Today am in need to grasp something solid and immovable, so that I may wake up tomorrow to start my second draft. Maybe.
…so with this in mind, my next entry in the blog is the bibliography of draft 1.
There is a strange feeling I experience when my gaze moves from my laptop whilst writing a script of a story based in the dry red Goldfields of Western Australia to the lush green fields outside my studio window at the Artist Residency quarters at Bundanon Trust. Is this the same country?
I have been in Bundanon for 3 weeks, and I finally finished the first draft of the play I have wanted to write since I began this blog. Instead of celebrating, I am feeling vulnerable. Writing is a solo activity, and although I am enjoying meeting and sharing stories and meals with other artists here, I still spend much of my time alone with my laptop, living in a surreal internal world between desert and hinterland, fact and fiction, and tropical Broome, where I was before I came here, winter in Tokyo, where I am going to be in two weeks time for Christmas, my brief 2 day return to my apartment in Rozelle last weekend, and my memories of the last two years since I had an inkling of what it was I wanted to write, I no longer seem to know if what I have written makes any sense or if the story is of any interest to anyone other than me, and what and how, if at all, am I going to do next with this script.
Today am in need to grasp something solid and immovable, so that I may wake up tomorrow to start my second draft. Maybe.
Following signs upon signs, coincidences upon coincidences without logic, other than the ones formulated in hindsight, there I was, in the bustling Leonora Whitehouse Hotel.
As our train named Prospectortraveled alongside the seemingly never ending steel water pipeline that delivers water along the 530 km stretch to the Eastern Goldfields from Perth, I am once again reminded of the vastness of Australia, the aridity of this land’s interior, and that how our struggle for fresh water created much conflict since the time of first contact between its original inhabitants and new settlers.
The construction of the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme started in 1898, the same year Okin, a Japanese woman working in the town of Malcolm in the Eastern Goldfields, was allegedly raped. Gold had just been discovered in Malcolm, yet another 230 kms further north from Kalgoorlie into the arid interior of Western Australia.
The thought of how she travelled from her village in Japan with plentiful fresh water from the mountains, what drove her so far into the interior of this dry land, makes me feel ashamed of my air-conditioned comfort. Something about the act of documenting this landscape and my journey to the place Okin had travelled to, lived and worked, with an expensive toy-like video recorder, a GoPro purchased recently especially for this trip makes me feel like a fraud, not to mention the chit chatting with my travel companions, and the sparkling wine from the train kiosk I had been sipping.
My travel companions are both women, both with Australian fathers and mothers from the UK. They had only met that morning for the first time in Perth, when I introduced them as my two long-time friends, who for their own reasons, decided to come along on this journey. Although this was the first time I had companions on a project related research trip, it seemed apt in a loose synchronistic way, considering I originally started this project with a vague idea that I would write about 3 Japanese women in Australian history and their relationships with Australian men, and as a result, my digital parent folder for this project is still labeled “3 Women”.
After hiring a car in Kalgoorlie the following afternoon, we drove up the Goldfields Highway, north to Leonora for the night. Leonora is 19 kms west of, and the nearest town to the now abandoned ghost town site of Malcolm where Okin had once lived and worked in a house she said was a laundry, and others said was a brothel.
Other than the two barmaids, one who was a beautiful young blonde haired ‘Skimpy of the Day,’ dressed in a tight black vinyl g-stringed body suit, the clientele in the main bar of the Leonora White House Hotel were all men. Many worked in nearby mines, others worked on pastoral stations or on road works. I was glad my friends were with me to assist my mission for the night to find local information, especially about the historic town of Butterfly, which used to exist 30 kms south of Malcolm and about the current Butterfly gold mine.
