Claire Beausein, Awagami Factory Summer Workshop and Residency 2015Awagami Factory Summer Workshop and Residency, Japan

Claire Beausein
October 2015

As an artist working primarily with handformed paper and based in Broome, in the Kimberley region of WA, the rare opportunity for a residency in Japan learning about washi paper and Japanese culture was irresistible!
Mt Fuji rose majestically through the clouds as we approached Tokyo, boding well for the research I intended doing into Japanese concepts of nature linked with spirituality. The tranquility I felt was however, immediately shattered by the scale of this megacity; it seemed to cover the whole planet!
Wishing to make the most of my journey I soaked up as much art and culture as I could on my way to the residency. It was exciting and inspiring for me to spend time at the many important Art Museums, Temples, Shrines and sacred gardens that I would have otherwise only dreamed about. I also made a detour to the Echigo-Tsumari Sculpture Triennale themed, “Art is how people engage with nature and civilization”, perfect!

The trains got smaller and slower the closer I got to the relatively remote village of Awa Yamakawa, home to Awagami Factory on the Island of Shikoku. Finally I found myself standing on a tiny railway platform surrounded by high, forested mountains, and there, a solitary taxi waited as if expecting me to arrive.

My time at Awagami Factory began with the Summer Workshop, the schedule was gruelling and physically challenging, yet it was all well worth it for the thorough grounding it gave me in traditional washi papermaking as well as other traditional crafts such as Itajime, Izome and bookbinding. The workshop went for five days and had the added bonus of attracting Japanese and International artists to share the experience. This was an excellent starting point for experimentation with the different fibres used in making washi.
After the workshop everyone who spoke english left; I stayed for the residency, bracing myself for a period of isolation. Having only the very basics of the Japanese language meant that I sometimes had to resort to adopting a form of theatre to communicate and my often-futile attempts were usually met with unshakeable equanimity and occasionally, laughter! There were volunteer interpreters available sporadically, so I saved my avalanche of questions until they could help. Everything seemed to be complicated.

Luckily art is mostly about doing, so I just got on with experimenting and learning as much as possible about this fascinating and luxurious medium for use in my contemporary practice. I revelled in the textures of the different fibres and adored the swampy indigo dye, out of which the paper emerged the most beautiful pure blue.

Claire Beausian, Awagamia Factory Summer Workshop and Residency 2015Shikoku is a dramatic mountainous Island with an ancient pilgrimage route to eighty-eight Buddhist temples; there are also a multitude of Shinto shrines. It was the ideal place for my research into nature linked with spirituality, especially as I seemed to have inadvertently landed myself into some sort of washi-making meditation retreat, complete with silence, isolation, giant poisonous centipede and typhoon challenges.
Being immersed and isolated in this foreign environment was hard at times but encouraged a heightened perception to a sense of place. I learnt a lot, not only about paper and dye but also about Japanese culture, and myself as well. Broome has a rich historic connection with Japanese people, it is still evident in the character of the town today; my six weeks in Japan added to my understanding and illuminated these ties. For me there is a thread that runs through Broome’s expansive landscape and Japan’s rugged mountainsides; that thread is of a mystical dimension. This is what I am keen to continue exploring with my newly acquired set of skills and deeper understanding.

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