The Best Laid Travel Plans . . .

The conversations of "Art Place Japan LA" at USC last Friday revealed more points of connection than we fully anticipated, thanks in large part to Cathy Gudis, Allison Carruth, and Barron Bixler, who read our translation of Fram Kitagawa's book and were articulate and optimistic about how art and rivers connect communities in LA and Japan. 

The dialogue, however, was somewhat muted since Kitagawa-san was denied entry to the US by the Department of Homeland Security, so he and Maeda Rei-san were unable to join us.. He began the discussion with an address in Japanese via video conference explaining some background to the situation. Here is the text of that address, first  translated into English (read by Amiko Matsuo at the event), and then in Japanese. 

Message from Kitagawa Fram-san:

I am very sorry that I cannot join you. I was invited to speak at two symposiums, one in Seattle and one in Los Angeles, but my application for a visa to enter the country has been denied by the United States Department of Homeland Security. I protest this decision.

Ifeel fortunate to have been given an opportunity to speak about the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, which takes place in a remote, depopulated area of Japan’s snow country. Thank you again for your invitation and to all of you here today.

I was arrested four times. One of my arrests was in 1967, which happened when I was protesting the expansion of the US military base in Sunagawa. I have never been charged with a crime or prosecuted and in legal terms I am innocent. If one concludes that another person’s thoughts pose some potential threat to the United States, then that supposition is arbitrary and pessimistic and doesn't consider personal growth. It is an attitude that runs precisely counter to art’s infinite faith in human possibility.

I have come to the United States several times in the past and I believe that visa policy has been willfully changed as a result of tensions in world politics. It seems to me that the refusal to grant me a visa is connected to the ongoing protest of the Okinawan people against the construction of the new US military base in Henoko. We should remind ourselves that the US-Japan relationship was been structured by political programs, which began with Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allied Powers after World War Two. And the ANPO US-Japan Security Treaty that emerged from that.

We all live within states. We cannot escape that. Nevertheless, states like the US or Japan are just a historical framework and a construct. Nonetheless, Homo sapiens have developed their individual and unique abilities to embrace the nature of art---

Many individuals and organizations including the University of Washington, the University of the Southern California, the Japan Foundation, the Japanese Ministry of Law, the National Police Agency of Japan, have supported me in my attempt to get a visa issued for my travel for these cultural events scheduled in Seattle and Los Angeles. I have invited many American and American-based artists to participate in many different projects in Japan and worked with many American researchers and supporters in the past.

I am very disappointed and sorry about this incident, but having acknowledged all this, let us move forward with the awareness and humility toward forbearers---those that have faced and overcome adversities to inspire us to face our challenges today.

Now, I would like to leave Brad Monsma and Amiko Matsuo to make a presentation about Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale on my behalf. They are translators of my first English book Art Place Japan: Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale and the Vision to Reconnect Art and Nature, and they have made great efforts to invite me to Los Angeles.

Please accept my gratitude, and thank you all. 


こんばんは。この度、アメリカのシアトルとロサンジェルスの2か所から、シンポジウムのご招待がありながら、VISA発給が国土安全保障省(US Department of Homeland Security)によって拒否され、伺えなくなることを残念に思い、かつこれに対して抗議する次第です。







さて、これから大地の芸術祭を中心としたプレゼンテーションを行いますが、それは、私の初めての英語での出版物となる『美術は地域をひらく 大地の芸術祭10の思想』の翻訳をし、私をロサンジェルスによぼうと尽力くださったブラッド・モンスマさんと松尾亜実子さんに、私に代わって行っていただきたいと思います。

Yukihisa Isobe's earth cell debris dam "A Monument to a Mudslide" for the sixth Echigo-Tsumari Triennale (2016). The structure protects a road and buildings from "The Dragon's Mouth," a watershed that  has produced mudslides for centuries. It plays in the space between civil engineering and monumental art, and is the latest of Isobe's commentaries on the material history of the area.


