RFAOH x DHC, more “non-art” workshops : Macrobiotics as politics, Dubious self-defence
Around when our “nonart” workshops at DHC/ART started in January, our national art magazine called to interview us. One of their questions was “How does the Residency for Artists on Hiatus intersect (or not) with the current craze for wellness and self-care?” Until that point, we did not even realize that our conversation was to be part of their “Care and Wellness” issue, so we added at the end of our response that coincidentally, we were also offering workshops on “Macrobiotic food” and “self-defence”, if that counts. Truthfully, we had actually never considered these topics in that realm but more in light of politics. Either way, we were made to admit our unconscious leaning towards these “hippy” ideas, whether due to our generation or lifestyle backgrounds.
So for our 3rd “non-art” workshop, Shinobu shared her long-term interests in Macrobiotics — a philosophy, system, or way of life, and most commonly known as a type of diet — with an emphasis on how it initially started in Japan, as the title [The Unknown History Of Macrobiotics as Politics (+ recipes)] implied.
A radical self-educated thinker and activist Yukikazu Sakurazawa, aka George Osawa (1893 – 1966), founded Macrobiotics by developing ideas of “food medicine” originally proposed by a Japanese military nutritionist, Sagen Ishizuka (1851 – 1910). Later in the 1950’s, it was introduced and disseminated throughout the US by one of Osawa’s many students, Michio Kushi (1926 – 2014), who became a “guru” to the flower children generation, and later to Hollywood stars who touted the benefits of a Macrobiotic diet.
As a diet, Macrobiotics is pretty much like vegetarianism except, its principle is based on the Chinese concept of yin yang and partially derived from Zen Buddhism, adopting Japanese traditional food as a model. Back in Ishizuka and Osawa’s time, this now much praised culinary tradition was considered “outdated” against the wave of “modernization”, that followed the country’s major political shift in international relations — which ultimately brought meat and changes to the Japanese diet. In the meantime, these key people from the three generations all went through different wars, feeling devastated about humanity’s seemingly unending capacity for violence, and pondered strategies to achieve peace. Osawa, who is said to have worked as a “spy” for the Japanese Imperial army and was renown for crazy anecdotes of his attempts (and arrests) to literally “stop” the war (like appealing to Stalin directly), later taught his students that “The melody of peace rings in diet” — that peace is not possible without a serious consideration that “we are what we eat”. He advocated Macrobiotic diet as an approach to changing the way we think and behave, with the same rigour as his foreign contemporaries who proposed change through the rule of law and organized the World Federalist Movement after World War II. How weird, how original, and how tasty!
Lately our jaw dropped seeing “veganism” making it in the list of the top 10 investment trends (or something like that), when it clearly started as a form of ethical and political resistance against certain industries. Macrobiotics too, has been adopted mostly as a healthy diet or lifestyle for individuals, whereas the concept was historically created with the ultimate aim to make society as a whole healthier. We hoped that the workshop participants who might have come primarily interested in recipes went home with something to really chew on — like one of Osawa’s most important principles of Macrobiotics: “You can ultimately eat ANYTHING as long as you chew it 200 times”. This must have been the first rule to go out the window, when Macrobiotics was “re-interpreted” in the West.
A week after Macrobiotics, Matt conducted our 4th “non-art” workshop titled [Dubious Self Defence: What to Do When Someone Grabs Your Wrist]. Participants were offered the opportunity to learn a few basic Aikido techniques to escape the grip of an attacker, while having a short, allegorical conversation around strategies for mitigating conflict in general and re-imagining our binary relationships within the wider culture or society.
Aikido uses spiraling and circular movements to blend with a vector of force and redirect it along its natural path of least resistance and into a void. Invented in post war Japan (again!) by martial arts genius Morihei Ueshiba, Aikido is a distillation of ancient samurai hand to hand combat techniques through Ueshiba’s own philosophical world view, that perceived all energy within the universe as naturally inclining towards harmony and balance, part and parcel of a overarching “oneness”. Ueshiba’s personal enlightenment was a realization that true Budō (i.e., the Martial arts) are not for the felling of an opponent by force; nor a tool to lead the world to destruction with arms, but rather to harmonize with the nature of this universal spirit, to keep the peace of the world by protecting and cultivating all beings. Consequently he developed aikido as his “art of peace” in which one may defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from harm.
This utopian idea is often dismissed or underestimated by practitioners of other martial arts who obsess to “winning” through overpowering or meeting force with force. Yet, throughout the afternoon, gallery visitors of all shapes and sizes were enthusiastic about the potential of these concepts and techniques — that size or strength actually do not matter when, by simply exploiting basic body mechanics and Newtonian physics, they could easily redirect aggression back onto the aggressor. They may have found this experience as a practical and metaphorical means to confidently negotiate dynamic systems, or catalyze flow for moving through the (any) world(s).
Video credit: Dahlia Cheng
We really did not plan it but the workshop after these, offered by our ex-residents MomenTech, again fell on the path of “self-care and wellness” (with a hint of politics) — Is Residency For Artists On Hiatus a new-age-y rehab centre for the damaged, by the Capitalist rhetoric and practice?? (: