Between East and West
Between East and West
by Kaori Homma
I am heading home to London after visiting my mother in a dementia care home in Tokyo. The plane is traversing over the continent of Eurasia, moving westwards, chasing the sun which is reluctant to set. From the height of 35,000 feet I can see the endless land through the window of the airplane. It is only interrupted by snaking rivers flickering around the shadows of mountains as fine creases on the surface of the earth. Time is suspended with us in midair and that is not just metaphorical speech. We have left Tokyo in midday and the flight takes 12 hours and yet by the time we arrive in Europe only three and half hours will have passed. Being in this limbo between day and night makes me question, “Where does the east end and the west start?” It makes my head slightly giddy as I think about this non-sensical demarcation on the spinning globe. The constant buzzing sound of the engine is mind-numbing and I am totally confused if the second meal served on the plane is a breakfast, lunch or evening meal.
I look away from the strange indeterminable colour of light outside of the window and try to focus on a work by Güler Ates on the slightly dimmed screen of my mobile phone. A figure shrouded in a vivid red veil is standing still while facing the doorway in a room with a western architectural structure. The figure could be moving towards the doorway leading to other rooms beyond but if she is, she seems to have stopped in midmovement as if she just remembered something she had forgotten. She hesitates to go beyond the threshold into the next room where the window is wide-open and the fresh morning air and light are flooding in. The surface of the red veil catches the light and yet the light coming in from the window into this room has not lifted the shadows. The wallpaper and painting which once might have decorated this room are stripped off, leaving torn underlayers and the bare surface of a grey, austere looking wall. She does not stand in the shadow, but shadows are surrounding her. Why does she hesitate to go into the sunlit room?
I close my eyes to avoid the light coming from my own mobile phone and from other people’s personalized screens showing different films. I am thinking about the shadows. I am trying to remember the shadows in the east described by Junichiro Tanizaki as darker and more nuanced. If you ever read this classic text for art and architecture students, In Praise of Shadows, you know what I am trying to ponder. Tanizaki believed that these nuanced shadows belong exclusively to the east, particularly to Japan, while they contrast with the light of the advancement of technology of the west. Tanizaki observed Japanese culture playing a catch up with the imperial power and technological advancement of the west at the turn of the last century. It was an interesting analysis at the time as well as for today, as his text questions the dominant discourse that sees the east as a culture subordinated to the west. I cannot totally identify with his sentiment about the contrast between east and west, as I am constantly traveling somewhere in between the polarity. But now I can see Tanizaki’s lament and prediction of the loss of shadows as we travel across the sky in this liminal space between east and west, while we are watching hundreds of films, playing games on the screen, squeezing out any remnants of shadows left in our lives. We are addicted to light.
In her room my mother sits still while facing the doorway. The staff of the care home has done a wonderful job and her room is clean and full of light. The bright winter sun of Tokyo is coming through well washed white net-curtains hanging on the window. Colourful origami cranes, cards and photographs of family members, and Bible verses written on cards are decorating her wall. The shadows in her room are almost undetectable under the florescent light. But beneath the pictures, ribbons and the almost lifelike plastic flowers I can see the shadows, nuanced shadows. They are in fact all around her and they shroud her with a gentle thick veil of pale shadows, which is on the one hand obscuring her from knowing where she is and who she was. On the other hand it is also protecting her. She is not agitated or fearful but sitting quietly in her room. She no longer remembers that she has given birth to a daughter, but she remembers the lullaby and hymns she used to sing for her little girl. Cocooned in the safety of the soft veil she still sings, not only the first but also the second and third verses of the songs.
When all other abilities are lost, why is she still singing? Perhaps she is still a little hesitant to leave someone or something behind, even though she does not know whom or what she has forgotten.
Shrouded in nuanced shadows my mother is waiting for the one who will eventually come and take her hand to gently walk with her to the next room prepared for her.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalms 91:1
Kaori Homma was born in Japan. She has a BA in Fine Art from Tokyo University of Art and Design and a MA in Fine Art and Sculpture from Chelsea School of Art. Based in London, she exhibits internationally. Homma is co-founder of Art Action UK and coordinator of Brockley Open Studios. Homma teaches at University of Arts London. www.kaorihomma.co.uk
Image by Güler Ates: Govone and the Morning Light, 2018, 30.5 x 33cm, edition of 5.
Güler Ates was born in Eastern Turkey. She is living and working in London. She graduated in 2008 from the Royal College of Art with an MA in Printmaking. She has exhibited internationally and her work can be found in the print collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Royal Academy of Art as well as the MAR. www.gulerates.co.uk
Junichiro Tanizaki: In Praise of Shadows, 1933. Translated by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker, London: Vintage Books, 2001.