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What does it take to be with what is right now disappearing, or perhaps is already gone?
“Amphibians have the dubious distinction of being the world’s most endangered class of animals” (About 40 percent of all amphibians are considered endangered). “But also heading toward extinction are one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles and sixth of all birds.” – Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction, from an interview with NPR’s Terri Gross
For over 500 years Japanese people have held a festival each August in Kyōto called O-Bon (also know as the “festival of the dead”). This event honors the visiting spirits of deceased ancestors and welcomes them “back” for three days (via home altars and visits to graves) and then “sends them off” with massive fires during the Gozan no Okuribi (“five mountain send-off fire”). The fires are ignited on five mountainsides surrounding the city.
To date, we have found no parallel to this event, especially in the form of enduring national traditions that attempt to acknowledge and maintain connections to what many humans would typically describe as gone or passed away. This August 16th, FOP will be attending the O-Bon festival to experience first-hand how this ancient ritual still invites and attracts contemporary humans to “be with” what has passed out of being.
FOP will attend the festival, as part of our ongoing research towards developing aesthetic practices that assist humans in attuning to the changing material conditions presently unfolding as the Anthropocene around us. How can we gracefully accept and adapt to the fact that lifestyles have material limits and respect other species and non-human forces? What does it take to be with what is right now disappearing, or perhaps is already gone?
As Japanese people meet emergent conditions of contemporary life, they have access to a rich and long cultural history and a relatively strong social fabric. Over thousands of years, Japanese culture has refined and invented countless practices and forms for negotiating and aesthetically responding to uncertain futures. We sense that many humans can benefit from cultivating more nuanced engagements with forces and dynamics of change. We also believe that aesthetic practices that invite humans to meaningfully and aesthetically be with, consider, and live change, are urgently needed. Aesthetic practices can inform new modes of attuning to and gracefully being with these changes, rather than responding with attempts to rise up and do “battle” with, control or re-design earth forces, or re-inscribe fatalist scenarios.
FOP will be in Japan for the next month. During this time, we will also experience intensive Japanese language immersion, visit Hiroshima in honor of the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb, which occurred on August 6th, 1945. And, we will research emergent Japanese daily life practices that use aesthetic experience as a way to attune to impermanence in the Anthropocene.
*This research is supported in part by the Tishman Environment and Design Center, The New School.
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