72+ seasons of the Anthropocene
11.18.2015, 10:29 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

wheel sekki (24 seasons of Japan), FOP 2014

There’s a long and celebrated tradition of seasonal attunement in Japan. So much so, that ancient calendars actually name a new “season” every five days — resulting in the shichijuuni-ko, or 72 mini seasons of Japan. This highly nuanced calendar takes off from the 24 divisions of the calendar year, or sekki (24 seasons). According to the 24 season calendar, those of us living in the northern hemisphere are presently in ritto/立冬, or the “start of winter.” Each of the 24 seasons is further divided into three even more nuanced periods, resulting 72 seasons in all. According to this division of time, earlier this week (November 12-16th) we completed the chi hajimete kōru/地始凍 or “ground starts to freeze” season.

The 24 seasons were plotted on an ancient lunar calendar.  It was made to conform to the Gregorian calendar in the 1873 during the “modernization” of Japan.  A perfect translation from a lunar to a solar calendar is impossible.  The differences caused most traditional Japanese holidays and seasons to shift in time and show up on the new solar calendar months later than their original seasonal timings and attunements.

For example, Tanabata, the “star festival” was historically celebrated on the seventh day of the 7th month, which would occur during the autumn of the original calendar.  Today, it’s celebrated during the summer, on July 7th.

Here at FOP/smudge, we’re inspired by the 24 and 72 seasons of Japan for multiple reasons—including their idiosyncrasies. The weather has always been highly unpredictable, but for ancient people, noting its general patterns has been useful, if not necessary, for the production of food and other survival issues.  Beyond the obvious practicalities, humans have also derived a great deal of joy in paying attention to the changes that compose the natural world. Seasonal awareness might start with the weather, but it goes far beyond it. A great deal of cultural meaning surrounds seasonal awareness (harvest and planting festivals and rituals, songs, poetic conventions, etc.).

Arguably, the practice of noting the changes in plants, animals, landscape, clouds, and temperatures that unfold within one of the 72 seasons–a single five-day span–brings a laser like awareness to unfolding difference.  More and more frequently in the Anthropocene, weather and seasonal patterns are falling out of sync with what our Gregorian calendars indicate should be happening outside our windows.  Paying close attention to seasonal change today means noticing that the seasonal sensibilities and expectations, and wardrobes, we’ve built up in the short span of our own lifetimes are “off.”  The usual month for vibrant fall colors in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, is October, but here we are over half way through November and trees remain vibrant and surprisingly full (perhaps because we’re in the midst of the warmest year on record?).

Our research for designing our Deep Time Calendar Year 000001 will include inventing and enacting practices that will aid and re-enliven our own attunements to seasonal and meteorological change both within and as the Anthropocene.  We’ll use them to closely observe micro-changes arriving into daily life and our local place–but we’ll do that within the context of deep time and planetary change.

We sense that close observation of the Fifth Season–the weather that is the Anthropocene–can be massively useful, if not vital. As can be the wonder (and disbelief) that results from becoming aware of what is actually observed. In the last three days in New York City, temperatures have swung from 13 degrees above average to three degrees below average — all under consistently clear and sunny skies. By paying attention to the speeds, scales, and extremes of such variations, we attune to changes that are ramifying around the globe. We see “here” always in relation to elsewhere. Swings back and forth between summer-like and fall-like days such as we’ve been having this November in NYC makes us suspect a year in the Anthropocene might be marked, erratically, by many more than 72 seasons.

Recently in Japan, there has been a resurgence of interest in the old calendar systems.  The Beautiful Living Research Lab in Tokyo has invented the gorgeous Kurashi no Koyomi (Everyday Life Almanac).  It consists of an incredible smart phone app and website (in Japanese) that provides both the history and background to each of the 72 seasons every five days — along with photographs and recipes for seasonal foods.

As a result of our year of Living Deep Timewe hope to generate a calendric mash-up that is up to the strangeness and wildness of time’s forces in the Anthropocene. We take inspiration from projects like the Everyday Life Almanac. The embodied research practices we invent to guide our design process will be what we relay to our project backers as postcard dispatches. They’ll appear in mailboxes in the form of limited edition mail art. Each dispatch will propose a specific practice for its recipient to try out—something that we will have discovered through our research and design process that we can offer as a provocation for experiencing and getting to know new and wild aspects of Anthropocenian time.

We can’t wait to start this research, send these dispatches, make this calendar — and live time differently. It’s the most excited we’ve been about any project we’ve embarked on to-date. We feel that this is vital work that needs to be done right now.

We know it’s a busy time of year — with impending holidays, accumulations of overdue work, final weeks of the semester, overflowing inboxes — deadlines and responsibilities. All of this is real, BUT, AND, it’s exactly these realities of life and time that we need to swerve, redirect, and reorient in order to live within, and as, the Anthropocene.

Contemporary humans need to unleash new (and older) sensations of time and ways to live it. This is the core potential of our project — to generate experiences, words and sensations that offer real, practical means for differently navigating the strangely timed world we live in now.

We’re one week into our campaign for the project, and thrilled to be 35% funded.  Thanks for spreading the word and sharing the project — and please consider joining us in living time differently in the Anthropocene.


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