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aerial view of the Euphoria dune shack, image courtesy © Christopher Seufert Photography
What does Euphoria look and feel like? Later this month we’ll have a first-hand report to share, as we’ve recently been granted a highly coveted (by some) invitation to inhabit a dune shack named Euphoria in the Province Lands of Cape Cod. The shack, which is completely off the grid (no heat, hot water, electricity etc.) is managed by the Peaked Hill Trust, a small, but sturdy organization that has enabled several of these historically notable, wabi sabi ”dune shack” structures to endure since the late 1940s.
This is our fourth inhabitation of a dune shack, though it will be our first time in Euphoria. In 2009 we experienced Thalassa, a tiny shack named for a Greek primordial sea goddess. Dune shacks have a storied and celebrated spot in Cape Cod history. We highly recommend Annie Dillard’s The Maytrees for an introduction to the romance of dune life. For one week, contemporary inhabitants are invited to trade in cell phones (which are allowed, but have no signal), email, heat, modern conveniences and all senses of sexagesimal time, for beachfront access to the Atlantic Ocean, dark nights, total silence (minus the cry of coyotes), and a daily life rhythm that almost immediately syncs up with that of the sun.
For years we’ve thought of the dune shacks as akin to Japanese teahouses, porous architectural spaces used as apertures onto their surrounding landscapes. These small, intimate quarters simplify life down to bare spaces of intentional exchange and cognizant engagement with the local environment. While recently visiting the “Edo Pop” exhibition at the Japan Society, we re-discovered the famed woodblock project Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai. It’s not widely known that Hokusai’s most famous print The Great Wave off Kanagawa, is actually part of the Thirty-Six Views series. The prints of this series were created between 1826-33 (and aren’t to be mistaken for the series of the same name produced by Ando Hiroshige in 1858, who also created the famous Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō Road between 1833-34).
Tea House at Koishikawa, The Morning After Snowfall from Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji
Eriji in the Suruga Province, from Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji
Rainstorm Beneath the Summit, from Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji
Due to its popularity, Hokusai later expanded Thirty-Six Views to a series of 46. The prints vividly depict travel and other forms of human movement through landscapes — while in relation to the occasionally formidable, and always changeable, forces of nature surrounding Mt. Fuji, Japan’s most beloved natural feature. At times, seasonal variations such as wind, waves, rain storms, lightning or a river’s current take visual precedence over the volcano. Throughout the series, Fuji-san appears as a site in flux, unfixed and seemingly as variant as the temperamental environments surrounding it. It ranges from being the primary focus of a composition to being depicted as a tiny cone in the corner of a print. When considered across the series, it becomes apparent that the artist has ensured that there is no one single way to view, experience or “image” the named subject of these prints — or “capture” its enduring spiritual force.
While looking at the prints and learning of their beloved status with Japanese people, we couldn’t help but sense a relevance to the WPA poster series, “See America,” produced a hundred years later in the United States. As in Japan, these posters also encouraged a country of citizens to get outside and appreciate the mesmerizing wonders of their national landscape.
Carlsbad Caverns, from the “See America” series, Alexander Dux. [between 1936 and 1939]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Shore at Tago Bay, from Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji
At the Edo Pop exhibition we also encountered contemporary responses to Mt. Fuji and the landscapes of Japan. In particular, we were captivated by Asako Narahashi‘s half asleep and half awake in the water series. We were struck by the description of her process, specifically that she will, “leave a hint of human presence or a sign of civilization in each composition … [and] that element breaks us away from being in timeless nature and jerks us back into the present moment…” Her depiction of waves is described as, literally, “nami makase (going with the flow) as I let the wave carry me in the ocean holding the camera just above the water … I was drawn to the image of water, probably for its incomprehensible and potentially violent nature. In other words, for me, water is a symbol of something uncontrollable.”
We find Narahashi’s process, one that is simultaneously intentional and happenstance, an inspired way to move with media (such as cameras) and with the forces that compose any given environment (both built and natural). During our week in Euphoria, we’ll be experimenting with developing creative responses, in the form of our own Thirty-Six Views of Euphoria, that can vibrantly image the particular configuration of our inhabition of the shack, and the surrounding landscape, possibly relaying into our longer-term project, entitled Till.
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