A Trip to London Part 3

The V&A

The Japanese Exhibits

One of the things I have become very fascinated with in recent years is Japanese culture, both traditional and contemporary. I love their attention to detail, the discipline and obvious love and care for the work that shows in every piece.

It is a shame that a lot of traditional Japanese crafts are dying out such as book binding and knot tying so I really appreciate seeing authentic Japanese items like this.

The textile piece here is a futon cover from 1850-1900. The futon cover is often a decorated item and would have been treasured and kept carefully. The pattern is a very bold one and I like how it is subtly shaded using only one colour, it makes this design have a little more depth to it. I also like how dynamic it is and I’ve always loved the water motifs in various Japanese prints and designs including the iconic ‘The Great Wave’ by Katsushika Hokusai.
Netsuke are ornately carved wooden boxes that took place of pockets in traditional Japanese clothing which did not have pockets. These boxes took on many different forms as seen in the photo and would have been used by men who wore kimonos and kosode to store seals (which are the equivalent of signatures and therefore carry enormous weight), money, tobacco and medicines.
Summer Kimono for a woman. Kimonos are extremely valuable items of clothing and a lot of Kimono these days are rented rather than bought and most people tend to wear the cheaper alternative the Obe which is made from high quality cotton whereas Kimonos are made from silk. The left flap of the Kimono must always be worn over the right for two reasons. One is quite simply because a lot of Kimono are designed in such a way where the design only shows properly if it is worn correctly. The second reason is that it is considered disrespectful to wear the right flap over the left because the dead are traditionally dressed right flap over left. I found the designs on these Kimonos beautiful and ornate and the obvious love of the craft the maker has shows through in the finished item.
Nō theatre masks. Nō theatre is a traditional style of dance and drama from the 14th century. The actors would usually have all been male and the focus was on the ornate costumery and acting rather than the backdrops. Nō theatre can be very difficult to make out what is going on and represents a Buddhist way of life. In 1603 Kabuki theatre was began and had a strong contrast to the Nō theatre. Kabuki were short, comic plays about everyday life and the roles were only played by women until this practice was eventually banned. The actors in Kabuki theatre tended to wear heavy white make up and black wigs (unless portraying a supernatural character in which case the wig would be white) whereas the actors in Nō theatre wore masks instead of make up.  The Nō masks that I saw in the V&A are incredibly expressive and I think they would have done a good job in helping to carry forward a narrative and differentiate between different characters.
Japanese swords are undoubtedly an incredible feat of craftsmanship that require enormous skill to not only wield effectively but also make. They are regarded by some as the best made swords in the world, they are highly sought after items and can fetch up a lot of money in auction although there is now legislation in the UK that bans their sale. There’s also rules in Japan stating that only swords made before WW11 can be certified (given Juhô-tôken-rui-tôrokushô) as authentic Japanese swords. The detail on the swords is amazing and these objects really would have been treated with immense care and respect.

The Landscape Within

The other thing that caught my eye in the V&A was the bizarre looking machine shown in the photograph below. I was very intrigued by it so I picked up a postcard from the exhibit and the explanation of what this thing is was something that made me more curious, amazed and also slightly disturbed by it.

Essentially this machine is a gut. The reason it concerns or worries me so is because the premise is that we are contaminating our landscapes with all sorts of awful things and using that same landscape to grow the food that we eat. It has been shown that rice contains arsenic and fish contains mercury so the idea here is to create a synthetic organ that adds a new stage to our digestion to to combat the harmful chemicals that we might be (or most likely are) ingesting.

It doesn’t end there however, because with future upgrades the gut will also be able to aid in triggering memories and combatting dementia as well as helping the development of IQ, countering aggressive behaviour and promote social interaction. I am a little wary of some of these ideas because I’m not sure yet how things like ‘countering aggressive behaviour’ would be implemented and what exactly that means. Whilst I’m not for the idea of people needlessly getting violent and nasty with each other, I have wondered if we’ve turned into a society that shuns emotions like anger which I don’t think is very helpful nor healthy. I think to attempt to self moderate feeling and emotion is going to put us down a path that makes me uncomfortable because there’s something very cybernetic and inhuman about trying to do that. I also think that solutions like this gut are perhaps going to have to be inevitable in the future but I’m not convinced they’re the kind solution we should be arriving at. By this I mean rather than making things to adapt humans to the changes that we’re making, in this case the changes we’re making to our environment and the things we’re putting into it (e.g. the arsenic in the rice) perhaps we should be doing more to reverse these changes. I don’t think that people feel responsible enough for the planet and I think that ideas like this prove it. To me, although a great feat of science and engineering granted, I still think this is taking the line of least resistance because the real solution is to change the way we exist i.e. we need to stop consuming as much as we do because we don’t need to consume the amounts of things that we do.

From an aesthetic standpoint I love this piece, it reminds of Alien and all the things that H. R. Giger designed. It’s very gruesome and yet because it is a very sterile and clean white it doesn’t immediately give off that vibe.

A picture of the machine designed by Michael Burton and Michio Nitta.
A picture of the card I picked up from the V&A detailing on the back the concept behind the machine. 

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