Following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011, artist Chie Yamayoshi looked to the annual blooming of the Japanese Cherry Blossom as a source of inspiration and renewal. An incredibly rare and transient event, Yamayoshi layers artificiality with the natural world by replicating the blooming through an 8-channel projection. Immersed within the installation at Gallery 825 the viewer is surrounded by an invisible wind that sweeps the pink petals across television monitors and projectors while an orchestral score swells. Ephemeral Eternity makes the impermanent permanent and preserves nature while remaining within the realm of artifice.
Installation Magazine: The first day of work or school in April coincides with the cherry blossom season. It signals a new beginning as delicate petals fall onto the streets as if cleansing the pavement. The 8-channel installation preserves a stunning spectacle that happens for a brief moment.
Chie Yamayoshi: I wanted to capture the image of cherry blossoms in full bloom; that was one of the most crucial tasks in creating this piece. I wanted to contain the overwhelming beauty of the cherry blossoms and the snow of falling petals within a visual medium. The 8-channel installation makes the ephemeral cherry blossoms permanent. The title of the exhibition Ephemeral Eternity resonates with the Japanese phrase “mono no aware,” which is translated as the “pathos of things” or an “empathy toward things.” The phrase speaks to an awareness of impermanence and addresses an appreciation of beauty held in Japanese culture. The brief season of the cherry blossoms also reflects the dichotomy of life and death.
When we spoke at the gallery you mentioned that the project was filmed over a few days. How did you determine the locations for the shoot?
The planning for filming cherry blossoms in Japan was really tough, especially as an artist living in LA. Timing was crucial because cherry blossoms have a short lifespan on the tree, and they are only in full bloom for a few days. I had a full-time job then so I only had three days to travel and film in Japan. Once I learned that the cherry trees were in full bloom, I bought a ticket to Tokyo that same day. I traveled all over the city looking for the perfect scenery. I wanted to capture the cherries in full bloom, but I also wanted to convey the residents’ lives as they recovered from the massive earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown. I walked from town to town all day, sometimes asking people where to go to find sakura (cherry blossom). The camera kept rolling from dawn to dusk.
What effects were implemented to create the layers of the falling petals?
All the petals are digital creations constructed inside out by applying 3D computer graphics particle systems that simulate each of the petal’s movements. The ultimate task was to make them look real: they had to hold the aesthetic constitution of truth so that the finished projections could appear -as if by a miracle- where the vibrant and the ephemeral are intrinsically tied to each other. It was a huge imagery experiment that took months to create.
How do you feel the installation represents the resilience of Japanese culture?
During the time of the devastation in 2011, I had no choice but to watch Japan from afar. Footage and photographs of the Japanese population were very accessible here in LA. Even though I didn’t actually experience the disaster, I am Japanese and I felt a sense of guilt and loss watching my country from the outside. As the year progressed, I visited the disastrous areas and talked to people in temporary shelters. I felt that it was my responsibility as an artist to create something that explored what Japan had experienced employing an aesthetic native to my culture’s perception of life and death. I feel that Japanese aesthetics have the universal power to resonate with other cultures. Using loops and converging the ephemeral to the eternal, I also embedded my concerns about the country into this piece: Fukushima issues, current government’s geo-political blindness and issues surrounding global culture. I continue to explore these motifs. For one of my upcoming projects I am planning to film cherry blossoms in Fukushima.
As one of my friends in Japan watched some fragments from the piece, she expressed herself saying that, “the cherry blossoms remind me of the visible anxiety and the invisible fear mixed within my mind after the disaster; I almost gave up on my country’s future. When the cherry trees began to bloom, their beauty moved me to tears and gave me hope to survive. Life goes on.”
Featured Video: Chie Yamayoshi, Ephemeral Eternity, video, 2013 ©Chie Yamayoshi
All images ©Chie Yamayoshi