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Make your tree

Workshop, Setagaya-ku (2002)

A summer holiday practical art workshop for elementary school pupils run in Setagaya Ward in August 2002.
Participants spent the first day at Kinuta Park with a nature professional using all their senses to observe the natural world, and the second making their own miniature trees.

Day 1: Thursday, August 22

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The first day’s activities take place at Kinuta Park in the Tokyo ward of Setagaya, a former golf course now park with big trees and extensive grounds including a large area of grass. The weather is fine and warm.

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In the shade of a cherry tree leaf the children find the discarded carapace of a cicada. A single tree is connected to so many living things. Today we focus on gaining a new sense of trees out in nature before making our own trees on the second day.

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The start of the workshop. From the right we have naturalist Kazunori Fujimoto, then two of the participants, and Yoshiaki Nishimura and Tariho Fujimoto from Living World (not Kazunori’s daughter, incidentally ;-). And so we begin.

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Forming a circle on the lawn, we briefly introduce ourselves. The volunteers also join in the orientation.

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Donning blindfolds they’ve brought along, the children walk around slowly, following a rope the staff have tied between the trees. The staff step back and watch from a short distance away, so as not to disturb them.

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A girl moves from the sunlit grassy area into the shade of a tree. With less sunlight, the ground also feels different. No doubt all her senses are on full alert, as she tries to work out what kind of place she is in. Having taken time to get a feel for this tree, she moves on to the next.

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On reaching the last tree the participants relax on the grass, still blindfolded. There are all kinds of smells and sounds, the light of the sun, the wind. Thus they sense their location in a different way to usual. Staying silent and still, they let the world come to them.

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Next it’s blindfolds off, and quiz time. Kazunori Fujimoto shows them a persimmon, still small and green. This is the first time some have seen the fruit in this state. The tree from which it came is one of those they touched while blindfolded: but which?

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Everyone runs off to search for the tree, calling out when they find it.

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Question number two. Fujimoto-san shows the children a transparent film canister. Inside is a small nut. Each takes a turn to sniff it. So which tree had a nut with a scent like this? And so the quiz continues, encouraging the children to appreciate trees through new sensations, from different angles.

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After the quiz, the children take drawing boards and set to work individually. They go off to look for a tree that took their fancy from those they touched and sensed today. The sun is setting as they also gather leaves, twigs, nuts and fruits and anything else that catches their eye.

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They draw pictures of the trees, and check out the shapes of trees and leaves, each building mental images of their favorite sort of tree.

Day 2: Saturday, August 24

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The second day consists of the hands-on project work at the CLICK Setagaya Culture & Life Information Center “Seikatsu Kobo” in Sangenjaya. The children assemble, bringing with them the twigs and other items they picked up on the first day, and their sketches, and proceed to make their own ideal tree in a small cardboard box.

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First they close their eyes for a while, and try to recall what they saw and felt at the park.

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Tariho from LW uses a prototype to explain broadly what today’s project is about.

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Rather than starting to make their trees immediately, the children begin by sketching. The overall theme for the workshop series is that of design. Participants will not simply make things, but experience the delight of working out an objective and engaging in the production of something in accordance with a plan.

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First they try to draw “the kind of tree I like” from their mental images of trees. With any luck, the time spent in sensory observation of nature on the first day has extended those images.

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Here they color in the silhouette of a tree they have drawn, and use scissors to cut it out.

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A background scene to stick inside the box. The children will each make a relief, like stage scenery, inside the box. The orange sky here presumably signifies a sunset. One child drew a night sky with a twinkling moon and stars.

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This child is sticking on tree bark gathered at the park to make the ground.

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A line of twigs makes a thicket of trees.

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Almost done. LW’s “hidden agenda” was to have the children produce something easy to store after completion. Boxes were chosen as a format that will keep for 20 years or so. We thought it would be good if one day when the children grew up they could open their boxes.

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While the paint and glue dry, we photograph each of the participants individually in a pose of their choice.

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These are used to make little cutout figures to add to their boxes.

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The finished results. Can you see the “tiny me” under the tree?

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A mini exhibition is staged with family members coming to pick up their children. What do the children feel as they study intently the trees made by others? Two formal shows were later held at Seikatsu Kobo, in November 2002 and February 2003. Those trees are probably shut away in cupboards now at the children’s homes. The lids of the boxes have a pocket, in which there should be a letter addressed to the “grown-up me”.

The following is a letter addressed to the participants and their parents at the end of the second day.

To everyone who took part

We were asked to run a practical design workshop for elementary school pupils in Setagaya. Making things is loads of fun, and we were keen to help you all experience a little of that fun.

If possible though, we didn’t want you to make something that might soon get tossed in the trash.

Like you, we made all sorts of things while we were growing up, including projects at elementary school. The majority of those things however, have just disappeared somewhere. What about yours?

Some things though have survived the years: items like old exercise books, and graduation albums. What distinguishes these things is that they are designed to contain something.

By constructing something in a box shape, we thought that perhaps we could ensure it will still be around in 20 or 30 years, or more. If for example someone now aged 10 were to open this box in their mid-30s, perhaps they could recapture a fragment of the feeling that inspired them to make that particular tree all those years ago. If the box contained a map as well, they might even be able to go and look for the tree they drew and touched. That was the idea anyway.

One more thing. Why, a couple of days before making the boxes, did we close our eyes and walk among a grove of trees in the park? Because we wanted people to take enough time to sense things properly before trying to recreate them. The ability to make something is important, but the ability to feel or sense that precedes it is equally vital, and in fact draws out that creative capability.

But that’s enough from us. All that’s left is to say thank you for taking part.

Yoshiaki Nishimiura Tariho Fujimoto

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