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Food Forms (Yokohama)
Bunrui Bento Box
The "bento box" is one of the most common and iconic food forms in Japan. Different compartments set off spaces for different food items, and in doing so, also provide an visual frame for their aesthetic design. Bentos are like miniature sculpture gardens, functioning as both an aesthetic interface but also a portal by which people interact materially with nature through food they consume - rice wild-caught tuna, mushrooms, and the like. Although traditionally made of lacquer, now these boxes are mass produced in disposable plastic. The "Bunrui Bento Box" ("classifying/sorting" bento) that Christa Donner and I created is composed of of plants, insects, and artifacts found in Yokohama, creating a compact, handy, and portable sort of terrarium. The Bunrui Bento's main dish area shows a video documenting a related project called Back & Forth (described below).
Back & Forth
The Ooka River runs through Yokohama at different heights depending on the tide and different colors depending on water quality, cloud cover, and the vagaries of visual perception. It is full of trash: bent bicycles, umbrellas, and home appliances litter its muddy bottom like junk left by the astronauts on the surface of a moon, very quiet and totally abandoned. Among all that, the diversity of life among its brackish waters is remarkable: fish very big and very small, crabs, turtles, ducks, oysters, an abundance of jellyfish, as well a number of Japanese red rays. If it weren't a dirty river flowing through the second largest city in Japan it would be an aquarium.
A: Considering the river and its abundance drew my attention to the resonances and dissonances with the forms of food we use and often anonymous connection to the nature from which it ultimately derives.
B: Konnyaku is an interesting food to consider materially and metaphorically. It is a refined form of starch from the konjac plant originating in SE Asia and is used in Japan for creating sometimes white, brown, or gray blocks of jelly. Its homogeneous character, pliable texture, and lack of distinct flavor is a very traditional example of food technology in which the natural is contrived into a standardized and edible form that at the same time welcomes modification.
C: With two blocks of konnyaku and carved out the basic shapes of jellyfish and rays, creatures that I found most surprising and mysterious in the Ooka River. Liberating the animal shapes from the vegetable starch felt wet and alive in my hand. I took them to the river and released them to swim, in some manner nature returning to itself. Maybe it resonates with the annual Buddhist O-bon tradition of people making animals carved out of vegetables (such as the "nasu-uma" eggplant horses) to greet the returning souls of family members, although maybe not really at all. Animal, vegetable, and mineral; animate & inanimate - they are matters of continuum and not category. CLICK THE VIDEO to the right to see the process.
Doubutsu wa Dou?
What About Animals?
This Japanese language zine about the animals of the Ooka River was handed out on the shooping streets of Yokohama and the Tokyo Sea Life Park to remind people about the teeming diversity of auquatic life in their local, urban river.