Maruseppu Art Residency, Hokkaido, Japan


I was in Japan this summer for a residency. I spent time first in Tokyo then the following month in the northernmost prefecture Hokkaido, in a 1920s traditional Japanese house. The house large and each room in varying stages of regeneration. The residency is a fairly new initiative that has plans to bring contemporary art to the small rural Japanese town where the average age in the late 60s. Rural towns in Japan have a huge aging population in the small towns - as all young people move to the city -  Maruseppu, where I stayed felt almost completely derelict in certain areas and very separate from the City. As it turns out, being so north, we were closer to Russia than we were to Tokyo, but there was a cross-pollination of deep-rooted tradition, spirituality, aesthetic identity, and accelerated technical advancements that seemed distinctly and unmistakable Japanese. 


Around this time I was researching Russian formalist paintings and particularly Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square. An 80 x 80 cm black square where the black oil paint is now completely cracking up due to it being poorly handled and maintained. Recently, an x-ray revealed that the black was in fact painted on the top of two monochromatic paintings rather than directly on to white linen. With this knowledge, we can reverse the natural order of the painting and almost see an underside or imagine a negative. A view from within or underneath. The residency was spent thinking about Tokyo’s relationship with the rural town; feeling its pressure underfoot.  The work became a way of showing a view from two sides. Rearranging the interior of the old Japanese house. Staging the city’s architectural accents or introducing visual signifiers of energy or mass. And just like Malevich’s canvas splitting from underneath we can imagine the city bursting through the seams and spilling through.