By Jenna Purcell
Japanese fusion is more than just California rolls.
At the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery, cultural mingling extends beyond culinary endeavors and into the realm of harmonious artistry.
The UCSC arts faculty collaborated with Kyoto University of Art and Design (KUAD) and Tokyo Zokei University (TZU) to create “FUSE/fureu,” a two-year exhibition exchange between the schools.
The guest artists specialize in a variety of artistic mediums, but were asked to transfer their work into shipment-friendly prints. This could have spelled creative hindrance, but Sesnon curator Shelby Graham saw it as an insightful challenge.
“It’s very exciting to see how different works get translated through print,” Graham said.
The project began in 2007 when UCSC art faculty member Jimin Lee contacted a few instructors at KUAD and TZU whom she knew from her graduate days in Tokyo. After expressing shared interest in this international exchange, the three schools created Part One of “FUSE/fureu” that spring, housed at the two Japanese campuses. Part Two, showcased in the tucked-away Sesnon Gallery at Porter College, includes the work of 19 arts faculty members from both KUAD and TZU.
“Through the discussion of each artist’s work, many common strategies have become apparent: representation of time, language, nature, place, histories, identity and social engagement, for example,” Graham said. “But the work is not bound by strict thematic groupings. What binds this exhibition is the paper.”
The paper binding these works together is awagami, traditionally made in Japan from hemp and kozo bark. For this show, each artist’s work on the awagami was left unframed, an aspect of the gallery that Graham hoped to highlight.
“I want people to notice that the work is all unframed, [as this] is a concern of many artists and collectors showing works on paper,” Graham said.
Aside from bringing a new and different style of art to the UCSC campus, the collaboration between the three universities fostered valuable opportunities for the Japanese and American faculty members to learn from one another, said Richard Wohlfeiler, a lecturer in the UCSC arts department.
“The knowledge and understanding gained by the direct participants not only contributes to the expansion of the possibilities for our own work, but is something that expands the range of ideas we are able to communicate to our students in our classes,” Wohlfeiler said.
Jennifer Parker, an assistant professor in the arts department at UCSC, sees the show as a valuable opportunity for students.
“It’s really important for the students as well as the campus at large to understand how artists make and develop artwork,” Parker said. “We spend the bulk of our time as art faculty teaching our students to become artists, so for them to see us as artists actually making art work is a totally different experience.”
In conjunction with the exhibit, the artists from the Japanese campuses and UCSC will also select images from the show for a print portfolio, which will eventually be available as a bound book of prints. Graham feels that the book is an important asset to the exhibit.
“I’m hoping many people will learn about the book collaboration,” Graham said. “This is the aspect of the cultural exchange that will continue after the exhibition is over.”
While the book will serve as a physical reminder of the project, the UCSC faculty hopes the collaborative process will leave a lasting impression on all their future artistic endeavors.
“The intensity of the [process] caused us [to] look outside our customary practices and cultural frames of reference in ways that will hopefully prove to be creatively productive,” Wohlfeiler said. “International collaborations such as this provide valuable opportunities that broaden the horizons
and perspectives of those involved.”