#btconf Munich, Germany 15 - 17 Jan 2018

Aoi Yamaguchi

Born and raised in Hokkaido, Japan, Aoi Yamaguchi has been trained to master the basics of calligraphy by learning under the Master Zuiho Sato since at the age of 6, while refining her knowledge and skills. She is a recipient of numerous awards including the First Place prize from the Minister of Education at 44th Asahi Calligraphy Nationwide School Exhibit, Superior First Place at 33rd National Students Calligraphy Exhibition and others that are known as the supreme prizes at competitive public exhibitions. As a noteworthy event, she was nominated to participate in the group, 4th Hokkaido Elementary and Junior High Students Visit to China in 2000, representing the country of Japan and participated in calligraphy exchange sessions at Palace of Pupils of China.

Since landed in the U.S. in 2004, she has performed and exhibited her works in many galleries, museums, universities and festivals in the United States, across Europe, and Japan. Her works show her exploration in juxtaposing the traditional Eastern classics and her contemporary artistic expressions, as well as her unique ambition of transforming two-dimensional art of Japanese Calligraphy into the art of physical expression through performances. Currently residing in Berkeley, California, Yamaguchi continues her work on her conceptual calligraphy installations, exhibitions, and performances as she continues to push the boundaries of traditional Eastern classics and contemporary artistic expression.

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Sho Ha Hito Nari: Brushes, strokes and a reflection of self

In Japanese culture, the art of calligraphy is not only the expertly painted characters; it is the spiritual journey of the calligrapher to infuse herself in the work and see herself reflected back. Using her works to illustrate this concept, Aoi Yamaguchi will explore this duality between the visual representation of her art and the constant search for self through the brush strokes.



Aoi Yamaguchi: Hello!

Audience: Hello.

Aoi: [Laughter] My name is Aoi Yamaguchi. I’m a Japanese calligrapher based in Berkley, California. I’m particularly excited to be here in Munich. My hometown, Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido, Japan, and Munich are sister cities. We are both known for wonderful beers, right?

Audience: [Laughter]

Aoi: Yeah. My high school was by this big river called Toyohira River and, over this river, we have this beautiful bridge called Myunhen Burijji, Munich Bridge, which I passed by all the time when I was in high school, so I’m really excited to finally be here and share my passion with you guys.

My talk today is about this saying, Sho Ha Hito Nari. It means calligraphy is the reflection of self. This is an old saying, and it is often used to describe the spirituality of Japanese calligraphy in the Japanese calligraphy world. I find this concept very, very true. Over the years, I realized what I do in my art is ultimately to embody this concept. Before I get deeper into this topic, I’d like to walk you through what Japanese calligraphy is and how I got into the world of Japanese calligraphy.

I was born and raised in Hokkaido, Japan, the northern most island, which is known for its slower paced lifestyle, beautiful landscape, agriculture, and one of the best powder snow in the world in the wintertime. This is the scenery in the towns I grew up. I often walked in rivers, playing in the forest, going camping and bathing in hot springs, surrounded by visual inspirations in nature all the time, along with seasonal changes.

Having a very passionate high school Japanese literature teacher as my father, and he was also a school principal, and my mother who is also a master level calligrapher and who is active in the International Japanese Calligraphy Association based in Hokkaido, I’ve always loved reading, writing, drawing, writing my own stories and picture books, composing poems, going to piano lessons once a week, and loved music ever since I was a little girl.

When I was six years old, my mother took me to Zuiho Sato School in a small town called Kyowa in Hokkaido. This is the famous mountain in Kyowa. It’s called Yotei-zan, and it’s known as Ezo Fuji, which is the northern Mount Fuji. This calligraphy school was run by the Master Zuiho Sato and Kaho Sato, a married couple would were both master calligraphers. That’s when I started Shuji.

