Kana-artist Kaoru Akagawa

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Title: To Cross Borders – Sunset on the Seine
What are borders? Some people may imagine national borders. Others may think of borders between different religions. Cultural differences can also be perceived as borders. Even within the same culture there are borders, for example between generations, eras or genders. Borders exist between art genres as well, such as painting and calligraphy. Art from different eras is effected by a stylistic generational split and these borders mean that art itself is not the same from one era to the next. Because of my globe-trotting background, “To Cross Borders” has become one of the core ideas of my work. I was born in Canada, grew up in the U.S.A., went to university in Japan, and am now active as an artist in Europe. My aim in my work is to create pieces based on borderless common ideas shared by human beings, independent of the culture or epoch. It sometimes takes courage to cross borders. You may be confronted with difficulties. Looking at the current geopolitical climate makes me feel that we need to face up to these difficulties and cross the borders in order to stop fighting and to deepen our mutual understanding. This is the major principle behind my work "To Cross Borders – Sunset on the Seine ". Since prehistoric times, bodies of water have played a role as natural borders, and humans have always had a deep desire to cross these borders. For example, the Rubicon was the border between the Roman province Cisalpine Gaul and Italy during the Roman Republic. Julius Caesar had to rethink before making the decision to cross the Rubicon and lead his army into Italy. The Spree River was also used in part as a strict border dividing West and East Berlin during the Cold War. Many attempted to cross this border by swimming. Apart from their geometric symbolism, water surfaces sometimes form borders in people’s minds. The differentiation between “Rive Gouche” and “Rive Droite” already indicates that the people in Paris consider the Seine as a conceptual border. Humans have made serious efforts to build crossings on water surfaces. If a crossing is created, the movement of people and exchange goods will gain steam. Mutual understanding between the two banks facing each other across the water deepens. “Like a bridge over troubled water. I will lay me down”, so sings Simon & Garfunkel, using a bridge as a metaphor for the connection between people. Bridges also conjure an image of opening the future and showing a new world. Even in the forefront of the Christian world, the root word for “Pope”, “Pontifex Maximus” means “the greatest bridge builder”. It shows how the ability to build a bridge was worshiped in Christian society. There are 200 crossings on the Seine from the estuary to the source. I would like to believe that these crossings are not only a mean of transportation, but that they also bring together the hearts of people and the future. In my work, to express my passion to cross borders, I wrote the names of these 200 crossings repeatedly on strips of Ryoshi, traditional Japanese paper. By deliberately using traditional Japanese Ryoshi, I manage to cross the border between the European and Asian cultures. In addition, the characters I use in my works are traditional Kana characters unique to Japan, which have 1000 years of tradition. Unfortunately, Kana are no longer used in day-to-day life in contemporary Japan, as the Japanese government decided in 1900 to use only roughly 50 symbols out of hundreds of Kana in modern education. As a result, the fact that there were once a large number of Kana is gradually being forgotten in Japan today. By using these almost forgotten characters in my work I am attempting to build a bridge beyond time and space. The image I expressed in my work using Ryoshi is a sunset on the Seine. Thematically, a sunset on a water surface has always inspired artists - in any time or place. To mention a few, the French painter Claude Monet (1840-1926) painted his “Sunset on the Seine” series; the Japanese woodcut print artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) also drew “Viewing the Sunset over Ryōgoku Bridge from the Onmaya Embankment”; the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944)’s masterpiece “The Scream” is also sunset on a fjord; and the Chinese Poet Wang Zhihuan (688-742) described the Yellow River at sunset. Why did they all find the combination of water surface and sunset beautiful, despite having nothing in common personally? These coincidences are my eternal theme, since I believe that borders can be crossed if you focus more on these similarities among humans. Borders are created to protect the areas within their lines, so it is undeniable that borders also have positive effects. But it is also true that we humans have the desire to cross them engrained in our DNA. My wish is that people are allowed to cross borders as freely as the sun and the water.
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