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Published: 01.07.2016
Otto Künzli Otto Künzli
Author:
Otto Künzli
Edited by:
Arnoldsche Art Publishers
Edited at:
Barcelona
Edited on:
2016
Mari Ishikawa: Jewellery & Photography.
Mari Ishikawa: Jewellery & Photography

© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.

Intro
This article is part of the book "Mari Ishikawa : Jewellery & Photography, Where does the parallel world exist?", published by Arnoldsche in February 2016. Ishikawa's jewellery is mysterious and transports us to another world. She uses plants are as symbols of the constant renewal of life and transforms them from the ephemeral into the permanent.
 

日本語版 - Japanese version      View / hide description

中文版 - Chinese version      View / hide description

Mari-chan! You mussn’t play with your food!
Thus or similarly Mari Ishikawa, like most children in Japan, and all over the world, are admonished by their mothers to treat food decorously and with respect.

Three decades later, in 2000, Mari Ishikawa made a piece of jewellery from rice. Innumerable grains of rice circle about the wearer’s neck, orbiting it like a channelled blizzard, like a ‘dust ring’ round Saturn.

According to Mari Ishikawa her mother has started worrying again about whether her daughter still plays with her food...

 
  • For her neck jewellery Mari Ishikawa drilled the minutest of holes through each grain and strung them on silver wire as thin as hair, which in turn was woven into a sort of cord that now follows a cosmic track without beginning and end.


Time machine. Japan, in the mountains. Where Narayama Ballads1 were sung:
Surviving Winter is a hard thing to do each year.2 My goodness, how clever my father is; he’s hardly been ill for three days but he already has his rice.3 Mr White Hagi4, that’s what rice was called. A god lived on Narayama 5 and since everyone knew the god was there, a festival was celebrated at which, besides the early fruits of autumn and chestnuts from the forest and wild berries, the fruits of the Shii and the Kaja6, besides wild mushrooms, rice was also cooked and eaten, the most precious thing in existence..
They eat too much at home.8 But still there wasn’t enough for everyone. Granny Oma O Rin knew that as soon as the first snow fell, it was time to set out for Narayama. Weeks before she had already brutally knocked some of her healthy teeth out of her jaw but was ashamed that she still could chew and eat so well. She left the house at daybreak. It was the rule not to look back.
How many ravens there are in the mountains. 9  

For her neck jewellery Mari Ishikawa drilled the minutest of holes through each grain and strung them on silver wire as thin as hair, which in turn was woven into a sort of cord that now follows a cosmic track without beginning and end.


The Land of the Raising Sun, 2001
Left: Photogram, 500 x 250 x 5 mm. Photopaper, aluminium panel
Right: Neckpiece, 900 mm long. 925 silver, rice



Yamato10 –  the marked sense of community that shapes Japanese society, being considerate of each other in the most cramped space imaginable, this derives, as I have been told, from growing, sowing, irrigating and harvesting rice, which could only be managed cooperatively. The same is probably true of fishing. Celebrating Spring with sake beneath cherry blossoms, that is beautiful. But it’s deceptive. Japan is a rough country.

Strictly speaking, Mari Ishikawa’s rice neck jewellery is in the tradition of the pearl necklace, which is erroneously called a necklace because it’s a string rather than a necklace. The individual parts, pearls in the one case, here grains of rice, are threaded, that is, strung one next to the other, but are not concatenated at all. In Ishikawa’s piece of jewellery, the ‘strings’ are intertwined and interwoven. This creates a sort of serpent, a strand, a fabric, a mesh. A fortuitous arrangement. Full of movement, a river. The grains of rice have forfeited their genuine virility. In favour of a picture that stands for cyclical life. Fragile, perishable, a coming and going.
The lustre of precious pearls is invoked yet a polished grain of rice also possesses a deep, silky sheen, a sophisticated translucidity and a subtly gradated palette.

How many grains of rice are many? As many as there are ravens on Narayama?

After Sissa ibn Dahir, also called Sessa or Zeta, had designed a board game with 64 squares (Chaturanga, a forerunner of Chess) for the Indian ruler Shihram (also known as the Emperor Sheram), which greatly pleased Shihram, the emperor bade ‘Sissasessazeta’ to make a commensurate wish as his reward. Sissa ibn Dahier then expressed the wish that he should be given 1 grain of rice on the first square of the game board, 2 on the second square, four on the third and for each other square double the number of grains on the preceding one.11.The king or emperor smiled and felt insulted by the Brahman’s seeming modesty. Far from it. The emperor would have had to give Zeta, or whatever his name was, the world’s entire rice harvest from more than 870 years. The story goes that the emperor was saved by the wisdom of his master arithmetician, who recommended that he count out the rice for Sissa ibn Dahir grain by grain.

 
  • If this subject of existence and transmutation is transferred to the medium of jewellery, the images are consolidated by the proximity of the metaphor to the direct physical and spiritual process in the body of the person who is wearing the jewellery.


Joseph Beuys pumped honey through the tubes of an Installation. Fischli and Weiss formed miniature vehicles resembling cars from small Cervelat sausage links12  for their photo work Der Brand von Uster [Ulster Burning]. Dieter Roth built sculptures from chocolate. Daniel Spoerri launched an art movement of his own called Eat Art in the late 1960s. What all these examples have in common is that these artists, and innumerable others one could name here, have visibly made the unity of art and life the subject of their work by virtue of the fact that the consumption of all art also lies in eating (and drinking).

