Nezu Reflections 1998-99


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The history of the famous Nezu Jinja Shrine in the heart of Tokyo is based on both legend and fact. Legend says the shrine was founded about two thousand years ago; when the Emperor's son, Yamato Takeru no Mikoto, is said to have built the shrine in Sendagi village, near its present site, as a token of respect to the god of war while on a military expedition. More recently, the shrine was later moved to its present site in Nezu and completed in 1706, a magnificent temple which proved worthy of its new status as tutelary shrine to the sixth shogun, Tenobu Ienobu. But Ienobu's father, who was apparently rather intemperate and subject to bouts of drinking, killed a retainer, Nezu Uemon, and from that day forward never knew a moment's rest; he may have committed suicide. In any event, history and legend became so intertwined that almost any story of the Edo epoch worthy of its name contains a play on words, such as in a popular satirical poem: "By his lordship's pillow/The ghost of Nezu/Sleepless, stands guard." Here the pun is on nezu, which means, "without sleeping" and is also the name of the slain retainer and of the district and its shrine.

Standing in front of one of Tokyo's most charming and important shrines for the first time in the summer of 1998, I was fascinated. Indeed, it is one of only three shrines designated an Important Cultural Property in the whole city and is the largest and best preserved. Nezu Jinja Shrine, situated in a mass of greenery, is a riveting focal point by virtue of its brilliant red paint and the numerous arches one may use to approach it, which extend like arms on either side of the main gate and main hall of the meditation area. I have been so struck with the shrine's legend, history and appearance that I became obsessed with the attempt to quantify and transform it into my own vocabulary, hence my own "sleepless nights" in reflecting, interpreting, creating and completing my version of Nezu Jinja Shrine. Nezu Reflections is an installation composed of seven red gates that reinterpret the original Nezu Jinja Shrine gates. I want the viewer to move around my gates in denial of a static point of view that is common in the West. The calligraphy on the posts of the Tokyo Nezu Jinja Shrine represents names of major donors along with pleasant thoughts and good wishes for them. On my red gates are inscribed a welcome and some of the names of those who provided substantial assistance in carrying this project to fruition, along with my good wishes to them for such support.