2023.4.25〜 オスロ大学図書館にて研究プロジェクト「Whales of Power」と展示をします。Exhibition with "Whales of Power" at HumSam-biblioteket, University of Oslo.
I am delighted to announce the exhibition at HumSam-biblioteket, University of Oslo.
This will be a combined exhibition of art and research with the research project "Whales of Power".
I would like to introduce stories behind the new embroidery work I will show at the exhibition, which has been my focus for the past half year.
It began with a glass negative. The image was captured by Henrik Govenius Melsom, a Norwegian gunner who served on board Japanese whaling ships around 1900. The "Norwegian system of whaling" was introduced to Japan from Norway in the early twentieth century. The invention of the Norwegian system of whaling using grenade harpoon guns brought great advances in whaling technology. Melsom's glass negatives show whaling ships and whaling stations of the era, his travels throughout Asia and Europe, and his family in Norway.
During that time, local whalers in Japan who had traditionally practiced whaling by nets became laborers for the new whaling industry. Whales that formed the lives and culture of the locals became a resource to be competed for catch among several countries, at the same time in the introduction of the capitalist economy.
It was the time when people's views of nature changed drastically in their relationship with whales. I began to wonder if I could find a trace of the people's minds of this era in the records and material culture that remain in Norway and Japan as if untieing the tangled memories with whales.
One of Melsom's glass negatives was taken onboard a whaling ship. A whale caught was being towed to the side of the ship. The ship's name was unknown, while the letters "SHIN..." could be recognized on a lifebuoy. The letters seem to be a part of the ship's name.
Observing materials related to whaling at museums in Norway, I also became interested in objects that are common or similar to things found in Japan. For instance, penguins carved from sperm whale teeth and painted whale baleen with images of whaling ships were created by Norwegian and Japanese whalers during their voyages, respectively. The study on the whale bone arches introduced by the Western society and transformed into whale bone torii (a shrine gate) in Shinto shrines in Japan was also in my mind.
It may have been a kind of intuition that grew from the experiences. I began to think that if Japanese whalers painted whale baleen, they might have dedicated the baleen to shrines, not only as ornaments like used in Norway. As I contacted museums and researchers, I found some examples of baleen paintings dedicated to shrines as "ema" (votive paintings). Among them, I encountered an ema dedicated to a shrine in Hagi, Yamaguchi, in Japan. The whaling ship depicted on the ema was "Shinkomaru." It is thought to be from the early 1900s. The whaling ship captured on the glass negative by the Norwegian gunner Melsom would have been the same ship depicted on the ema. It was a whaling ship built in Oslo, or the city of Kristiania at the time, and transferred to Japan.
Hagi of Yamaguchi is the birthplace of Juro Oka, who traveled to Norway at the end of the nineteenth century to study the Norwegian whaling system. This ema's dedication took place when the traditional whaling ended, and the modern whaling industry began in Japan.
I have been embroidering the narratives left in Norway and Japan over the unique ship Shinkomaru, as a glass negative and votive painting on whale baleen. During the process of creation, I learned the history and relationship with whales around the Hagi area, including the use of whale oil to exterminate harmful insects on rice fields and the tradition of eating whales on a special occasion of the Setsubun celebration that continues today. I visited Melsom's descendants, heard their family history and memory, and observed the goods brought from Japan.
The memories and histories of the two lands are stitched on a long piece of textile. As my stitches began to depict images and overlap, the separated memories seem to come together.
The exhibition opening is on the 25th April. We will have short presentations, followed by Q&A, light refreshments and a tour of the exhibition!
Sakura Koretsune. Artist.