Ibaraki Inventorium

abandonned JHS OmiyaMy trip to Japan last year (February, June and September) was a magnificent opportunity to meet people from the Ibaraki region. An area less than 2h away from Tokyo by train, but that feels much more remote than that. Going there, every time, reminded me of the trips I make in the summer when I fly to Paris and hop on the train immediately to rush to the family home, less than 2h away by train. These 2 hours make the place much more remote to the big city than Tokyo, Singapore and Paris are from each other. Those 2h by train are a journey into time.

The trips consisted of a first week (in February) of “reconnaissance”to find out about the place and get ideas of location, culture, context…  The second trip (in June), was a trip to plan the installation in detail, and spent in the school classroom mostly.  Over the course of the second trip, I had most time to meet people and imagine the installation. The final trip took place in September and was spent fabricating the numerous installations of the Ibaraki Inventorium.

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___________ Introduction to the Ibaraki Inventorium catalog ________________-

Much of my practice is concerned with the perception of science in the general public, bridging the gap between the science from the lab and the “scientific knowledge” of the everyday people. In between the two rest the notions of research, curiosity and questioning.

During my stay in Ibaraki, I was fascinated by extent of agriculture, nestling close to the mountains and the wilder environment of the forests. I was curious to see species both cultivated and wild, which are not found as widely elsewhere, and started wondering what the relationship of the locals with nature was.

I learnt that much agriculture can be shaped by seemingly unrelated human activity, such as stronger sakura species being brought in to withstand the levels of pollution created by Hitachi’s copper mines. The mines have gone and the pollution too, but the sakuras are still there. I have learned that the susuki grass hold a special place in the local people’s mind.

A plant that grows fast and well even in winter, it is left to grow at the edge of the fields and is sometimes cultivated for display, despite being a weed in the cereal fields. New varieties have been produced too. This is a plant that holds its own, between weed status and symbol (part of the folklore). I was also interested to hear of the special place soba takes in people’s mind, how revered it is, and its importance to make the delicious and nutritious noodles. Through my visit to research labs in Tsukuba University, I was also able to access cutting edge science. Finally, meeting with retired  science teacher  Mr Kodaima, gave me a perspective on what role science, science education and environment consciousness, play in the local consciousness.

The large-scale project  I proposed connected to these observations, and the chosen location of the Junior High School in Hitachi-Omiya. I decided to build a museum from all the reseach, tools and evidence of everyday science I found. Entitled “The Ibaraki Inventorium”, it seemed an appropriate response, able to bridge the gaps between the different knowledge, from the children’s spontaneous excitement about their environments, to student’s response to new tools at their disposal for exploring the world, to every day living among rice fields, and research at the cutting edge of science.

Education and schools represent the time and place where knowledge (especially scientific knowledge) is “learnt” through books and texts representing established knowledge. This is the time when children also learn from their families and the community in which they live, sometimes mixing folklore and local habits together with established scientific facts. Contemporary research, on the other hand, represent a more delicate and fragile form of knowledge, as it is pursued in universities, and only rarely, and after many checks, failed and rejected experiments, peer reviews and journalistic interest, might trickle down to the general population as “new facts”.

Is it possible for these different forms of knowledge to cohabit on the same shelf? I would like to imagine the school as a repository of local contemporary knowledge, where established facts (universal), folkloric knowledge (local), as well as current research (from local university, local until it is published widely) and windows on the outside sit side by side, representing local knowledge.

By making the school the ground for the repository of local knowledge, we are effectively choosing to bring the outside inside, in the same way that knowledge is information about the outside world being deposited in our brains.

To download the catalog, go here: Ibaraki Inventorium Catalog

To view images of the installation, go to the Ibaraki Inventorium page.

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