Japanese calligraphy has two distinctions. Shuji, meaning learning letters, is mandatory in elementary and junior high school education. Shuji is important for one who wants to learn how to write quickly and correctly. In compulsory education, we begin learning letters first with pen from first grade and start using brushes from the third grade. Shuji is also considered to be very effective to discipline children since, in the classroom, it meant to practice in silence, and it requires a lot of attention to details, and a lot of concentration. Besides the compulsory way of Shuji, was going to Master Sato’s calligraphy school after school once a week.

This photo is an adult group of the Zuiho Calligraphy School. He would demonstrate how to write, and all students watched very closely how he writes and tried to learn and steal his brush techniques. You’d be given one assignment monthly, and get your work evaluated by the Calligraphy Associations. There are ranking systems, and it’s a challenge to see how far you can rise. It’s very nice to have fellow students to compete with and encourage each other to grow together.

Master Sato was very strict, but very sincere and earnest. They were the masters I respect so much, not only their immaculate skills, but also their warm personality with dignity. This was the beginning of everything. This is where I started.

I studied under Master Sato for about 14 years until I graduated from high school and received a title of Master Calligraphy Student when I was 14. I wrote this piece when I was 15 years old, which I received an award for at a nationwide calligraphy competition. I can see, in my writing style, a certain determination in the delivery of the strokes trying to perfect the techniques.

In high school, I met another life-changing master, Masazumi Kobayashi. I took a calligraphy class for the art elective course and continued to practice in the calligraphy club at my high school. I was also in the dance club and sometimes got too busy for calligraphy practice, but this photo is the Hokkaido-wide high school calligraphy exhibition and convention where students demonstrate and create their own work as a team.

The Master Masazumi Kobayashi was such a free-spirited calligraphy teacher, opposite type of my calligraphy teacher from Master Sato, that was a time when I began to write my self-composed poems as my calligraphy work and learned that calligraphy could be a self-expression beyond strict rules and traditional styles. That is shodo. Literally, it means “the way of writing.” It is the art of calligraphy, writing Chinese characters and Japanese characters, in a beautiful, artistic style. Eventually, you aim to establish your own style.

The practice involves studying the classics by tracing the works of the great masters from China for many dynasties, and that is called rinsho. The two objectives in rinsho are tracing the letter shapes, styles, and techniques by the great masters. The second is Irin, study works closely and reflect the spirit or personality, even the philosophy of the master that you can observe in the writing. Kanjis themselves are ideographic. Therefore, mastering the skills of calligraphic expression requires long-term training and the knowledge of writing culture of the East and its history.

This rinsho process could be endless. You’ll be writing hundreds and thousands of sheets until you are able to write one satisfactory piece. I often spent hours, days, months to complete just one piece of art piece that I am really confident and happy, so I need to continue until my brain says, “Yes, this is the piece.”

What tools do we use for Japanese calligraphy? The main tools are defined as four treasures of study in Chinese and other Eastern Asian calligraphic traditions. The four treasures are a brush called chudai, ink stick called the sumi, paper called washi or gasen-shi, and inkstone called suzuri. This one I inherited from my grandfather. Other key tools include a paperweight, a felt pad called shitajiki or mousen, and seal as a signature to finalize the piece. Finding your own favorite tools are one of the joys that a calligrapher could have.

These are some of my calligraphy brushes that I own. As you can see, there are various sizes and kinds, and different kind of animal hairs: brown horse, white horse, sheep, monkey, weasel, rabbit, and so on. They all create different styles and strokes.

Horsehair is coarse, which is suitable for rigid, rectangular, rigorous scripts. Sheep hair is very soft, so it’s suitable to make more fluid and flexible, unique strokes, but harder to control, so it requires some more skill. Smaller brushes are great for writing sutras, names, and Kana works. Of course, it takes years of practice to be able to control different types of brush and know the right kind of the brush to create certain styles of writing.

In my experience, we all started from a horsehair brush, which is those brown ones, and it took me about nine years until I started to use a sheep hair brush. These are some kinds of gasen-shi paper. They are handmade specifically for calligraphy. There are ones made and imported from China, and there are ones made in Japan. Each paper reacts to sumi ink very differently. It takes years of practice to know which kind to use for certain kinds of sumi ink depending on the type of work you’re trying to make.

