the 29 stations of the yamanote line
multimedia exhibition of poetry (brian heagney), video (julia barnes), sound installation (mike rhys) and paintings (erik sanner) relating to each of the stations on the busiest train in tokyo.
partially inspired by hiroshige's "53 stations of the tokkaido line", we aimed for immediacy. depending on the character of the neighborhood where each station is located, brian and i would choose a day of the week and a time of day (e.g., saturday evening for a trendy stop with busy nightlife, tuesday morning for a financial district). basically we would wander around together for hours and hours, experiencing things, looking at things, bouncing ideas off each other, trying to grasp what it was we were attempting to do. we would sometimes engage in odd behavior just for the sake of experiencing something, like spraying a fire extinguisher at a passing train. i might do some drawings, brian might start to write some lines in a notebook. at some point i would find an object to paint on, and at that spot or later somewhere to paint. spending ten hours at each station was not unusual. julia and mike joined after we had done a few; part of the reason for enlarging the group was that brian and i felt what we were painting/writing was fairly straightforward and representational of what we had seen, but other people thought it was awfully abstract; perhaps more "concrete" context (video, sound) would make our work more "accessible"; but by far the larger motive was that we really wanted to do something with mike and julia, and they were eager to involve themselves. for a few stations, the four of us spent hours and hours together engaged, at times, in our respective mediums; for many other stations, mike and julia worked independently. i made it a rule of mine to make sure to drag brian along for each and every stop, and to finish the painting there (sometimes after he deserted me for some reason or another), sometimes walking home, sometimes getting back on the train with a wet canvas held above me, careful not to get paint on anyone or anything.
the way this project evolved, the way we collaborated... i look back at that time as some of the most precious moments i have ever spent. i would love to work with any combination of brian/mike/julia again. i would like to spend a year doing another yamanote project, or something else...
here are brian's poems from the station neighborhoods my pictures above came out of:
komagome rikugien park
beneath matted slicks of pine-needles, dead leaves,
looming to the surface, holding
mouths palpating mutely
at the mallards>br>carp, dull, implacable
plum blossoms' flame
thatched gazebo's civil amnesty
vie with jungle crows -
volting in the conifers, mephitic, indignant,
fleshed shades of the empty lot outside:
mild 7 packets, betting slips, mosburger bags
batteries, gyoza trays and
hokka nokka tei chopsticks wrapper
- for lordship of the gardens where the quality would stroll
black tatters hang on stillness,
reflections of an impulse
old as art or middens.
beyond, the skyline, yellowed
and gnawing the air, know
the ascendancy of crows.
mejiro's sweet but my foul eart assents
to weeping sores on granite, weed-tongued vents
and hanging underpasses' plotless dents.
the uni's dear, the hairstyles all the rage
the scholars kitty-gilded in their cage
but by rot's embonpoint am i assuaged.
pinktown's bloom is spent by 12 o'clock
cast back on our own devices
hard, intent, a putsch of putzes
roaming streets in pack's delirium
fire extinguishers lashed on flash cars' bonnets
eggshell strip-lights thor-flung into doorwells
golf-balls 3-ironed over graveyard plots
to breeze-stirred tomb slat's rattled sacrilege.
the sickly callus on the river lights
is dawn-eased into cherry blossoms' flame
a plosive din of foaming outlet vents
the last slug of beer, then red-eye train.
the rows and rows of plinths and pristine monoliths
sanskrit ski-blades, crispy wreaths
and sake one-cups
got that usual mix
of curiousity, reverence and
in the presence of another denomination's dead
we follow the funeral
summoning the numen's voltage
from the faces, from the smoke
the incantating of the priest
his graveside bells in concert with the distant jr tune
the desecration of crows
jacked-up codgers, fornicating in trees
give up - just watch and listen.
a day of divination
before unblinking altars
unmeaning's varied sluicings:
a blaze of gap-toothed kids on bikes
the splatter of crowshit on the painted page
crashed homeless on benches
the emergency of cats, whisper-quick in privets
an old dog listing sideways like a broken shopping trolley
mourner sneaking a fag
at the back of the procession
and formalised hilarity of an office group
splashing water on a stone -
japanese custom, they beam.
gut once - more like it -
a woman waving heatedly, outpouring to her rock
her hotline to the earless
move in. nope.
a man, hidden at first
sitting in the tomb's lee, hunched
worrying his hat in his hands.
move on, feeling foolish.
getting a bit cold now.