The Incomplete


A while back, maybe a year or two ago, I was researching how different cultures deal with loneliness, you know, as in how the English language has a word for "good" loneliness, solitude, and then the actual "bad" or negative, unwanted loneliness, which is loneliness. I found a Japanese term called wabi-sabi and felt immediate interest. 

Wabi-sabi is very hard to explain, though. Looking at it from a historical point of view, it's a term related to zen-buddhism and its ideas of finding peace in austerity. In Japanese, wabi-sabi is more of an art history term than maybe something spiritual, though I felt a spiritual connection to it myself. A very old bowl could be wabi-sabi, an old traditional, simple and minimalistic Japanese building can be wabi-sabi, but at the same time an autumn day with dead leaves blowing in the wind can be very wabi-sabi. Most sources would describe wabi-sabi as something that's incomplete, imperfect and impermanent and most importantly, accepting all of this as a part of natural cycle and growth. 

Most Japanese themselves would struggle to explain wabi-sabi. I've read they mostly feel it's something in their past, more related to high art than anything else, but there is still a feeling that can also be described as wabi-sabi. When I was at the English lesson at Muta-san's, I asked them how they would describe wabi-sabi. After a while of pondering, one man told me to imagine a very old and traditional Japanese house, with almost no furniture, on an autumn day, with two samurais sitting inside and sipping tea in silence and that would be wabi-sabi. Then the man thought for another while longer. "No need for more," he said. "Maybe that's how it could be translated." 


But there's also a certain taste of longing and even romanticizing emotional pain in wabi-sabi. I think there's even a certain humor in it sometimes, like you can feel the longing for something and you can revel in that bittersweet feeling, but at the same time maybe sort of laugh at yourself because you're being a drama queen. Maybe. At least some of the poems I read had that feeling. Wabi-sabi can be the act and the eventual succeeding of schooling yourself into accepting life and your own circumstances as they are, but there's also this other end of the spectrum where you shut yourself off to the mountains to wait for death when life is too difficult.

I feel like I'm getting further away from my subject now. Like I said, it's very difficult to explain. There's also another Japanese term, mono no aware, that relates to wabi-sabi and means some kind of melancholy understanding of the fleeting, beautiful moments of life. In Finland we'd maybe use the word haikea, which could be translated as longing, missing, bittersweet or something of that sort. Something that's kind of negative but it still feels good. I find that dichotomy very interesting, at least today when it's totally out of style to be angsty. Maybe it's the social media or something, but today it's almost illegal to tell people you're sad or you have feelings that aren't just happy and perfect. It's the worst weakness of all to have emotions or to be overcome emotions but that can be really restrictive. We have feelings, even bad ones, just let them come!

Seriously, I'm flailing here. If you find yourself fascinated by the term, google it. There are so many people who can explain it better than I can. I felt a kinship to the term because in a way it's very Finnish. We love our long, chilly, vaguely sad Autumn days and if anything, we're used to death and darkness around us and know how to just dive in and take all out of it. Also, it felt very refreshing and consoling to find an "idealism" (it's not an idealism, it's not like the term zen, but it still sort of has that connotation) that's completely fine with flaws and bad feelings and even promotes accepting things as imperfect and unfinished. 


I originally wanted to come to a Japanese residency to research wabi-sabi and use it as an inspiration for my art. I've often tried to capture similar feelings in my photos and the term felt very familiar. It turned out to be not so easy, though. Having only a month at the residency meant I had only maybe two weeks to work on anything I wanted to have printed in time for the exhibition and two weeks in a new country is basically like two days of actual, useful time for working. Now, after three weeks, I'm maybe starting to feel like I might be getting my head on straight and be able to actually do something that's not just about struggling with a new environment. And next week I'm going back home.

In the end I guess my work here ended up being about trying to find wabi-sabi more than it was about wabi-sabi itself. I wanted to find more than just lovely textures and old houses, I wanted to portray the feeling inside, the things you feel when you feel wabi-sabi, in a way. I know I'm using the term all wrong now, I'm just trying to describe where I was coming from. Another artist here told me that wabi-sabi is a state where things are resolved, or where an object is resolved in its surroundings, when it fits perfectly. I don't necessarily agree, but I do agree that my work and the story I tell in my work is about trying to find the state of being resolved and not succeeding.

In the work I did here, I see a struggle, I see an almost nightmarish quality of desperately looking for something and not finding. For the past few years and maybe even longer it's been a theme in my work; to put it simply I've told stories about women struggling, clawing to get back to solid ground. In the work I did here, though, I think the women have been more lost than ever. Lost and losing themselves and just trying to grasp on to something. 


But I guess it's fine. The pieces that come out are the pieces that come out. It's an okay story to tell and it's obviously a story I relate to, so why not? Maybe I just feel a bit ashamed because I originally came here to look for wabi-sabi but pretty much gave up right away when I realized I could find out nothing really substantial about it in this short time and that I was not in any kind of frame of mind to do any serious soul searching. 


My current work definitely is incomplete, imperfect and impermanent too, because the print quality is crap. I don't know where I could find a really high quality print shop. I don't even know where to start looking. I wish I could be something else than a digital photographer, but I don't have the time, the money or the equipment to go into analog, so here we are. I feel as if digital photography is somehow less worthy, less deep and less important, because it's so easily accessible and easily manipulated. Maybe I should call myself a digital artist from now on? Though I can't really do any fancy shit with a computer either, just basic photoshopping. 

Today is the exhibition day and I've taken my photos and built my exhibition, so everything is done and fine. I wish I had more time and I feel I could have done better work but we are what we are and we do what we do. So I'll try to enjoy the day and see how it goes. 

Oh and by the way, the centipede is still in our shower. It's dead but when we gassed it, it was in the crack of the shower door so that's where it died. I tried to vacuum it out, but it's too sticky so it won't come out and none of us can touch it to get it out because nobody wants to feel that bug squealch even through a tissue. So there it lies, dead as a door nail and twice as disgusting. Somebody please come and help us!





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