These are ink blocks. Sumi is made of soot and animal glue. It’s not just black. It also comes in different colors: warm black; cool black; dark, rich black.

A high-quality ink block can age nicely, age like wine, cheese, or whisky. Humans breathe air to live. Sumi ink breathes moisture to live. They grow and change as the time goes by, so use stage is after about six to seven years, starting to show uniqueness in its colors. After about 8 to 15 years, it starts to settle, and it has clear tones and smooth when grinding. Antique sumi ink older than 30 years is called kogasumi. Aged sumi ink could create unique color effects in reaction to certain kind of high quality gasen paper.

To make sumi ink, you need to mix with water. Each calligrapher owns its own recipe of sumi ink-making. The more amount of water creates lighter grey color sumi ink, and it’s called tanboku. With the right balance of water and sumi in the mixture written in a continuous flow on a high quality gasen paper, clear brush stroke edges emerge as the water evaporates.

Grinding sumi ink on liku or oka that is the raised part of the inkwell, and just drop a tiny bit of water and slowly, gently--do not grind too hard--and this is a meditative process. It calms your mind, and it helps you to focus on the present moment. Okay, by now I can feel and smell the sumi ink. Can you smell it?

Audience: [Laughter]

Aoi: Yeah, it takes forever. This is Gain signature seal, so made of marble stones of various kinds and colors and qualities, and you put the seal into the red seal ink to use, which is the ones over there. Gain is mainly your name or your calligrapher name. You can design your own or have seal-making masters design one for you. We put this Gain seal on the final piece of artwork to finalize it. The placement of the seal contributes to the shape of the artwork. Without this Gain, your work has no value.

Now you are ready to start Japanese calligraphy. Japanese calligraphy is a pure art form that uses letters as its material, so Japanese letters. In Japan, we use three types of characters: kanji, hiragana, and katakana. It is assumed that kanji characters arrived in Japan around the first century. People in Japan must have seen a kanji for the first time when Chinese currencies have arrived across the ocean.

However, people probably didn’t recognize or understood what they mean. They most likely thought that they were just patterned engraved on coins. It is assumed that people began to comprehend characters in the third century in Yayoi Period, and that is about 1700 years ago. Education of reading and writing began to be taught to commoners in 1873 in the Meiji era. Until then, education was only accessible to the noble families.

Kanji. Logographic letters originally adopted and developed from Chinese characters. Each character has its own meaning, sometimes multiple meanings depending on the combination with other kanji characters. For most of kanji characters, each has a Japanese reading and a Chinese reading. Today, 2,138 kanji characters are on the official list of Joyo kanji, which is the guide to regular use of kanji characters and their readings.

This is intended as a literacy baseline for those who have completed compulsory education as well as a list of primitive characters and readings for use in official government documents.

In my dictionary, this is a dictionary that I have in my studio. It’s called Shin-shogen. It houses 7,000 characters and 70,000 different historical writing styles and references. [Loud exhale] That includes Joyo kanji and old kanji. Yes, it’s -- oh, my gosh. [Laughter] From seal script, a very old script, clerical script, regular script, semi-cursive, and cursive, they are particular styles, and that progresses over time.

I want to show you guys what they are and how they look like. What fascinates me about kanji characters is that evolution. Kanji are a combination of radical components. Each radical is developed from Asian pictographs that symbolizes elements of nature or human elements and rituals: water, fire, earth, et cetera. They were engraved on stones and turtle shells.

In this example, it shows you the seal script of hand, and that’s the type that it looks like, and that is the gyosho, the semi-cursive script of hand - Te in Japanese.

The middle one is palm. This façade plus hand, it means to grasp or take ahold of something. This big façade over the hand with the rectangular dish to put ritual prayer inside, it’s placed by the well-lit window, which gives you a sense of appearance of a holy spirit. That’s what palm means.

