The epidemic is transforming our lives. With my busyness put to a halt, I was at “home” organizing my thoughts and things when I met “her” again – a work that documented an unforgettable trip in 2018 and fused together a very special artist’s work, and an umbrella that had sheltered me from rain and wind for 5 years, until it was at last broken during the trip. Stretched open underneath the skirt, it has embarked on its second life.
This embroidery artist Machiko Ikeyama lived in Shobu Gakuen in Yoshino-cho, Kagoshima, Japan. Rather than calling Shobu Gakuen a social welfare community for people of emotional and learning disabilities, I think of it more as an art precinct that gathers masters hidden from the world.
As the flashbacks resurfaced, my memories kicked in. Seeing a tree and a huge sculpture of recycled metal intertwine and grow into a work named “Iron Egg”, I quickly realized that what came together here were fetuses of resilience and character. Every inch of this place, every tile and every wood, was filled with art. Especially after a visit to their painting studio, it was not hard for me to see that every resident was a Yayoi Kusama.
走訪過餐廳、麵包店、陶瓷工場、木工工場、和紙工場，看見學員和員工們親手合力製作的所有工具、傢俬、食品⋯⋯，更能深深體會到院長Shin Fukumori先生常掛在嘴邊的「Living Is Making」理念。
Visiting its restaurant, bakery, ceramic studio, woodwork studio, and washi paper studio, and seeing all the tools, furniture, food, etc. handmade by the residents and staff together, I also understood more deeply the vision behind “Living Is Making”, which Director Mr. Shin Fukumori used to say all the time.
As I walked towards the reception, the exhibition hall nearby was displaying the residents’ works.
他們的作品除了在園區裡展出，也會到世界各地展覽，甚至和國際級的設計師或藝術家合作，即使是近在咫尺的無印良品，已經可以找到他們的KOROKORO NO MONO的白磁食具系列。
Their works were not only shown in the precinct, but have also been exhibited around the world. They have even partnered with international designers and artists. Look no further than Muji and you can find their KOROKORO NO MONO series of white porcelain cutleries.
At last, moving on to the part I was most interested in, the textile art studio. With tools and name tags lining up neatly, the facility was an object of envy, being so well-equipped as it was. Here, there were no rules and time constraints, only times for contemplations, times for slumber, and free creation only when one felt like it; and this was precisely as the director had intended for the residents – to stay true to oneself, to not become adults who possess knowledge but forget about purity of heart.
They never focused on the outcome, but followed their bodies and hearts in enjoying the creative process. The staff said, “That’s true! Even with works that take them a long time to complete, if you throw the works away in front of them, they won’t give a care.”
Everyone’s work is unique, and they maintain their distinctiveness with such attentiveness. Perhaps the key is their purity of heart.
Design Director Ms. Sayaka told us, “He loves cutting up fabrics and sewing stitches of different colors onto every little patch; When he entered the precinct in the beginning, we did not observe that. His family told us that when at home, he would pull out the loose threads in towels and underwear and toy with them. Once we learned of that, we carved out this special area for him to create.”
There were no time constraints here, only time and space for enjoyment.
He loved watching animations. Every day, he would put on his headphones, play his animations, and make embroidery modelled after characters he loved. His speed and the likeness of his works were absolutely professional. It was only a shame that his works could not be shown due to copyright issues.
To ensure financial sustainability, their works are available for purchase. Some of them were even quite expensive, which all comes down to the time it takes to create the work. Using his works as an example, because he simply enjoyed the movements in embroidering, not every stitch hit the fabric. Sometimes the stitches fell on thin air, sometimes, when he felt like it, the stitches fell on the fabric, and so a piece of embroidery could take years to complete.
During this trip to Japan, one important expression had a far-reaching influence on me – Mottainai (もったいない), meaning “what a waste!” The Japanese uses it to express regret at people and things, and holds the mentality that nothing goes to waste, like the leftover chips from the woodwork studio. They would make buttons out of them and drop them into a wooden case with interior walls covered in sandpapers. By rolling the wooden case, the buttons were polished, it was as much a game as it was a practical operation.
Lastly, I leave you with four words I saw everywhere in the precinct – “One inch forward, one foot back”. This was Shobu Gakuen’s theme of 2018, which means, “We don’t always have to look forward. Sometimes, when we look back, even though there are regrets, there are bound to be things worth reliving.”
Shobu Gakuen welcomes visits, which are available for online booking after the epidemic.