PITTSFIELD, Mass. – In its first major exhibition of contemporary Asian art, “A Spirit of Gift, A Place of Sharing” is a campus-wide exhibition that opens May 30 at Hancock Shaker Village.
The exhibition features three artists – Yusuke Asai from Japan, Kimsooja from Korea and Pinaree Sanpitak from Thailand – who explore the links between 19th century Shaker art and contemporary Asian art. This is the third time in 30 years that Hancock Shaker Village has explored a connection between Asian aesthetics and the very American utopian Shaker religious movement.
Artists will collaborate with the Village’s Shaker Material Culture Collection and the team that cares for and activates the historic property, including the blacksmith, gardener and chefs.
All works will be site-specific or site-specific, with at least one new commission from each artist.
The exhibition is curated by Dr. Miwako Tezuka in collaboration with Dr. Linda Johnson, Curator at Hancock Shaker Village.
Descriptions included in a press release:
With earth as his medium, Japanese artist Yusuke Asai creates wild paintings and installations of his own mystical motifs using mineral pigments he makes from soil collected from local sources – in this case, a farm. Shaker in the Berkshires. Born in Tokyo in 1981, the self-taught artist will work on location this spring to create a “mud painting” that evokes fantastical creatures and his own spiritual world. For Spirit of Gift, Place of Sharing, the Village
commissioned Asai to create an all-encompassing mural in the 1878 Poultry House (the Shakers’ former chicken coop turned museum-gallery), using pigments he will prepare from Shakers’ forest soil. The soil will be picked up with the help of the Village gardener, whose in-depth knowledge of the 750-acre terrain provides the artist with a type of soil of choice for concocting his special pigments. Asai’s art practice echoes the Shaker lifestyle
crafting almost everything – from furniture to paintings to hand-carved tombstones – with materials found in this land, which stretches across western Massachusetts to Pittsfield, Hancock and Richmond. The naïve quality of Asai’s imagery will also reveal a strong affinity with the Shakers’ famous religious “gift” or “spirit” designs; both testify to the infinite power of the human imagination. His mural – a stylized fantasy landscape painted with
muddy ground – form a union of material (soil) and immaterial (imagination). To share this sense of unity, Yusuke Asai will hold “Soil Searching”, a workshop for visitors that offers the joy of creating images using pigment of your own making.
Born in Daegu, Korea, in 1957, the artist Kimsooja lives and works between Seoul, Paris and New York. Many of her projects are connected by stitching or threading in which stitching becomes a metaphor for connecting disparate places and transcending conflict. For Hancock Shaker Village, she will create a participatory installation that engages the Laundry & Machine Shop, which dates back to 1780 and is the oldest building on the property. She will guide participants to transform the space with threads in the five symbolic colors of Korea, Obangsaek, connecting various points of the architecture, and invite visitors to follow the lines as a simulated experience of community work and life. of the Shaker. Also in this building will be a display of 19th century Shaker household textiles, such as paper towels and linens, selected by the artist and hung on a clothesline. While responding to the site’s function as a laundromat, a place where men and women worked separately but together, this work also refers to the Bottari series of installations by Kimsooja, the Korean term for “packages”. Tied ordinary cloth bundles, like bed linen, are used as the easiest way to transport the most basic household items in Korea when moving to a new location, and as such, in the Kimsooja’s installation, they come to symbolize movement and, in his own words, “a self-reliant world”. The simplicity and efficiency of this universe find their kinship in the philosophy of the Shakers. Another highlight of his work in the exhibition – a video projection of his magnum opus Thread Routes (2010-) and his companion series Thread Routes—Lightwaves (2010-) – will be in the Round Stone Barn. The second in this six-episode series, which focuses on European lace, will illuminate the interior of this iconic building, stitching together light and dark. Overall, Kimsooja’s works in the exhibition follow the Shaker story of migration from Europe, colonization, and building their own way of life.
“It is a pleasure for me to work on a site-specific project at Hancock Shaker Village,” said Kimsooja, “as I have been very interested in their unique culture, aesthetic and lifestyle for a long time.”
Thai artist Pinaree Sanpitak, whose work is presented at this year’s Venice Biennale, is often interpreted as a feminist approach, and her artistic vision finds its ideal in the utopian society of the Shakers, where women occupied a social status equal for more than 2 centuries. Many of his works are also understood to be an extension of Buddhist spiritual traditions, informed by a deep contemplation on the life-affirming power of the body. The female body is particularly important for its creative inspiration, symbolized by the shape of the breasts artistically interpreted to resemble a stupa, a type of sacred dome or tower originally intended to hold the relics of the Buddha within. Appreciation for life itself is found in Sanpitak’s artistic practice and the Shaker way of life. For this exhibition, she will install a series of Breast Stupa paper sculptures, all carefully handmade and positioned to mingle with everyday Shaker utensils on display in the kitchen of The Brick Dwelling, the Shakers’ communal residence. She will also work with a local blacksmith to create Breast Stupa Topiary, an immersive outdoor sculpture installation that blends into the bucolic landscape and is used to grow herbs and vegetables from Berkshire and Thailand. Continuing with the food theme, she will also create several special events, Breast Stupa Cookery, as part of an ongoing project launched in 2005 (presented in nine countries to date). Working with regional Berkshire chefs and the village gardener, Sanpitak will benefit from produce grown on the village’s working farm, the oldest in Berkshires. With the addition of a few key Thai herbs, menus crafted by the artist and the chefs in collaboration will unify the two cultures, served to the public using the artist’s stupa-like cooking molds – to nourish at both body and soul. Dining together is the most fundamental communal activity in any culture, and through Sanpitak’s farm-to-table project, food becomes the artistic medium and bridge between art and everyday life.
“I am so honored to be part of such a historic and significant institution,” Sanpitak said of her work on display at Hancock Shaker Village.
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