The Legend of Amaterasu

Iwato kagura no kigen (岩戸神楽之起顕) – Origin of Music and Dance at the Rock Door signed by Shunsai Toshimasa (春斎年昌); Dated Meiji 20 (1887)

I’ll begin by saying that I love a good legend, myth, or fairy tale. And perhaps some of the most interesting tales emerge from ancient Japan. Therefore, I’ve chosen to present a Japanese piece for this project – not only for the Ukiyo-e style (which is a marvelous process that includes carving wood blocks and transferring ink to paper via these wooden patterns) but for the entertainment and stories behind these pieces.

This particular piece – Origin of Music and Dance at the Rock Door – is about the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, a Japanese myth of humility, perserverence, the triumph of good over evil, and the infectious power of laughter on even the most distraught of souls.

The Legend of Amaterasu

As retold by the author

Amaterasu Ō-mikami was the first daughter of the two creationist deities, the god Izanagi and goddess Izanamino.  The pair had formed every piece of the land of the Earth, from the mountains rising into the sky to the waters of the oceans stirring around the land. Once the Earth had been formed, Izanagi and Izanamino wished to create life to frolic upon their creation. They gave birth to Amaterasu, whose radiance and beauty did nothing but bring utter joy to her parent’s life. She was placed in the sky for all to see, and now protects the day in the form of the sun. Amaterasu had two siblings who were born soon after, the god of the moon – Tsuki-yomi, a peaceful and composed child who was a fraction as bright as his sister – and the god of the seas – Susano-O, a boy with an awful temperament whom  was prone to violence. Susano’s rage and love of wreaking havoc upon the ocean eventually led him to be demoted to God of the underworld, but that is a story for another day.

One day, whilst weaving on her loom, Amaterasu befell a horrid attack by her brother. Infuriated by how beautiful and beloved she was, Susano-O killed the girl’s mare and tossed it into her weaving room, ruining all the looms and projects she had created. It is said that Susano’s rage was so great that he killed one of the attendant girls in the room and attacked Amaterasu herself, causing the gentle goddess to flee her palace. Amaterasu sought refuge in a cave within the mountains, refusing to shine her light and joy upon the world anymore. Slowly, the Earth began to wither and die, causing demons to crawl from the underworld and wreak their own chaos upon the people, plants, and animals upon its surface.

Knowing the world was in quite a dire state, the Gods and Goddesses assembled outside the cave and attempted to lure Amaterasu out to shine her light on the Earth once more. After a useless string of begging and pleading, Uzume – the Goddess of laughter – created a clever plan. She placed a large mirror facing Amaterasu’s cave against a nearby rock, hung jewels from the trees, and began to dance around, urging the other Gods and Goddesses to do the same. Their festivities were so intriguing to the sun Goddess that she couldn’t help but to ask what was happening outside, to which Uzume replied “We have found a new and much better sun goddess!” This caused Amaterasu to peek out of the cave to see what the ruckus was about; and when she did, Amaterasu caught sight of her own reflection in the mirror. Hypnotized by her own beauty, she left the cave – which was quickly sealed off with a giant rock to prevent her from hiding away once again – and soon found herself immersed in the amusement of her friends and family.

Unable to continue frowning for her misfortune, Amaterasu let her light shine upon the Earth once more. And just as quickly as they came, the demons and disease set upon the land receded to the Underworld with Susano-O, and the Earth was bathed in sunlight once more.






Upcycle, Recycle, Reclaim

One of the few fallacies of art is the amount of waste produced and materials consumed. Canvases, paints, paintbrushes,  – not to mention all the towels and clothes tarnished by spilled paint and product in the name of creating a masterpiece; all of it becomes . We live in a world which is beginning to center itself around “green” and “eco-friendly” methods of living; should we do the same with art? Shall we be done with the millions of little paint tubes used for the purpose of creating a piece? Should we continue on wasting wood to create easels, canvas frames, paintbrushes, and palates? Or should we find a different method of creating art?

While art has somewhat shifted its focus to the medium of computer graphics and pieces drawn up on programs such as Adobe® Photoshop – which can and may very well be considered eco-friendly due to the lack of paper, supplies, and waste which goes into producing pieces in this format – many artists elect to stick to traditional, physical mediums of creating art. But how would art begin to evolve if we began using only pre-existing materials? What if we took those millions of little paint tubes and created a piece out of their waste?

Upcycling – the “new recycling” (according to some) which goes a step above and beyond the process of recycling products to create completely new works from pre-existing material – does just that. Deemed one of the most eco-friendly processes of using material due to absence of the reprocessing stage of recycling, upcycling is a form of art which everyone can participate in. All you need are some stray materials and an imagination!

