``In that flicker of a moment, light and shadow come together in a perfect symbiosis confirming that this ephemeral moment is about to end.``
As I walk out of the building already eight minutes late for my appointment, I straighten my back as I observe the three salarymen marching in front of me.
Gazing up at the sun realizing that the temperature is somewhat surreal for being for January. I take a deep breath trying to calm my anxiousness and the heat rising from the asphalt reassures my state of mind. The weather is in perfect contrast with my mood, hungover and I’m about to go for a four hour photoshoot.
One last chance, I can’t fuck it up this time.
Turning left on the street of my residency, which ironically has no name since here in Japan they refer to addresses in districts, blocks and buildings. I feel elevated by the sunlight. Maybe it is the after-effects of yesterday’s sake kicking in. There are two parallel rows of naked trees. I would like to see them in the fall, what great image that would have made.
As I pull up my pants and start running an old lady is blocking my path, by riding her bike on the sidewalk. I run past her, she freezes giving me the classic distant stare foreigners get. Can’t really blame her, but lady I’m late and you are riding your bike on the sidewalk.
I eventually land in front of the door to the gallery and press my nose up against the boiling mirrored glass to see what is inside. Oscar and my father both staring at their Ipads and smiling. Having my father present, who lives one hour from Tokyo where he spends the winters at his girlfriend’s house is a curious surprise.
It definitely adds to the experience. We saw him arrive yesterday, excited about his new lady bike proudly parked in front of the building. I enter the former rice factory, bow and excuse myself for the delay. Once everything is set up for the shoot I prepare the tea with the same agility as a 98-year old.
Slow and persistent, but still challenging. The green tea will calm my nerves, I think.
I’m a bit tense. I can never predict the outcome of these photo sessions. I gather the tea and the cups and make my way up to the second floor. When I arrive, I observe my father as he is sitting on the tatami floor rubbing a giant red soap shaped like a fish on a couple of traditional doors made out of wood and mulberry paper in an attempt to smoothen their movement. “I could offer this as a service for Japanese households” he proclaims.
Whenever he travels to Japan he gets really into maintenance.
While he “soaps the sliding doors” I try to set up my tripod and as I examine this plastic three legged device I wonder how on earth National Geographic is able to manufacture such a terrible product.
“I won’t try to save money on this type of equipment anymore” I tell myself, while accepting the rubber-like characteristics of the camera stabilizer. As I look up I see another scene unfolding on the opposite side of the room. The Penguin Cafè Orchestra is playing from the speaker and my father is no longer sitting down, but his whole body is now dancing in a twist like movement, while pouring Awamori (sake from Okinawa) from a giant three litre bottle into one of the tea cups.
“Part of the setup that was carefully styled has now taken life and the whole model is out of control” I think in my head. As I keep watching in silence, the room floods with light and heavy tears of happiness stream down my cheeks. From my lens of perception I zoom out of the room for a brief moment and far up into the sky over the sun soaked district. Life outside seems to pause.
In that flicker of a moment, light and shadow come together in a perfect symbiosis confirming that this ephemeral moment is about to end.
Three hours and 718 pictures later lunch is ready. My housemate Oscar who has the power of making any place feel like home, shouts out, to gather ourselves, lunch is ready. The smells of the dish he prepared anticipated the call, gently penetrating through the thin walls of the building adding a typical Italian Sunday mood. Moving slowly down the narrow staircase like fishes would inside an aquarium, we find our seats around the table in the gallery and like a real global family of artists in Japan, our Sunday lunch commences.
Once consumed the saltless, but delicious tapas and the Chardonnay from Niigata, we wave my father goodbye as he cycles in a loop before departing towards the Chiba prefecture. I’m tapping on the Ipad to ask Google, to find answer as to how my father disappears into the evening sun through the Ueno buildings.
``Erase yourself from daily life and go seek the unknown. It’s scary, uncertain but definitely worth it. No one will applaud, this is just a gift to yourself...``
I can’t handle interruptions very well. Distractions. My short attention span made it difficult for me during my years as a student, already from a young age. This is just part of the reason why I opted to dedicate myself to the visual world rather than the written one.
Being focused/distracted, being interested or not, has frequently reappeared throughout my life. Something that was evident especially in the beginning of the Numeroventi project.
Interaction with people requires attention. Attention and presence. Actually being there.
The whole premise of making Numeroventi into what it is today was based on the notion of “Step out of your working routine and retreat, focusing on a specific project that matters to you.”
The idea was inspired by my former boss, an Art Director of a Belgian advertising company. A talented and successful creator that could hardly find the time to express his skills.
I began, I tried, I failed and improved and I crafted these mental and physical spaces for many artists over the years, which eventually burned me out.
The opportunity of joining an Artist Residency myself, in a city that I can call home like Tokyo arose six months ago. And what better gift to myself than starting 2020 focusing exclusively on my personal work and ideas and joining an Artist Residency for thirty days.
My team was kind enough or maybe even happy to allow me to be off the grid. I turned off my Instagram for a month, compressed my work into two days a week and took a leap. Joining a creative residency with a final exhibition and no established practice is a little bit like jumping from a cliff hoping that some soft bush or a warm lake will catch you. The immediate reaction was “Yeah I’m free this feels good!” And you do feel liberated, at first. Instantly followed by a “What the hell.. this is high..”
