In 2008, after my first year of living in Japan, I made a solo photography exhibition in Montreal exposing my first impressions of the country. At that time, the exhibition’s introduction caption at the entrance, written in French, transmitted some of those impressions. Basically, this introduction was in the format of a conversation I had a couple of months earlier with a friend of mine, Peggy Bédard, who was asking me questions about the concept of the exhibition. Hereafter, are some passages of our conversation.
P.B. What struck you in Japan? What oriented your exhibition?
J.S.M. Beyond the extremely difficult language and the multitude of refined customs, what really made a strong impression on me was how extremes cohabit so close together. One example of this is the flyer I’m making for the event: a picture of a highly modern building built right next to an old rustic Buddhist temple. This opposition is the core of this exhibition. I called it “Antipodes: Wabi Sabi vs Technology”.
P.B. Why “Antipodes”?
J.S.M. Because there are many daily life examples that I came across here which illustrate just that. For example: Fried food is everywhere but Japanese are thin; the Japanese work insane hours every week but have one of the world’s longest life expentancy; there are special ground tiles for the blind but there are, although not always, many places where guard rails are absent in dangerous public places; ATM machines can count coins but my new telephone isn’t even touch tone; kimonos and modern wear coexist; you can have a ticket if you smoke at some outside designated places but it is ok to smoke inside (…) and finally a wrapping within a wrapping within another wrapping is a normal non-ecological habit but the Kyoto treaty was signed here, also, people take long rests even sleep in their engine running cars at convenient store but on the other hand, most buses turn off their engines at every red light.
P.B. What kind of “antipodes” will you expose?
J.S.M. The extremes that I will be showing are called Wabi Sabi and Technology oriented towards architecture and textures. By technology I mean technical advances in the field of architecture and its flamboyant Japanese designs. This will, in contrast, be opposed to the subtle beauty of the action of time on rustic wooden materials or on metal rusted surfaces. In his book Wabi Sabi : for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, Leonard Koren reveals the contrasts of modernity and the Wabi Sabi frame of mind. Hereafter are examples of the former vs the latter: future oriented vs present oriented; man made materials vs natural materials; cool vs warm; perfect materiality vs imperfect materiality; ostensibly slick vs ostensibly crude (…) and modernity is intolerant towards ambiguity vs Wabi Sabi which is comfortable with ambiguity and contradiction.