details and its evolution
IKEDA Midori (Artist)
1. Meaning of Act
In the spring of 2003, two events sounded global alarm bells for this century. One was the Iraq War -a manmade event, just as all wars are -and the other was the outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), for which modern science has not yet found a treatment.
SARS killed over 100 people and infected about 2800, mainly in Asia, and I am interested to track any further developments in the SARS situation, because SARS is closely related to a series of artworks (installations, performances, prints, and works on video) that I started four years ago as the "Mask Project" using medical (surgical) masks as the medium (material). The WHO (World Health Organization) encourages the use of medical masks, due to SARS being caused by 1. Meaning of the Act In the spring of 2003, two events sounded global alarm bells for this century. One was the Iraq War -a manmade event, just as all wars are -and the other was the outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), for which modern science has not yet found a treatment.
SARS killed over 100 people and infected about 2800, mainly in Asia, and I am interested to track any further developments in the SARS situation, because SARS is closely related to a series of artworks (installations, performances, prints, and works on video) that I started four years ago as the "Mask Project" using medical (surgical) masks as the medium (material). The WHO (World Health Organization) encourages the use of medical masks, due to SARS being caused by a new type of coronavirus, and because the virus spreads via droplet contact. Who on earth would have thought we would all be using masks for something other than hay fever, or to ward off a cold?
In 2002, I carried out an art performance titled Mask Project -from Green Park to the Museum on the Hill  (a project associated with the "Tokachi New Era V: Ikeda Midori" exhibition) in a workshop organized by the Hokkaido Obihiro Museum of Art. The perfor-mance involved joining local residents to put maskson 600 trees along paths in Midorigaoka Park in ObihiroCity, Hokkaido. The trees with maskswere later modifiedinto the installation work Silent Breath,perfor-mance involved joining local residents to put maskson 600 trees along paths in Midorigaoka Park in ObihiroCity, Hokkaido. The trees with maskswere later modifiedinto the installation work Silent Breath,  for TokachiEnvironmental Art 2002, a project linked to theTokachi International Contemporary Art Exhibition"Demeter." Reading the concept in the project proposal＊that I wrote at the time, I am surprised to find thatit coincides with what is happening in the world today,and this affirmation of the significance of my own artpractice encourages me to pursue more such activitiesin the future.
* The importance of breath as a source of life is currently being reconsidered globally. We need to realize the importance of clean oxygen, eliminate unhealthy conditions for breathing, such as acts of war, and keep this environment as comfortable as possible for the future. I would like to express this message using the medical mask, as its purpose is understood by both adults and children, and across national borders.
2. Nature and Mask
The impetus for putting medical masks on trees came to me suddenly in 1999. At the time, I was preparing for a long-term art project, the Field of Environmental Art, Lake Saharo, in the town of Shintoku. Starting that spring, I would often drive an hour from Obihiro to the forest and interact with nature there in order to get ideas for the project. One day, all of a sudden, if you will excuse the expression, I had a revelation: one that involved seeing all the green trees, wearing white masks!
Though too silent and too beautiful to be termed a protest or suggestion from nature, it was a strange spectacle in a sense, one that eyes, senses and brain would not accept under normal circumstances. I can only say that this was the moment I heard silent breathing from the trees. The surprise I felt at that time later became the objective of my works: to prod and shake the flat wavelengths of people’s hearts. Even if it were just one needle’s worth of prodding, I wanted people to remember it as the first time they had ever felt such a shock.
Thus I started to use medical masks as a new material for making the spectacle I had just seen (could see) real, replacing the blue jeans that I had long been a feature of my oil paintings.
The masks on the trees in One State of Affairs -2000 Trees Wearing Masks are exposed to the elements, gradually becoming soiled and changing their colors with the respiration of the trees. I used them as a visual barometer for the rapid deterioration and pollution of our planet’s environment, and to sense (never ending) invisible time and space from the workings of nature measured by limited time; trying to add these concepts to my work by placing, in the flow of time, masks reminding us of breath, air, and life. The masks were collected regularly and collated into specimens as Mask Specimen: Sahoro 7 months / 12 months / 21 months / 24 months / 33 months.