The last one is embrace. Hand plus a pregnant mother with fetus. Together, it means to hold, to embrace. Touching. [Laughter]

Characters indicating actions using hands or names of things relating to hands, it all has this hand radical in the kanji composition. This is how the character evolved from the seal script to semi-cursive script written with a brush and then to type. We now write these Asian seal scripts with brushes, and there’s a certain technique to how to make this round, curvy stroke style with brush. There’s a whole genre of seal script calligraphy as well.

This is hiragana, 51 characters total, and syllabary phonetic alphabet, grammatical elements. Almost all of Japanese sentences consist of kanji and hiragana combined. Compared to kanji, hiragana has more round shapes and curves in its shape, and it has a soft elegance in its form. Hiragana calligraphy is focused on writing in a beautiful, poetic flow.

There are 46 characters for the current daily use. Traditionally, we write vertically from top to the bottom, and from the top right we read A-I-U-E-O, KA-KI-KU-KE-KO kind of like A-B-C-D-E-F-G. Hiragana, as you can see here, evolved and simplified from kanji over time. Hiragana was developed mostly in the third century in the Yayoi Period.

This is how katakana looks like. Fifty-one total syllabary phonetic alphabet mainly used for forming words and names, long words, onomatopoeias, and so on. We use this katakana to spell out, like, Munich or McDonald, Makudonarudo.

Audience: [Laughter]

Aoi: Something like that. Katakana, also we only use 46 of them for current daily use. Katakana was also developed from the kanji characters. As more foreign cultures come into the country in Japan, people needed to distinguish things, names and cultures, coming from foreign countries. The sentences in Japanese consist of these three kinds of characters with no space in between and the break is indicated with punctuation marks.

Yang Xiong, (Yo-you), a Han Dynasty scholar, writer, poet, and author had said, “Sho ha Shinga Nari.” That means calligraphy, the painting of the mind. It means that our handwriting reflects one’s personality, emotions, discipline, sophistication, and inner spirit. When practicing Japanese calligraphy, it is a challenge for one to embody your spirit in handwritten words, so you prepare ink, focus in the moment, pick up the brush, and then write the steady strokes without hesitating in a smooth and continuous flow.

From the ancient times in oriental countries, expressions of strokes by calligraphy brushes and the expressions of the negative spaces have united with the nation’s spirituality, and it has been described as calligraphy is the reflection of the internal psychology. And, calligraphy has been defined as the supreme form of the individual emotional expression.

The practice of Japanese calligraphy begins from the meditation to purify your mind and soul. One seeks to execute refined brushstrokes in a perfect balance through the internal journey to find true self. This is why Buddhist monks practice calligraphy at temples and copying the Buddhist heart sutras called shakyo. That’s how the shakyo look like. This is popular. Shakyo is very popular among known Buddhist practitioners as a meditative activity as well.

Calligraphy is a unique art form that seeks to deconstruct, rearrange, and recreate existing linguistic conventions into a form of expression that not only functions as a signifier of an idea, but also it exists as an expressive element within itself. Let’s explore some.

The seal script of water looks like this. This water as a radical combined with the female dressed in hair accessories praying towards the water, it means the ocean. [Laughter] Yes, so here are some of my creative explorations. Depending on what ocean, what kind of ocean you would like to express, either a powerful ocean with the rough waves or a very peaceful ocean with some soothing breeze or calming waves with some water splashes. You can play with the shapes and placement of the water radical, the three dots, and the balance of thick and thin strokes to create this rhythmic movement.

Another fun example. What do you think this one is?

Audience member: It’s a D.

Aoi: [Laughter] Yeah, it looks like a D with a dot inside.

Audience member: (Indiscernible)

Aoi: Hmm. That’s the character, how it looks like now, and it’s “moon.” You can see the evolution of the character from seal script to cursive, sosho, and semi-cursive, and kaisho. That’s the regular script. You can see the evolution, how a character is made.