I offer the last bit on Pyrometric with an eye on reports from the fires in Lake County and elsewhere. The risk is that anything one might say trivializes those stories. Yet the goal of thinking deeply, creatively, and even poetically about how and where people come into contact with something we most often call "nature" seems more important than ever. 

With Pyrometric we tried to create poetic resonances within the installation rather than "wall text." Our first version referenced national park signage with a gentle parody of how a scientific paper might be organized.

For the Los Angeles Arboretum installation (up through mid-October) we paired Amiko's 3D design work with Brad's text that begins to theorize the installation in ways more obvious than the first signs. 

And finally, the two versions together with cones.

The text of the big sign for easier reading:

Pyrometric represents vibrant matter at the intersection of artistic and ecological processes. In the liminal, fuel-laden wildness within and outside the city, the project makes visible the effects of flame on landscapes and cultures in Southern California. The forms reference how kiln cones measure temperature and how traffic cones mark boundaries.

As fires grow in frequency and size, Pyrometric anticipates the inevitability of burning that undresses landscapes to reveal what previously remained hidden—old peel-tab cans and rodent bones gathered and deposited by mange-afflicted bobcats. The cones mark the intersecting trails of people and deer, rabbits, rats, and coyotes, the visible patterns of movement, use, and abuse. As we release cones to the distributive agency of a fire-prone landscape, our own intentions combust within an assemblage whose goals we are unlikely to anticipate.

As a playful inquiry into human-nonhuman assemblages, the initial exhibit retains a ritual tone—objects gathered for sacrifice to fire that is violent, generative, revealing, and refining. We learn from the example of the “tsunami stones” of Japan—inscribed slabs erected beyond the reach of previous catastrophic tides with warnings to the future: “Remember what happened here and do not make your homes below this point.” Art can mediate between people and nature. Our chaparral-fired ceramics can help calibrate human memory to natural processes.

Vibrant Cones

Pyrometric started with the Camarillo Springs Fire in 2013 that evacuated the campus where we teach (Cal State, Channel Islands) and burned right to the edge of the studio. We collected buckets of ash, some from particular species--yucca, laurel sumac, lemonade berry. Slaked and sieved, it made the glassy, green glaze dripping down one of the cones.

Pyrometric cones landscape.JPG

The second inspiration was seeing a reference to Japanese “tsunami stones” that are inscribed with messages such as, “Do not build your house below this point.” We started asking questions about the nature people encounter in Southern California and how art might help people inhabit that space. After our "ritual firing" with the Ventura County Fire Department, and after exhibiting, we hope to place the cones throughout the landscape to wait, perhaps for years, for them to be “chaparral fired.” The cones reference traffic cones that mark spaces of danger and safety and ceramic pyrometric cones that tell the temperature of the inside of a kiln.

Prior to the Arboretum show, Pyrometric appeared at Ink & Clay National 40, where it received a Juror's Award from Phyllis Green and at at the 2015 NCECA Biennial at Brown University (one of 50 chosen from 1147 international entries) 


a mouse by any other

"Mice are surely mice no  matter what we call them. But mice remain mice as long as they survive to pass on their genome--it is what neo-Darwinism calls satisficing. Satisficing is a performative standard for existing. And there is no mouse-flavored DNA. There isn't even any DNA-flavored DNA--it is a palimsest of mutations, viral code insertions and so on. There isn't even any life-flavored life. DNA requires ribosomes and ribosomes require DNA, so to break the vicious cycle, there must have been an RNA world of RNA attached to a nonorganic replicator such as a silicate crystal. So there is a mouse--this is neither a nominalist nor an idealist argument. But the mouse is a non-mouse, or what I call a strange stranger. Even more weirdly, this is why the mouse is real. The fact that wherever we look we cannot find a mouse, is the very reason why it exists!"

--Timothy Morton, in Poisoned Ground: Art and Philosophy in the Time of Hyperobjects