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Art as Process, Not Product

WESTERN art doesn't care much about anything but the artist's vision. What tree provided wood for the frame of a painting is inconsequential. The fiber content of canvas is about as important as dust. The heart of the matter has always been the artist's individual expression. But many contemporary Japanese artists, rooted in Shinto-Buddhist concepts (the moral equivalent of Judeo-Christian traditions) offer a different view. Their artistry is inextricably linked to all of the materials they use. The objective? Grapple and intervene with the material to discover its essence. Individual expression gets a yawn.

Japanese artist Emiko Tokushige struggles with great mounds of palm fibers or thatchings, stuffs them with urethane foam and ties them with palm rope. The result, at least in an outdoor setting, is a kind of powerful, sleeping herd of tawny, bristly animals, a conclusion safe to Western eyes which looks more toward the end result and with less concern for the process.

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Says Tokushige, ``... the fiber was so beautiful that I found it difficult to work with.... I ask myself, how can I work with a material without destroying it and yet find a way to bring it closer to myself?''

WHAT Tokushige likes in her three-dimensional bulks is the fact that her work is ``more substantial, more protruding and assertive'' than two-dimensional fabrics which she no longer does. Finding beauty and comfort in the objects are not important to her. Nor does she conclude that you or I should find ``a strong message'' in her work (as in Western art) because we could misconstrue her intent.

What is her intent? To struggle with the material until she reaches the point where she knew the materials lived instead of died. Thus, for her, the objects are continuum of life or ikasu (to live). For us there is the possibility of an encounter not with symbols, sleeping animals, or individual expression, but the echo of her engagement.

This series showcases artists at work. Each essay is succinct, introductory, and captures art in motion before labels are applied.

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