One of the fun things about writing a blog is that the search for material takes me to parts of London I’ve never been before and may very well never go again. Take yesterday’s expedition to De Beauvoir Town, situated roughly where Islington shades into Hoxton, which I reached by number 38 bus and a convoluted walk through quiet streets lined with Victorian terraces. Appropriately enough, my object was to see an installation about journeys to distant lands and what they tell us about colonialism, cultural tourism and identity.
Anjin 1600: Edo Wonderpark is a multi-room installation by artist David Blandy about his expectations of and reactions to Japan. He links his experience to that of William Adams, the first Englishman to visit Japan and imagines Adams’ journey as a space odyssey, his sailing ship cruising the empty vastness of space.
The installation covers a series of rooms. It begins with some of Blandy’s customised video games where Blandy/Anjin waits to be our guide.
We board the starship (the starship bridge was made in collaboration with AAS group of installation artists)…
…which takes us to a tatami-floored room with slippers left casually at our disposal where Anjin 1600 Episode 2 (a collaboration between Blandy and Japanese anime artist Keiko Shiraishi) plays on a television in front of a paper screen.
Shiraishi’s graphic style is much looser than Blandy’s manga-influenced work.
Finally we reach peaceful garden where we can sit on a stone bench and watch Blandy’s film, Anjin: Edo Wonderpark where the artist talks us through his intellectual and emotional journey to the real Japan.
Blandy’s imagined Japan is a synthesis of the woodblock prints of Hiroshige and the seminal nineties role-playing video game Final Fantasy VII.
But the real Japan turned out to be quite unlike his imaginings; uglier and harder, a place where homeless men take off their shoes before getting into their cardboard-box homes – ‘Blade Runner with Cherry Blossom’ as he memorably describes it.
Adams’s expectations were overturned too; having gone there to trade and get rich, he ended up becoming the first foreign samurai and living out his life in the Shogun’s service.
Blandy’s juxtaposition of the real and imagined Japan reminded me of Peter Carey’s book Wrong about Japan and the contrast he draws between his son’s simple engagement with present day Japan and his own theory-laden struggles. It seems people often build up a fantasy image of Japan through a love of its art and culture and then find contact with the actuality something of a shock. Which is what makes travel so mind-expanding.
The installation is at Rose Lipman Building, 43 De Beauvoir Road, N1 5SQ until 26 October, open Wed – Sat: 12-6pm. If you’re going, forget the number 38 bus; the best way is to take the overground to Haggerston which is a couple of minutes walk away.