Thursday, January 12, 2012


So last night I went and saw 'Being Elmo' and it was the most inspiring and moving documentary I've seen in ages. Until yesterday I kind of blamed Elmo for the decline of Sesame street, his slow attrition of everybody's screen time, other characters like Baby Bear, Grover, Telly, Ernie and Burt etc. falling by the wayside as people clamoured for more Elmo.

But then you see what Elmo means to people, and particularly when Elmo is captured fulfilling a 'make a wish' wish for a terminally ill child, Maria.

And Kevin Clash the guy with his hand up Elmo, talks about becoming a puppeteer he talks about the plethora of people that look at something different and offer up 'you might not succeed' and then says 'if you focus on doing what makes you happy, all those obstacles dissappear.'

And finally I feel I can write something about my forthcoming exhibition. Musashi's battle against the Yoshioka school at Ichijoji. Musashi's book is one of the most influential in shaping my dreams, my character, my approach to life. He was an amazing man. Yet he lived in a time of meaningless violence. In 1600's Japan there wasn't the collective memory to imagine the lasting peace of the Tokugawa rule that had begun in Musashi's adolescence, so without knowing it, the martial arts had gone from being a practical lifestyle to literally an 'artform'.

It's on that level the history pulls me back and I can relate. The subject matter is so violent though I doubt that the underlying amazingness of the fued will come through.

It is to me, such a powerful example of individualism versus group think, that surprisingly the advice from Clash 'all those obstacles dissappear' perfectly expresses exactly what took place.

To fill you in, and I have to find ways to be more efficient at this, Musashi brazenly swaggered into then capital Kyoto and challenged the head of the former Shogun's sword instructor's school to a duel. The duel was fought and Musashi won, the head retiring in defeat (purportedly losing the use of his sword arm.) The head's younger brother Denshichiro became head of the school and immediatly challenged Musashi to a duel to restore the school's reputation.

Musashi killed Denshichiro in a duel, head of the Yoshioka school then passed to Denshichiro's 12 year old son... whom also challenged Musashi to a duel. And I don't know how or why, but this duel listed 2nds, that is people to fight in place of the young master (as an aside Musashi won his first duel by killing Arima Kihei at age 13) and these seconds were the (supposed) 70 members of the Yoshioka school.

Thus you literally have an institution taking on an individual. 70 armed men seems like insurmountable odds, that I (we?) can speculate that the intention of the duel at Ichijoji was that Musashi would turn up and be slaughtered quickly or more likely, flee the capital where the Yoshioka would be free to discredit their nemesis as a coward.

But Musashi turned up, and Musashi won the duel. (I won't go into the unromantic details now, but my exhibition will be heavily romanticised)

So you have Musashi, literally cutting his way through a seemingly endless number of obstacles, of institutional thought, champions of the official realities of safety in numbers, security, respectability, reputation... and Musashi, the loner in a single day elevated himself above their reality and cemented himself permanently in both the myth and history of Japan.

For me, Ichijoji represents my views on the debate of what does and doesn't exist, the control we attempt to exert over reality. It is a confrontingly visceral struggle through the obstacle of 'reality' that anybody trying to... just be themselves has to struggle through. And if you just focus on what you believe in, what drives you, those obstacles dissappear.

I can't think of a more fitting subject for my first exhibit.

Now to turn around and work on it.