Empty, vacuum. Panic and depression.
All the plans previously made in my office in Florence did not make any sense at all, once in the most local district of Tokyo, Ueno. In Italy we have a saying: ”Tra il dire e il fare c’e di mezzo il mare” (“saying and doing are separated by the ocean”). If you are in an artists residency in between the saying and the doing there’s only your time, skills, fears and Yakitori (traditional Japanese snack bar).
It is crazy how many excuses I would come up with in Florence. Anything to avoid what was really important, whether finishing my design collection, or really hack that drawing class. Days, weeks and months with the illusion of being busy. How do you use your time? What is that one thing, that if done in the first half of the day will make all the rest unnecessary or irrelevant? After about ten days of being indisposed due to sickness and no real plan on how to make my exhibition happen, the light appeared. Discipline and trust.
Train as an athlete, breathe and follow the evidence.
Since the only photo that really resonated with me was the one of my father in Sri Lanka playing tennis without his shirt on. In sheer panic I booked all the tennis courts in Tokyo and asked him to be my muse (he coincidentally happened to be in Japan for these months)
The concept came along.
Play, shoot, edit and repeat.
My father appears to be very calm, he is actually like a Dutch friend described him earlier this year “chilled as fuck”. I thought he was in the process of disappearing. Too much meditation Father!
Disappearing: what does that involve?
Dis-appear / Literally means cease to be visible: “pass from sight”, “be no more”…”be forgotten”, be dead. How powerful is that?
In our digital society of today where we are all connected via different media and people like myself using Instagram for work and relying on it for different aspects, disappearing becomes even more relevant. Within we can find different dimensions of it, but it is difficult to be present online and offline at the same time. It’s either or.
The people on the Metro disappear behind their phones, as I did for years even in front of other people checking my daily feed like an automated robot. The homeless people in the park disappear from visitors field of vision. In Japanese culture they are not supposed to be seen. My artist-in-residency mate Oscar, a successful entrepreneur disappeared from his life to go and find a new business idea.
I’m invisible, no posts for a month. Someone even wrote to me “are you ok?” I’m great. Thanks.
And what is then the opposite of disappearing? What we are being told is the right way? the happy way.
To everyday show off how great our lives are? Being present, show up, post.
It’s work… Sure it’s useful, but I’m asking you one question; How can we be authentic for so long without damaging the colour palette? Some people last and succeed in life. Or is there something more?
I started to produce my exhibition reflecting over these points and only because it’s 2020 and I’m going to turn 30 in 34 days. I decided to prototype all my dreams before the opening, no distractions. Five, three and one year old obsessions.
The handmade, hand cut bench.
Working more with my hands.
Portraying my father.
An old insight and great excuse to train photography.
The one page magazine.
One page, three interviews, one artwork and one advert.
“And out of a sudden, after three weeks, you feel like you have arrived in Japan. You have become part of your residence project and grounded into the place. As my Dutch friend would say; It feels damn good.
Welcome home Martino…”
Once the process clicks, your mood magically switches from fear, to a lot of fun! And then you never want it to end. I felt a bit like: “Ok let’s see how far i can get it in ten days”
Reading from my diary…“And all of a sudden, after three weeks, you feel like you have arrived in Japan. You have become part of your residence project and grounded into the place.
As my Dutch friend would say; It feels damn good. Welcome home Martino…”
Somehow the exhibition worked out. With a lack of time and under a lot of pressure combined with a little help from some lovely and extremely helpful friends, that helped me navigate through language barriers and production issues, I executed every single project.
The link between all the ideas was the symbolic Keshigomu (eraser) that gave name to the magazine I launched alongside the rest of the installation.
The opening day resulted in a very pleasant conversation about inspiration amongst different cultures and how powerful it can be to join a residency. By chance the Head of Instagram in Japan also showed up and we discussed how influential media can be the in life of a creative in so many different ways. What I found pleasant about the building of the residency was its size. A perfect reflection of Japan and I couldn’t have asked for anything better than having a small cozy rice paper factory to do this in. You can find more photos from the show and other pictures I took after the residency on my Instagram.
Erase yourself from your life and go seek the unknown. It’s scary, uncertain but definitely worth it. No one will applaud you, in the end, it is really just a gift to yourself.
One week after the show, I’m still enjoying the effects of the residency. The process was very imperfect in its own way, but the skills I developed thanks to the repeating actions were very valuable. Shooting and editing with of the show constantly in the back of my mind, for two weeks straight (about five shootings) i really improved my editing to a higher level. One month after the show I’m still receiving insights from the creative stress I went through and during several projects developed after the residency I could feel more connected to what I actually like, what I actually might be. I wonder if I can bring this excitement back to the office.
Here a list of suggestions that I would hand out to someone about to approach a creative process: “The artist’s in residence guide”
Photos and words: Martino di Napoli Rampolla
Model: Luca di Napoli Rampolla
Location: Almost Perfect Tokyo
Thanks to Jiro Ando, Takuma Hirose, Olivia Pan, Morioka Yoshiyuki