ARTSCENE | october 2005 | vol. 25 no. 2
The Monthly Digest to Art in Southern California

Barbara Hashimoto
by Diane Calder

Reflections on artists influenced by actual or in absentia travel to cultures alien to their own typically involve undergraduate blue books filled with tales of Gauguin’s romantic relations to primitivism, Picasso’s appropriation of African tribal sculpture, or Van Gogh’s transformation of the French countryside into “my Japan.” Although there have been “misinterpretations” to contend with, reaching across borders (an inclination older than the classification of art into styles), has been credited with enriching artistic production and invigorating manners and medium for centuries. But with current escalations of bigotry by those who refuse to see beyond the primacy of their own interests and beliefs, artists who add their voices to earnest and sensitive contemplation of people and traditions outside the boundaries of their birthright, gain added importance.

Barbara Hashimoto took her first steps towards illustrating her experience as an outsider years before her marriage to photographer Yoshi Hashimoto bestowed her with his Japanese surname. In 1986, the New Jersey-born Yale graduate with a master’s degree in business had little on her resume to indicate that she would soon be serving as an apprentice to a ceramicist in Japan, stoking wood-fed kilns in a Thai village, or concerning herself with a wall of widows’ handprints in India. These experiences, and Hashimoto’s acute observations of the skills and customs of people she encountered along the way, became embedded in sculpture and performance art that is surveyed (as the first part) along with new work (as the second part) in a two-part exhibition of fifteen years of artistic practice.

"Embedded Book", 1990 | 19.5 x 15.5 inches (framed) | book, ceramic, washi
photo credit: Yoshi Hashimoto

Part one, “How Comes It To Be Furnished?,” includes an early work, “Embedded Book,” in which Hashimoto’s slate gray, slip-encased fired book is rooted in and/or grows out of an elegant modeled sheet of handmade washi paper. There is every indication that Hashimoto is addressing censorship, secrets and the guarding of knowledge here. But her relationship at that time, as an artist in residence to designated Intangible Cultural Asset, Minoru Fujimori, suggests that “Embedded Book” could also reference Hashimoto’s interactions with her teacher or sensei (literally someone who has already “walked along the Way”). Ideally, by engaging the student in never-ending practice, a sensei gradually relinquishes knowledge the student can use to find her own path--a subtext suggested in the work.

"Hone, Tatemae, and", 1990 | 14 x 28 x 5’ inches | ceramic, book, linen, wool
photo credit: Yoshi Hashimoto

Wrapped clay books in “Hone, Tatemae, and” (roughly translated, “how one reveals self”) are infused with mystery as alluring as geishas bound in kimonos. They rest on a metal plate that perfectly foregrounds the sensitivity to color, texture and placement of objects in space, heightening the beauty and effectiveness of Hashimoto’s works and their affinity to the Zen-like quality known as shibui. The three elements imply changing states of being, fired and unfired, all encased in Plexiglas. Only through careful reflection can those sealed off from the subtleties of a life and language that is foreign to them learn to appreciate what is held inside.

"And Now Every Man Was Her Slave", 2005 | performance
photo credit: Ed Smith

Hashimoto’s responses to cross-cultural identity and sexual privilege surface in work such as “And Now Every Man Was Her Slave,” a performance by ten typists underlining the process and ritual of obsession, informed by her knowledge of Butoh. “The Sati Series” is a moving tribute to “good wives” who sacrificed themselves on their husband’s funeral pyres. And even magna, the popular comics that captivate impeccably dressed Japanese businessmen with off-color illustrations, served a purpose when the artist tossed one of the offending publications into her kiln. Surprisingly, temperatures in excess of 2000 degrees melded the distasteful imagery into some clay. Hashimoto preceded to perfect her power to manage the transfer of printed material through control of the oxidation process, adding that skill to her ability to enhance or conceal words and pictures by reworking ceramic pieces with paint, photographs and collage.


Cressida… Nor then Neither, 2005 | 31 x 20 inches (framed) | ceramic, book
photo credit: Yoshi Hashimoto

Heralding her return to Western culture, Hashimoto embodies works embracing Shakespeare and John Locke into the second half of her survey, “Return to Tabulae Rasae.” Segments of the acrid, beautiful “Cressida. . .Nor then Neither,” follow the structure of Shakespeare’s Trojan tragedy, which breaks down following Cressida’s deception. In a key homage to John Locke, “159 Pages Concerning Human Understanding,” a maple tray holds 159 fragile clay slabs of various tones and hues. The work brings to life these lines from Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding”:

“Let us then suppose the mind to be. . .white paper void of all characters, without any ideas. . .Whence comes it by that vast store which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety?”

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