Meet the Artists

Anthony Cragg

Born 1949 in the town of Liverpool, England, Anthony “Tony” Cragg is a sculptor who utilizes both reclaimed objects and raw materials to create some of the most twisted and magnificent pieces within the genre of sculpting. Tony studied at Gloucestershire College of Art in Cheltenham, Wimbledon School of Art, and the Royal College of Art during his years of higher education from 1969-1977. He began exhibiting his works in 1977 after a move to Wuppertal (North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany), and continues to exhibit to this day.

Sayaka Ganz

Sayaka Ganz is a Japan native, born in the city of Yokohama. She currently teaches design and drawing courses at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). Ganz uses reclaimed plastic household items to create her works, which are exhibited in Tokyo, London, Takaoka, Isle of Man, San Francisco, New York, Monterey, Toledo, and Fort Wayne.

The Gallery

Union Jack by Tony Cragg; 1981; Mixed Materials

Spectrum by Tony Cragg; 1985; plastics

House and Trough by Tony Cragg; 1982; Mixed Materials

Fortune by Sayaka Ganz; Reclaimed Materials

Night by Sayaka Ganz; Reclaimed Materials

Wind by Sayaka Ganz; Reclaimed Materials

Emergence by Sayaka Ganz; Reclaimed Materials

Final Thoughts

Though I’m not one to get overly excited about Recycling myself, I do love to explore the ever-expanding and changing boundaries of the world of art. Perhaps they’re not the most impressive pieces in the history of art (though Sayaka’s work is quite astounding to look at), but they’re certainly strong in their own respect. The style of Upcycling and Reclaiming to create pieces is one I could grow accustomed to appreciating, and I do look forward to seeing what else these two produce in the future.

See more of Sayaka Ganz’s work here and Tony Cragg’s here.

The Love of Zero by Robert Florey (1927)

Two hearts, joined together in love but town apart by fate. It’s a tale told time and time again, through humour and tragedy alike, an everlasting theme found through stories, poems, plays, and movies alike. In The Love of Zero, Beatrix (Tamara Shavrova) and the trombonist Zero (Joseph Marievsky) are our two young lovers, star-crossed souls who come across one another on a cold Sunday night and soon confess their love for one another. The two live blissfully for some time, until Beatrix receives a letter from Kabul, which states that she must return to the palace as a concubine and never see Zero again. Both are distraught and, after much heartbreak and heartache, *SPOILER ALERT* both end up dying in the end.

The film was taped within the span of one day and within a budget of two-hundred dollars. Approximately fourteen minutes in length, the black and white film was nothing less than an abstract experimental piece which mirrored the avant-garde style of art. However, many people will say that the impressionistic style has more of a hold over the entire piece. While I can see where this may be true – we never really see the train that Beatrix leaves on, the ballet-style movements of the actors portray their emotions more greatly than their expressions and actions, and the constant incorporation of symbolic representation (such as the music box grinder being a symbol for how commercial the world had become for Zero after his lost love had passed) – I’m not entirely certain the film can be referred to as purely impressionistic. The style overall is incredibly odd, from the set design to the acting itself, and leaves the impression of something which the likes of had never been seen at the time of its creation.

The piece also shows off something which may be a bit less subtle to the 21st century viewer than it would be to those born in this era. The special effects – no matter how cheesy, overplayed, and perhaps disturbing they may be – are quite sophisticated for their time. To imagine, in 1927, not only were cameras fully operational and being utilized to create movies like this, but the amount of editing and special effects they could create were truly remarkable. Sure, nowadays when we see a film, we expect to see robots battling in front of a dilapidated skyline of New York city as aliens rain down and attack everything around them. The advancements in CG are breathtaking nowadays (See: Marvel’s The Avengers or Warner Bros.’ Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole to see some absolutely stunning examples of how far computer-generated imagery has come). But back then, being able to split the screen in half or to use lenses to duplicate an image were advanced technologies! The utilization of such methods is impressive, and it’s nothing short of incredible to watch how the science of special effects evolves from here, henceforth.

The Author’s Thoughts

I hate modern art. There. I said it. I absolutely detest the style, and haven’t been able to find a way to warm up to it at all. But why? Well, as seen in the film above, it is quite an erratic art style, dominated by rash, uncertain methods of symbolizing the meaningless. Even Pablo Picasso’s works look like nothing more than a jumble of colours and lines which grate against the visual aesthetic. (Don’t get me started on cubism. I’m not being paid enough to write this blog)*. Anyways. I chose The Love of Zero as the piece I analyzed because it was the only thing that held my attention long enough for me to write about. Unfortunately, I don’t feel any reason to truly enjoy the piece, but I can appreciate its nature enough to write about it.

*Note: I don’t get paid at all to write the blog. How sad.