If this subject of existence and transmutation is transferred to the medium of jewellery, the images are consolidated by the proximity of the metaphor to the direct physical and spiritual process in the body of the person who is wearing the jewellery. Art and life are exaggerated here. The identification factor is raised to a higher power when art comes so close to getting under one’s skin. The theme of the cyclical, of waxing and waning, also perishing, becomes ineluctable.

One of the three things I would take to a desert island is Die Höhle des gelben Hundes [The Cave of the Yellow Dog], a film by Byambasuren Davaa. This Mongolian docudrama is based on the idea of the eternal cosmic cycle. The main character, six-year-old Nansaa, confronts the question of reincarnation with childish logic. Riding wildly through the driving rain of a stormy night, she finds shelter in the yurt of a wise old woman and begs to know beyond all doubt whether she will be reborn as a human being in her next life.
Come, I’ll show you something. The old woman makes Nansaa hold a pin with the tip pointing to the ceiling of the yurt and strews gently and slowly a handful of rice over the pin: Tell me if a grain of rice sticks to the pin. Nansaa: That’s not possible - See, my child, that is how difficult it is to be reborn as a human being and that is why a human life is so precious.13

 
  • What is so surprising about this confrontation of reality, imagination and image is that what emerged here is not, as is usually the case with this technique, an image that is entirely the opposite of reality but one that is virtually congruous with it.


Mari Ishikawa’s rice jewellery was created in the thematic context of homeland. At that time Mari had already spent several years in Germany and did not have the money to visit Japan. Recollection and reality were overlaid and shifted. Mari Ishikawa put the finished neck jewellery under the enlarger in the darkroom and made a photogram. What is so surprising about this confrontation of reality, imagination and image is that what emerged here is not, as is usually the case with this technique, an image that is entirely the opposite of reality but one that is virtually congruous with it. The white grains of rice and the bright shiny silver wire also show up as a negative image against the black background in the photogram. Now of course without a shadow and seeming to hover. Is this the difference between reality and recollection?

Underway with Japanese friends in Ise Province. By train and on foot. We are looking for small, ancient shrines, originals, hidden in small forests. When a glade opens out, we cannot escape from the presence, the power, the humility, the clarity of those archaic places.
The surroundings are flat, rice as far as the eye can see. And then a rice field of a very special kind. It stands out, is spick and span and is solitary, at a distance from the rest. A sign explains that the rice grown here is produced for the Shinto Shrine in Ise. The field is enclosed by a low fence with a rice-straw cord, on which innumerable iridescent CDS flutter in the wind to scare off starlings and sparrows. A daily meal for the main shrine is cooked with this rice, following strict rules and very aesthetically. To feed the divine. A ‘Bento Box’ for God.14

Eat up! Mari, eat up. In every grain of rice there’s a god (Kami-san). You mustn’t leave a single grain of rice uneaten. It must not be thrown out.15

One last question: Mari, how many grains of rice have you in fact used for the neck jewellery?
As many as are needed for a bowl of rice.

Some days after Nansaa realised that she would probably never return to this earth as a human being, she was lying with her little brother on the scrubby Mongolian steppe. They observed the clouds and recogised with joyful certainty the reincarnation of a giraffe and, if I remember rightly, of an elephant, too.
Have you ever seen a giraffe?
No.

Amid the oaks white dust was dancing: snow. Mama, you are lucky, it’s snowing! Then he spoke the words of the ballad to himself:
On the day on which she goes into the mountains...16

Otto Künzli
 

References

1 Shichiro Fukazawa, Narayama-bushiko, Schwierigkeiten beim Verständnis der Narayama-Lieder, Verlag Der Bärenhüter im Waldgut, Frauenfeld 1998
2 Ibid., p. 49
3 Ibid., p. 11
4 Ibid., p. 10, explanation: Hagi is a very beautiful plant that flowers in autumn and whose rosy blooms recall the shape of a grain of rice. This explains why the name White Hagi has been given to this valuable grain. Japanese cosmology imputes a divine power to rice, which is the ideal foodstuff. The term Mr is an expression of the respect shown to it.
5 Narayama translates literally as ‘The mountain with oaks’.
6 Ibid., p. 10, explanation: the names of two wild flowers that are very widespread in Japan
7 Ibid., p. 10
8 Ibid. p. 51
9 Ibid., p. 72
10 Yamato can be translated as ‘good relations’, ‘large community’.
11 The data online are diverse and very different. The names vary. The story is with grains of rice but can also be found with grains of wheat.
12 This is the name of a grill speciality in Switzerland that resembles cervelas de Lyon, Lyon sausage, but is, however, considerably shorter.
13 inter alia http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_Höhle_des_gelben_Hundes
14  It is not (and cannot be here) my intention to introduce into this text the complexity of divinities in Shintoism and the relationship between Buddhism and Shintoism in Japan, which is also complex (but seems to function well). Apart from the fact that I understand so very little about it!
15 Mari’s mother spoke like all mothers...
16  Shichiro Fukazawa, Narayama-bushiko, Schwierigkeiten beim Verständnis der Narayama-Lieder, p. 74, p. 76

About the author

Otto Künzli, born in 1948 in Zurich, Switzerland, is one of the most important figures in the world of contemporary jewellery. During his long career, he has skillfully worked the relationship between jewellery and the wearer’s body, as well as the potential of jewellery as a medium of communication to build connections between individuals and societies. In the process, he has transformed jewelry into a universal metaphor for humanity and social relations. Thanks to his consistently conceptual approach, as well as the humor he expresses through his works, Künzli has gained attention and regard beyond the field of jewellery.
 
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