This project has never really had a planned route and destination. All I have really done is to follow signs and gut feelings as it revealed itself in time. The first sign was that I found the results of our 2015 National Opera Review Discussion Paper, which mentioned Puccini’s Madama Butterflyas one of the family favorites in Australian opera as problematic. I applied to the National Library of Australia’s Japan Study Grant (now Asia Study Grant) to research on the history of Japanese women in Australia to find out why. There I found Okin’s story nestled amongst the original manuscripts of historian D.C.S. Sissons, and upon googling the town of Malcolm where she had lived, found the town of Butterfly only 30 kms away. Then I found also through google, that there was a current goldmine called Butterfly too.
I have just been following signs upon signs, coincidences upon coincidences without logic, other than the ones formulated in hindsight, there I was, in the bustling Leonora Whitehouse Hotel with my girlfriends.We decided to go around the bar, buying beers for the men, asking them questions and pumping them for information.
Although regrettable, it cannot be helped, that all cultures have their own recognition of taste and aesthetics.
It was once again my mentor Dr Keiko Tamura, who recommended me to visit the grounds of the Irifuneyama Memorial Museum, which include the former official residence of generations of Naval Commander-in Chiefs of Kure, and after WWII, that of the BCOF’s Commander of the Allied Forces.
Although the Kure City Maritime Museum, commonly known as the Yamato Museum, is seemingly the most popular tourist destination in Kure, boasting 10 million visitors in the first 10 years of operation since it opened its doors in 2005, as a student of Australia – Japan relations, it was important for me to visit during my very brief stay in Kure, the Irifune Memorial Museum and the Naval Academy on nearby Eta Island, because they were both places where the Australians as part of BCOF was stationed.
Climbing up the hill from the entrance of the Irifuneyama Memorial Museum, passing the clocktower and the guard post, was a small building where a volunteer guide stood. He introduced himself to me eagerly, and welcomed me as if I was a foreign dignitary on an official visit. There appeared to be no other visitors that morning, and former residence of the Commanders, both Japanese and Australian, was very quiet, empty and serene.
At the entrance of former residence with a Western style frontage, another volunteer guide welcomed me, and was eager to show me around. He told me about the architecture of the building, designed by an English trained Japanese architect with a Western style wing for the Commander’s public quarters and a Japanese style wing for his private quarters.
When I let him know I was interested in the Australians, he explained to me at great length, in the most diplomatic manner, how the foreign occupiers had changed the décor of the residence to their cultural tastes, painting white paint over their valued unique wall and ceiling feature decorated with kinkara-kami, which is a rare type of gold-embossed paper. Since, the City of Kure and the Museum have reproduced the original patterns as wallpaper of this building as part of their restoration process. As there are now very few people with knowledge of the making of the kinkara-kami, they hold workshops to preserve the knowledge. He then explained to me in painstaking detail, how to make kinkara-kami. He added in the end, that although regrettable, it cannot be helped, that all cultures have their own recognition of taste and aesthetics.
Although according to Takashi Ueda, a representative of Kinkarakami Institute in Tokyo, the kinkara-kami was highly sought after in Europe and America at the turn of the 19th century and was actively exported, and can still be found in Western buildings, one of which is at Rippon Lea, a National Heritage Listed heritage site in Melbourne, Australia.
An invaluable benefit of spending time in Canberra is the great minds I get to brain storm my project ideas with.
Professor Jacqueline Lo (ANU) is my dear friend and mentor. She has seen my performance works, listened to my concerns and aspirations during their creative processes, gave me feedback, written papers about some, and has instigated pivotal insights and guideposts for me as an artist and as a human being.
Bursting out of my long silent reading and thinking time at the National Library, I blurted out to her:
I wanted to write a love story that didn’t reinforce tragically inclined storylines, emotions and behaviors. Not that I wanted to necessarily write a Cinderella storyline, but neither did I want to pass on the beautification of the long suffering love of Cho Cho san in Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly.
Yet, post colonial and feminist critiques aside, somehow the glorification of heightened emotions of sorrow caused by unreturned romantic endeavour actually existed within me. Actually, I thought it existed/ exists within all of us, Japanese or otherwise… and that was why I was working towards writing a play that transforms these repetitive karmic forces at play, reinforced by popular stories, not only of those from my own life time, but from many previous life times.