Let’s do some explorations with the moon. In my mind, I can see a crescent moon slightly covered by a hazy cloud, looking a bit mysterious but still bright and quiet, but has some poetic presence in the night sky. How do I express that in my calligraphy? That says oboro tsuki. It means hazy moon. My imagination for this piece was moonlight is leaking through from the haze in the night sky. You can see the moon, the character, at the bottom.

What do you think this one is? Hmm?

Audience member: (Indiscernible)

Aoi: Ooh! Fire? This one right up there, it’s a phoenix flying in the sky. Clerical script on the far right and semi-cursive is this one. That is wind. It’s fascinating to know, by tracing back in the history of etymology, the symbol of phoenix flying into the sky became a character meaning the wind.

Some more exploration, I’d sketch like this to explore different styles, finding my own wind, so let’s start from the traditional style. This is a traditional wind written with sheep hairbrush, the soft one. Uh, I’m not quite sure, so let’s give this some more air and light in the wind by creating windows, these light brush strokes in the strokes, and let’s loosen up the shape a little bit.

I’m imagining a wind blowing. It could be lovely autumnal wind, maybe somehow whimsical and playful. Maybe this one is a bit typhoon or a blizzard has arrived. [Mimic wind sound] Right?

Using tanboku, like grey sumi ink, we can explore more of the lightness in the wind. This style is inspired by the clerical script, and it’s more round and balanced, warm and kind with the light grey hue. And, I think I want to be a little bit lighter and soft, something a bit more swooshing feel, and more towards the fragrant wind in the springtime. Okay, getting lighter, I think it’s getting there. I’m feeling more wind. Yeah, there. This is the spring wind I imagine. Now, I think I can feel the wind. I hope you can feel the wind brushing onto your face.

I started to seek further in ways to express my vision through calligraphy. How can I visually convey the meaning of the character or a poem? This is momentum, movement in nature, which is a series of calligraphy work that I made in 2015. This first one says, “Mai,” and this series is focusing on the movement of the word and express it in writing. The first one, this one says, “Mai,” which means “dance.” I wanted the character to really dance, so I tried to express the feeling of the dance movement in the writing. I used tanboku and the light grey sumi to give it a light feeling.

This one means “to bloom.” The big round part in the center looking like a fluff of the dandelion, that is called the nijimi, a unique effect that tanboku creates. The chemistry between tanboku and the Japanese gasen paper is magical, as if they were alive. From the moment your brush touches the paper, that ink bleeds out and grows in all directions. I love watching it as it slowly expands and grows and becomes something else. By using the nijimi effectively, I wanted the shape of the character to resemble the flower that is blooming.

This is a poem I wrote for my solo exhibition called The Resonance of Shadows: IN-EI, in 2016. When I work on a new series of works, I normally compose a poem. Then from there, I find characters that I like to write. These grey circles show, so I pick certain phrases or characters from a poem. Then from there, I create artworks. IN-EI in Japanese is defined as shadows and also a sense of beauty that we capture in shadows and nuances in colors, sound, and emotions. IN-EI is used to describe a painting as well, like “I find IN-EI in this painting”.

In the poem, I was trying to define the movements when I find this IN-EI within colors, sound, and emotions. I wanted to express this by the shades of sumi ink in calligraphy work. Based on the poem, I created a series of abstract calligraphy artworks in three categories: colors, soundscapes, and emotions. This style of work is called zen-ei shodo, which is translated as avant-garde calligraphy. I came to realize that this artistic sensibility of finding this IN-EI, the shadows, is what makes traditional Japanese art and culture unique. It makes your senses capture subtle moments and find beauty in them out of your everyday scenery.

This piece says “yami,” darkness. In the darkness, we see the presence of light. By writing the shape of the character, darkness, in a way that it’s enveloping you, I wanted to express the feeling of being embraced by the darkness where you can appreciate the light.

This piece says, “hikari,” light at last. After the darkness, we reach to the light, and we wish the light to last. I wrote the last stroke of the light, hikari, like a long tail so that it’s lasting a long time.

That’s a cool example of how the effect with the sumi ink would look like.

