Commodore Matthew Perry to open up Japan to trade in 1853. (Fillmore is a current Buffalonian, he is buried here). Also, Commodore Perry was the younger brother of Oliver Hazard Perry, "The Hero of Lake Erie" from the war of 1812. There is a statue of Perry in the park at the end of my street (see below).

That's Charles Demuth's My Egypt (1927) standing in for Buffalo in the above image pairing. I don't think he ever did any work in Buffalo but he might as well have, his depictions of grain elevators and water towers, feel familiar. The Hiroshige on the right is from the One Hundred Views of Edo (1857) series.

From the Projects Library #7

I bought this at the Buffalo Museum of Science discarded book sale. It was published in Basel, Switzerland in 1924. I love the design of the cover, it makes ancient Swiss mountain folk seem weird and scary.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Illustrator Siggi Eggertsson

I can't remember how I found Icelandic illustrator Siggi Eggertsson's website, but I'm glad I did, he has some really great work. The image above is from a self published book of over 60 geometrical portraits of people, unfortunately he is out of stock at the moment.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Jennifer Steinkamp at the Albright-Knox

Last night we went to the opening of Jennifer Steinkamp's show at the Albright-Knox. None of the above images are actually from the exhibit, but they are the same or similar pieces. Before last night I was only familiar with her tree projections. The installation of the show is incredible, the Albright has a number of large high ceiling rooms (25 ft high I'm guessing), which are fully taken advantage of by the artist. In some rooms the projections go from the floor to ceiling and somehow project around the doors and windows. The visitors become part of the work as their shadows are cast on to the walls when they walk past the numerous projectors. This is most effective in the piece entitled Jimmy Carter, (see a smaller version above) which consists of four walls of undulating flowers. I am not sure how one is supposed to take the title of the piece, is it a joke about the ineffectiveness of his presidency or a sincere tribute to the man? It is hard to know which is worse. While I found the exhibit an inspiring demonstration of the potential of projections, I didn't really like the visual content of the pieces. Most of the forms have a 3-D metallic quality that I associate with the self consciously "digital" graphics and art of the late 90s (to be fair some of the pieces are from 1998). After going through the Steinkamp show we sat down in front of a Jeremy Blake dvd piece (it looked a bit like the wavy colors he used for the covers of Beck's Sea Change album) and I found myself wishing that I could see that piece filling an entire room.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Test Prints, Mulling

I just had some test prints done for the "vial" element of my To Know the Spiders project. I've pinned them up on the living room wall so that I can lie on the couch and stare at them. I will lie there and wonder if they should be bigger or smaller, how they should be framed, how they should be installed in relation to the other elements of the project, how I might rearrange the vials within the pieces, and on and on. Hopefully I won't be standing at the opening in three months wishing that I had done things differently.