Furthermore, It was up to all of us in the present moment to change not only our future, but also our past; by learning our karmic lessons, it was possible to change the past in the here and now; to heal past wounds through our art making process and in the theatre, just like it was possible in quantum physics that the here and now can change the past.
There were many unknown factors about what may or may have not happened to Okin; that historical facts cannot be taken at face value; that nothing is ever what it seems; and if we can put aside critical thinking and preconceived judgements which our karma has engendered in us; then those areas we are never to know will give us an opening to change our past and future simply by how we imagine or reimagine them to be.
Does any of this make any sense to you? I’m raving.
But Jacquie, within minutes of me blurting all this out, understood what I was saying.
She said that I am using the term karma, but in her area of trauma and memory studies, this could be called trans generational memory (through a diasporic lens.)
She later sent me a chapter in the book Empathy and its Limits she had written called, Diaspora, Art and Empathy. It was primarily about John Young’s art over a period of time. Reading this gave me further guideposts to my work in progress.
To me, John’s work goes far beyond racial, diasporic or transcultural concerns (He was born in Hong Kong, studied in Australia, and is part of the first wave of Chinese Australian artists). His work concerns those of humanity as a whole.
the relationship that the generation after those who witnessed cultural or collective trauma bears to the experiences of those who came before, experiences that they ‘remember’ only by means of the stories, images, and behaviors among which they grew up. But these experiences were transmitted to them so deeply and affectively as to seem to constitute memories in their own right. Postmemory’s connection to the past is thus not actually mediated by recall but by imaginative investment, projection, and creation.
Yes! This is what I am doing, working on, remembering, imagining, projecting, and creating.
Jacquie then goes on to write that John’s work, although not that of conventional postmemory in a sense that it was bequeathed to him as a member of a particular diasporic or national community, but that of ‘affective communication and imaginative contamination,’ and thus postmemory is ‘less about veracity… but rather about the structures of feeling that the memory-making inspires, and the ways in which this memory-making echoes something of the ethics and history of the memory-maker.’
Suddenly, I felt liberated.
Over the last decade, somehow I have found myself working in what Jacquie describes as ‘conventional diasporic frameworks in our multicultural paradigm.’ This it seems is what John had experienced: an ‘ethnic’ artist charged with the weight of representing a social or cultural group.
So then my concerns about Madama Butterfly need not only be because I am a woman of Japanese heritage. The discourse on diaspora and diasporic art may have made me take notice of this particular story, and kept me awake at night, knowing something had to be done, but now my work no longer need to be just about the Japanese, or more specifically, a Japanese woman who had suffered.
I would so much like think that my concerns to be wider and deeper, and not only within the context of diaspora or perhaps even gender. For the sake of evolution our consciousness, I would like my art to take part in a transmutation of our accepted behaviors and emotional responses, especially of those that are repeated throughout generations, and are often judged, celebrated or criticised, without it ever being questioned.
…. A big task ahead…
Professor Jacqueline Lo is Associate Dean (International) for the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Executive Director of the Australian National University’s Centre for European Studies and the Chair of Academic Board (2016-2018). She is also an Adjunct Research Fellow of the Centre for Interweaving Performance Cultures at the Free University of Berlin.
John Young Zerunge was born in Hong Kong in 1956 and moved to Australia in 1967. He read philosophy of science and aesthetics at the University of Sydney and then studied painting and sculpture at Sydney College of the Arts, specifically with the conceptual artist Imants Tillers and musical prodigy (the late) David Ahern. His investigation of Western late modernism prompted significant phases of work from a bi-cultural viewpoint, including series of paintings in the last four decades – the Silhouette Paintings, The Polychrome Paintings, the Double Ground Paintings and the Abstract Paintings.