These two pieces in pair, this IN-EI, the shadows. They’re as tall as my height, the artwork. As you can see, the mixture of light grey sumi ink, tanboku, and condensed sumi ink, the darker black, they can create a shadow-like effect together.

To me, calligraphy is poems dancing on paper. I started to break myself free from the boundaries. Living abroad let me free myself from evaluating my work within the system based on the hierarchy in the existing community and rules in the society that has been established for a very long time. Music has been the main inspiration for my artistic sparks. In my mind, sumi ink was dancing to the beat. A line is drawn when the long note resonates. Then a poem started to seem like a song, and I started to see these visions of calligraphy characters leaving the paper and floating into the air, moving in spirals, wrapping around bodies, and then engraved like our memories. So, in that world, apart from the two-dimensional world, calligraphy was so free.

I started Japanese calligraphy performances around 2005 in the United States. I came to the U.S. originally to study abroad and experience a multicultural environment, and I also had an ambition to bridge cultures between Japan and other countries. There were new challenges for me to face in order to tell the beauty of the Japanese calligraphy art with non-Japanese speakers like you guys. [Laughter]

Maybe some of you guys might know Japanese.

There is so much beauty in the process of calligraphy than just seeing the finalized piece on the wall. From taking the inspiration to my mind, digest it, and translate the impressions into words and write a poem, meditate, meditate, and meditate until the very moment of putting it all down onto the paper, I wanted to share this whole process as a physical dynamic and passionate side of calligraphy art. I begun to perform live calligraphy.

This is one of the early performances I’ve done in New York City with a dancer and film production and music. As she dances, I was following her movements in writing poetry on a large piece of paper as if words were a dancer’s footprints, like how we leave our marks on the path we walked - live.

My performance ideas are based on poetry and compose, so this is a poem I wrote in 2011 titled “Kangen,” reunited with nature. It is about the reincarnation of life. Reincarnation is one of the strong philosophical concepts in Buddhism, which is the Japanese spiritual culture. The poem begins from the idea of this and draws a circle back to a new birth. I worked on this concept for a few series.

I gave my poem to the dancers for inspiration and have them choreograph for the piece. Sometimes we move in sync, following the calligraphic movements. I enjoy working with dancers, writing on their bodies. Writing with moving bodies create more three-dimensional movements to the performance, and the dancers themselves represent life. This live spirit gives life into the written words, which I believe, and it lets them breathe.

This was the last series of the reincarnation. I was looking for eternity when I was wring this piece. I love seeing how the poem is transformed into music and choreography and fill up the space while I perform. Music is one of the main inspirations in my work, so I love seeing my words in calligraphy transformed back to the sounds by composers and sound artists, who I respect. Me writing these words onto the bodies are, to me, symbolizing how an innocent baby like a blank canvas, as they grow, gaining words of wisdom. During the performance, it feels like my body and brush just become a conductor of that vision.

This last piece says, “The wind,” and it’s actually blowing in the wind.

It’s so beautiful to listen to the composition. Music paints a picture in my brain. I see musical notes, beats, and resonates in a visual form in my head. It is like having a conversation in a nonverbal form with the musician. I collaborate with many different musicians, dancers, and artists, and designers from various fields designing costumes and stage setup to create a performance.

Besides calligraphy, I feel very passionate about other Japanese traditional artforms. Japanese taiko drums is one of them. The drumming feels like a very powerful heartbeat and it energizes me. For this performance with Japanese taiko drummers, I’ve written Kobu, which means encourage or to inspire. Literally, the character means the dancing drum beats.

Ikebana or Kado, Japanese art of flower arrangement, is another Japanese traditional art I admire. I was invited to perform for the 90th anniversary of Sogetsu Ikebana last year, and I collaborated with a flower arrangement artist to create an arrangement for a sumi ink container, so as you can see in the center, and I was accompanied by live musicians and a taiko drummer.

