Story IX | The Frog in the Well


I no naka no kawazu, taikai o shirazu
The frog in the well cannot conceive of the ocean

An ancient Chinese proverb, readily adopted by Japanese culture, is the starting point for our spring-summer series of exhibitions, Inside Looking Out. The ‘Inside Looking Out’ series of exhibitions selects three artists whose birth place is Japan, who identify as Japanese, whose art genres and techniques are strongly linked to tradition, who see themselves as protectors and propagators of those traditions, and who by virtue of these alone might be labelled as culturally specific ‘insiders,’ yet from within have developed resonating international perspectives.

The frog in the well has a limited perspective. His sense of reality and the world is defined by the narrow view from inside the well. He invites a passing turtle to share his paradise, but the turtle’s legs are caught on the side of the well. In an exchange of the superior qualities of the watery habitat of each, the astounded frog first hears of the vast ocean. This story resonates with that of Plato’s cave, its residents’ perceptions limited by their experience. Japan’s two and a half centuries of isolation from the rest of the world (1635-1853 approximately) and the development of a unique culture, art forms and techniques, gives rise to a tendency to regard it as exotic, insular, novel and alien. The fashion of ‘japonisme’ in late 19th century Europe may be regarded as both genuine appreciation for the ‘other’ and Orientalist (colonialist) condescension.

It may be suggested that this is at the basis of the labelling of contemporary Japanese artists as firstly ‘Japanese’ rather than as international artists who happen to be born Japanese.  In fact, in a recent interview with Takashi Murakami  he attributes his status in the contemporary art world to being Japanese: Honestly though, the fact that I have been able to remain in the contemporary art world, or in other words, the high art world, is the result of a lot of coincidental factors coming together. It is mainly because I am a Japanese artist that the high art world opened its gates to me. Certainly, Lesley Kehoe Galleries takes the position that Japanese artists, both within and without Japan, have something unique to offer in the contemporary art world. That uniqueness, however, does not preclude their inclusion in its overarching international nature.

‘Inside Looking Out’ Spring-Summer 2016 series of exhibitions looks at artists living and working within Japan, discovering the ocean within the well. It takes the opposite perspective from our 2014 ‘Outside Looking In’ series that featured Japanese-born artists living and working outside of Japan, actively seeking the freedom of a ‘foreign’ culture.

The selected artists are:
Shumei Kobayashi traditional Japanese dyeing techniques to : September 2
Koji Hatakeyama bronze casting and dyeing : September 14 – October 21
Maio Motoko contemporary screen installation artist : November 2-December 23

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