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2004.03.05

Eric Van Hove: Letters from Tokyo

Eric Van Hove is a Belgian artist, born in Algeria, and currently living in Japan. His work defies easy categorization, incorporating drawing, sculpture, psychogeography, installations, land arts, and investigations into the act of writing as both symbol and context. In 2001 Van Hove was awarded the Monbukagakusho Research Scholarship to Japan in order to learn traditional Asian calligraphy. He is currently engaged as an MA researcher in Tokyo Gakugei University, studying Japanese calligraphy pedagogy and classics, as well as the continuing practice of writing (Shosha). His lovely, strange, and evocative installations involving texts chalked on floors and walls or scratched in sand remind us of the possibilities of language not as vehicle, but as starting point and destination.

The following excerpts from text pieces submitted by Van Hove to Glowlab illuminate Tokyo in the form of letters written to friends --the psychogeographic epistolary. Half poem, half prose, they offer glimpses into the psychic landscape of that most foreign and familiar of cities.

Correspondence IV. Tokyo, June 10, 2001


Dear Dominique,


Japanese are sleeping.
At the seam, pedestrian’s passage
At the zones of ebb tide, of the crowd, there sometimes the nervous stream of
displacements bring them immobile as in a shock, because
in peace for some minutes, in a bus or on a train, Japanese are sleeping.

It has always appeared to me that they do more than rest, heads tipped by their own weight, heavy cheeks, disabused heroes of of tiresome modernities. Propped on obstacles that serve as supports, it is really the drowsiness that surprises them, suspends them.
Rocking with the swells of the finally accented constraints. Pitching with the regular disillusions, by the rubbing of their intimacy with those of others, always numerous, they are sent to sleep, their spirit glossed, peaceful with their drowned faces.

The great Kabuki master Nakamura Tomijuro is supposed to have said, “You should never reveal tiredness of effort, because the art of acting must be similar to the clothing of the celestial creators: invisible seams.

The seams of modern Japan are visible, and its creators have only celestial refection of the human condition’s infinite tragedy, daily and unnoticed as the bauty of a pool of water.

Another echo of what they call here “monono aware” (the poignant beauty of things) and that Christine Buci-Glucksman called “New Icarism” in her book “The Aesthetic of Time in Japan”
The time to sleep.

I think I am remembering that Merleau-Ponty sewed eroticism in a collar that yawns.
In the same way I voluntarily admit finding immanence in the ring-eyed faces,
the abused foreheads and the tired spines of this modern folk of Amaterasu.

In Friendship,


Correspondence V. Tokyo, June 26, 2001

Hello Pierre,

Here are some words.
You had told me that Japan “doesn’t please” you.
I must acknowledge that it pleases me more and more.
The light of the streets in evening is quite particular, the materials used here, which proceed until the infinity of the banal, reflected in a strange manner, soft, absent,
almost incredible.

The form of the streets “make” sculpture.
Something proportional.
To what...I don’t know exactly.
There are a lot of earthquakes here, as you know.
That has consequences for urbanism: houses don’t touch each other,
they skirt each other.
It is without a doubt a precaution; if a house falls apart, its neighbor inevitably does not.
moreover, movement is possible when separated.
This forms some very beautiful places: slits between houses, interstices, houses like spread legs.
These spaces are truly sculptural.
Too narrow for one to pass through, too wide for one to forget, too practical for one to discard.
Some bitter herbs, doubtless respected in this Asian country like in many others, end up growing there, inaccessibly.
Most astonishing or logical (maybe it’s the same) is that it appears to me that it goes with Japanese people as with their houses: a space is to be found in between them that makes one guess, a rumbling.

In friendship,

See and read more of Eric Van Hove’s work here

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