For this, I wrote Ikka Ichiyo, meaning one flower, one leaf. This is a philosophy of ikebana by the ikebana master Toshigawa Sofu. In his teachings he said that once a flower is arranged by a person, it becomes a person and no longer a flower. In the arrangement, the more minimal that arrangement becomes, the larger the world you try to depict within it. It is the artist’s intent to make a viewer imagine the world of thousands of flowers and millions of leaves by just one flower and one leaf in its balance.

I believe that the same thing can be said in the philosophy of calligraphy art in the minimal world of black and white, and I truly enjoyed performing this piece.

I’ve also worn a flower arrangement as my head dresses. These were collaborations with Flower Couture, a contemporary flower arrangement artist based in San Francisco. I wanted each visual component of the performance, not only the calligraphy, to explore and convey the theme of each piece. Each flower arrangement that was designed by the Flower Couture inspired each concept of the performance. For example, this one, this theme was Dots and Lines, so the flower is dots and lines.

I’ve been also experimenting with calligraphy in digital art. I collaborated with the Swedish audio/visual artist Joel Dittrich to create a live set for an electronic music festival. This was Volt Uppsala, Sweden, back in 2011. We VJ’d for a Ben Klock set.

I performed in the snow too. It’s fun to plan a performance at a unique venue inspired by the environment. For this piece, our collaboration was inspired by the transient, ephemeral beauty of the snow. It exists for a certain amount of time, and then it will all disappear, like how snow disappears. But, the time we shared will stay in our memories.

This is a poem I wrote for a performance I did at Berkley Art Museum last year. The theme was breath. The performance took place on a full moon night. I decided to write each radical component of the kanji breath separately in layers because breath in kanji is a combination of self and heart. Meaning, breathing is the act of putting heart in yourself, which is the life itself.

Then I wrote awakening moon on a huge, 5.5 meter by 4 meters gasen paper. We suspended the artwork from above after the writing as if the radiant moon would be rising onto the sky and shining onto us.

As I’m challenging new concepts, collaborating with various artists and disciplines, I’ve been in search of ways to make what I envision come to life. I’m constantly asking myself, “What do I want to say, what do I want to express, and who am I?”

Japanese calligraphy has taught me a lot of things about life: to know where to start, when to start, what path to take, and where your goal is, from the moment of the birth to the graceful ending, to search for your own vision and style in respect with great foundations that have been developed through hundreds, thousands of masters’ hands for thousands of years in history. I’ve learned to become patient, persistent, and to be strict with myself, but to be open to others and learn from the others to improve myself, and never give up until I reach to what I envision to see.

That’s life. This is the character. This character, life, is part of my name. This is my name, Aoi. This is Yamaguchi Aoi in four characters. Aoi means blue, like blue-green, which indicates usefulness. The character at the bottom, it means life.

Both my sister and I have the character of life as part of our names, Aoi and Yui. My parents gave us this character because they wanted us to explore the world and live life to the fullest.

For my solo exhibition in 2013, I decided to write this character, life, Sei in Japanese. My mother asked me, “Are you ready to write life?” What she meant is that with your life experience at my age, at that time, have you lived enough to be able to tell what life really is, and are you ready to embody that in your writing? That was my mother’s question to me.

As a young self, I was sure that it would be a challenge for me, but I had a vision I wanted to express. I thought I could write with everything I have to engrave what life means to me at that time. I know that if I put everything I have in the moment of writing, who I am will be naturally reflected in writing.

Life is energy, a journey of struggles and unexpected happenings. It is surviving and striving through the hardships to find who you are and know what you want to become. There is no perfect piece. You can always write the same character and it will always look slightly different every time. Everyone can write the same character and they all look different. There is no control Z in this world. That is why every stroke is precious. Imperfection is the beauty, and it is uniqueness, exactly how we all are.

I look forward to writing this character, Sei, life, when I’m 80 or 90 years old and compare how my life would look like then. Then I’m sure I’ll be able to tell what life really is to my children and my grandchildren.

Thank you.

Audience: [Applause]

Aoi: Thank you.

Marc: Thank you.