Last Wednesday after work, I finally got the chance to go to the silkscreen printing class held by the Sendai Silkscreen Association every week at the Aoba Culture Center.
It is not the easiest thing to find an artistic community after moving to a new place (which also happens to be a different country), and so after first moving to Japan, I struggled a little with this. In the US, I had my dear friends Ashley and Sasha, who provided me with the artistic comradeship I needed. In Sendai, I had no one. I came home, I wanted to be a drawing machine, I failed. For a while. I thought at first that maybe I should try joining a university art club (like the one at Tohoku University), but that never really happened, and despite going to Design Festa both as a visitor and as an exhibitor, I have gone the majority of this year without really bonding with any fellow artistic souls.
At a certain point earlier in the year, after I had come back from Chicago and after Sendai had turned green, I had a small awakening – I decided to start going to the Mediatheque every week. The Mediatheque is probably the only obviously “modern” piece of architecture in Sendai, and it serves as a 7-floor facility for activities related to art, film, and other media. There is a museum shop and café on the 1st floor, as well as the Open Square, which can be used for performances, presentations, lectures, showroom set-ups, etc.; the 2nd and 3rd floors house a library, which I have not really explored yet; the 5th and 6th floors are used as gallery space; the 7th floor has a small theater. Usually the exhibitions are rotated on a weekly basis around Wednesday/Thursday, and it tends to be the case that smaller ones are on the 5th floor and the larger ones on the 6th. The exhibitions are usually organized by local associations and groups, who pay to reserve the gallery space for the week. A nice bonus for the interested visitors is that some of these groups and more experienced artists offer classes – sometimes the information is written on the pamphlets/programs they hand out; sometimes you need to ask.
After I started making my weekly 10-minute pilgrimage to the Mediatheque every Monday or Tuesday after work and dedicating an hour (sometimes less, sometimes more) to circling the 5th and 6th floors, I thought: “Why have I not been doing this all along, for the past nine months?” I knew the sad, somewhat disappointing answer. Although I had been to the Mediatheque a couple times in the months right after I had gotten here, I had forgotten about its existence by temporarily shifting my priorities – it happens. Either way, I felt like I had opened up a completely new world for myself.
Sometimes the exhibits are honestly intriguing; other times there is almost nothing which really catches my eye. I have already experienced a fair number of traditional landscape paintings in my visits to the Mediatheque. Sometimes it makes me half-fondly recall the staleness of the DuPage Art League in Wheaton (my Chicago suburb), with its myriad of painted flowers and horses (which tended to show up unrelated to the actual theme for the month). Of course at the Mediatheque the landscape scenery is different – instead of the American plains and forests, it is Zao, Matsushima, Jozenji-dori, and other both famous and relatively anonymous parts of Japan.
If my schedule physically allows it, I make a point of coming every week. Because every week, even if it is something small, there is something that makes it worth coming. I have seen beautiful stained glass, striking and atmospheric photography, countless interesting painting techniques, and have smelled many fragrant lilies at the frequently put on shodo (Japanese calligraphy) exhibitions.
It was during my first decided Mediatheque pilgrimage back in late May that I came across what I distinctly sensed could become my “artistic community involvement” – a silkscreen exhibition put on by a local association. In my ten or so years of drawing, I had never done any kind of actual print work. A few pieces in the gallery stood out to me, and upon walking out, I started a conversation with the lady at the table. She pointed out which pieces were hers, told me more about the Wednesday classes, and handed me one of her prints. Holding the program booklet and the print (pearly ink and thin, nicely textured paper), I walked away with a warm fuzzy feeling.
Two weeks later on a rainy afternoon, I made my way down to the Aoba Culture Center only to find that the class was over and everyone had gone home. The classes are scheduled for 1-8 p.m., but because of my work schedule, I cannot make it until about 5:30 p.m. even if I leave straight away. The next couple of months got very busy – Oshima Leavers Party, Miyagi International Art & Culture Show, traveling down to Tokyo twice for Group A and B Orientations (and being a Tokyo Orientation Assistant for Group B), then Miyagi Orientation. It was not until last week that I finally felt like I had the time and determination to go, this time calling in advance to make sure there would still be someone there when I stopped by.
When I got to the classroom, Koide-sensei was there along with a few students – a few Miyagi obaachan and one ojiichan, who were all glad to show me how it was done. I walked around, watched, asked questions, learned. In another week, I will hopefully be trying it out myself. Part of my motivation involves a secret project, which I hope will be not-so-secret by the time November comes.