Marebito (Works)

artist's book
offset full-colour and b&w, 33 x 23 x 1.5 cm

MAREBITO - Fiona Tan

Artist’s book
Limited edition of 500, signed and numbered by the artist
Photographs: Fiona Tan, Hugo Dijkstal
Texts: Nosongdang, C.J.Coen, H. Schliemann, Fiona Tan
In English and in Japanese
Design: Oliver Kleinschmidt, Fiona Tan

Presented in a specially designed and hand-finished folder, the artist’s publication Marebito* encompasses two individually bound books. One book shows only images, the other only text. The images are photographs, snapshots taken during Tan’s first trip to Japan and old Japanese postcards collected by the artist. The textbook spans extracts from four travel journals. Each was written by a different traveller in a different era, journeying to Japan for the first time.

The images in Marebito deal with the touristic gaze. Parallel to the text contributions, the photos and postcards are loosely arranged in a story-line recalling a brief visit to a foreign country. The glimpse is fleeting and by nature distant. Similar to the attitude of the Dutch documentary filmmaker Johan van der Keuken, it endorses the open and curious eyes of a traveller.

The layout of the four text excerpts enables a reader to compare and contrast four individual journeys. Surprising similarities arise despite the differences in time and disposition, but it is not the aim of this book to disclose a truthful or accurate account of Japan. Each of the authors, including the artist herself, is a product of the time and circumstances in which he or she finds themselves. Akin to science fiction, the journals portray in many ways more about the writers themselves than about their subject.

Current discourse in contemporary art deals little with the limitations of travel. The traveller is glorified in this age of increasing mobility. Hence there is hardly any attention paid to the issue of the traveller’s shortcomings such as the limited view of a temporary visitor. All of us are tourists when we travel elsewhere, although few of us would care to admit this. One can doubt the so appealing idea of effortlessly crossing cultural borders. Perhaps the Japanese are more aware of this than, for example, Europeans. Possibly the many words in the Japanese vocabulary for ‘foreigner’ are an acknowledgement of this.

*– ‘Marebito’ is an archaic Japanese word. It can be translated into English as ‘foreigner’, ‘stranger’, ‘visitor’ or ‘person from beyond the boundaries’. It was a name given to travellers such as travelling craftsman, but also to vagabonds and homeless beggars. Marebito was the stranger from outside – possibly sacred or godlike – who was the bearer of good luck or bad fortune.