One of the nicer art projects I have seen this year is Japanese artist Shitamichi Motoyuki’s ’14 years old & the world & borders’. Designed by Shin Akiyama, this beautiful tri-lingual (Chinese, English, Korean) book is the culmination of a longer project spread over six years in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Motoyuki and Hong Kong artist Tang Kwok-hin exhibited together at Tai Kwun late last year focusing on a simple but compelling idea: that ‘borders’, in a variety of real and imaginary forms, are constantly in our everyday lives. Borders as boundaries, borders as walls, borders as ideas that impede progress, change or creativity. A border can literally be another person, or a physical road or an imagined bridge. A border can also be a fear, a prejudice or an idea. A border can stop or limit or be a challenge to overcome. Often, recognizing a border is the first step before crossing it and going ‘forward.’ An extreme, but common example is an alcoholic or drug addict whose recovery first requires a full acknowledgement of the addiction. We have borders throughout our lives and a considered response and calm recognition to a challenging border demonstrates “common sense”, or adult-like maturity.
Motoyuki shared his views about borders with 14-year old teenagers in schoolroom workshops he led in different countries. He explains: “The mind of a high school student always vacillates, and I think one of the reasons is that they are still at a transitional stage oscillating between welcoming and rejecting what adult society accepts as “common sense”. What they say consists of “questions and resistance against common sense” and I would like to explore this feeling. This project is a dialogue with them inside high school classrooms….”
In the workshops, the artist discussed and asked students to think about various borders and write a short text about a personal border. The pieces were then published in a separate weekly column in a local newspaper, in Hong Kong it was Ming Pao Sunday. Many students spoke about obvious immediate concerns, such as careers, study, friends, family, or their appearance. For example, “Since my legs are fat, I don’t feel comfortable to show them, neither in my school uniform or my own clothes.”
Many students dug deeper, on the edge of their emotions: “My cousin will go to Australia soon, I can’t go home with her anymore – it’s very lonely. But, I can’t tell her, “Don’t go.””
Some students highlighted a psychological or ideological border: “Uncle died, and the adults cried, but the children didn’t. Children usually cry all the time, not adults. But how come when someone dies, it’s only adults who cry? Is it because they previously lived together? Because they are family? So, at a time like this – other children may feel the same – when children don’t cry and adults cry, more questions arise in my mind.”
The book is not available to be bought, nor is it available at bookshops. It has been given away free and Mitoyuki has set some rules: once receiving the book, you write your name and location in the front cover; after reading the book, you give it to another person who must also write their name in the front cover, and this is repeated over and over. The book will – hopefully and eventually – travel much further afield, around the world. It’s not to be kept by any reader. It will not reside on a bookshelf or be available in a library. It keeps travelling: it is a borderless book, free to travel from hand to hand and mind to mind.
Between its covers are the teenage concerns of this present moment. However, the book also has a timeless universality crossing national borders and cultures. Experiencing the hormone-fueled anger, doubt and rebellion of a teenager encountering their personal borders is often also a traumatic period for a parent. A teenager is also a young person with honest openness and a refreshing sense of wonder.
If you happen to receive the book – and that probability is unfortunately very low – you would see, as Mitoyuki records: “The scenery (that the students) encountered in various daily discoveries…unfolded in these tiny voices.”