Affixing the masks to 2000 tress, and removing them, was difficult. We had to push through head-high thickets of bamboo grass on the hills, set up a stepladder each time, and place a mask on the tree, choosing the appropriate direction and height in terms of artistic form. The ground was sloped and it took time to set up the stepladder. There were also a lot of mosquitoes, and we found signs of bears and snakes.
On March 19, 2000, we removed 873 masks that were seven months old. At that time the road was closed until May because of deep snow, so we needed to wear snowshoes to collect them. On the plus side, the snow was about two meters deep, so we did not need a stepladder to reach the masks. We felt like Gulliver.
3. In Germany
I traveled to Germany less than a month after the mask work for the Field of Environmental Art, Lake Sahoro, in Shintoku. An exhibition by Japanese artists titled "Tokyo Shock" had been organized in Cologne, and I joined it as staff. I was a fortunate to be involved from the preparation to the completion of the exhibition, alongside the gallery owner. Even more fortunate, however, was being able to develop another idea using the masks.
I was actually carrying 100 masks in a suitcase, intending to put them on trees in a German forest. However, trees were largely absent from a big city like Cologne, so instead I decided to walk around putting the masks on signboards, fences, stairs, dustbins and doorknobs. I even went as far as Kassel. Unexpectedly, many people reacted to my work and struck up conversation with me. Some were even so fascinated by my work that they were reluctant to leave the place. Japanese medical masks made of gauze (cotton) had unexpected power in a progressive country like Germany, where government and citizens are working together to address environmental issues. For my part, I got to experience the delights of a conceptual art performance. A portion of this work was subsequently shown in a series of five works, Germany with Masks 1999, hung from the ceiling of the lobby atrium of the Hokkaido Obihiro Museum of Art at the time of the "Tokachi New Era V: Ikeda Midori" exhibition. After that I carried out similar art performances in Obihiro, northern Europe, Echigo-Tsumari, and New York. These can be viewed on video and in slides as well as folding postcards made as artworks.
There is still a lot to be done in this field. My intention
people all around the world, using the mask as an art language. I am eager to continue and develop my work further.
4. In New York
I was based in New York from May 2001 to March 2002 for the purpose of acquiring more printing techniques (collotype etc.), with support from the Hokkaido Arts Foundation. My encounter with the 9/11 attacks during my stay proved to be another turning point in my work. On October 11th, just one month after the 9/11 attacks, I was recording a video at a studio in Manhattan. The performers were recruited from the general public. Forty-three people auditioned for the video, some because they supported my idea, and others because they had become interested in my work after read-ing about the concept in the newspaper. They started by speaking freely about their thoughts and emotions regarding the 9/11 attacks. Then I asked them to express their words by eye movements. For each person I selected one word that I thought was the most important, and edited and overlapped these with the visuals. The result was Silent Breath 10/11/2001 NYC (Speak). In this work, performers are silent, wearing masks over their mouths in order to emphasize their eye movements. In Silent Breath 10/11/2001 NYC (Hand Movement), breath as a source of life is expressed only by hand movements. Movements were slowed at the editing stage, and this turned out to be my favorite piece.
Five of the performers were selected and the Silent Breath 2001 New York one-hour video work was recorded later at an off-Broadway theater after rehearsing the choreography. In this work, the picture is actually like a "wall" in that at first glance, no movement is visible, but after a moment, or after touring the exhibition venue, the viewer sees another slightly different wall-like picture, and the wall appears to be implying something... And indeed it is: the aim is to steal people’s consciousness using "pictures with a purpose, passing by." I regret somewhat that in the exhibition at the Hokkaido Obihiro Museum of Art, it was shown only on a small screen. Hopefully there will be an opportunity someday to show it so that it really looks like a picture "wall."
This series of three video works would not have emerged without my experience of the 9/11 attacks. My wish as an artist concerned about the global environment, wanting to slow its progressing deterioration, has been expanded to include reminding people that breath is the source of life, and encouraging them to reconsider various phenomena derived from breath, such as human existence; human acts including those by which we control and deprive ourselves of breath; and the risks to life that occur to all life sooner or later.
5. Mask Tree as a symbol
The work I want to create the most now is a Mask Tree. The name is inspired by "Christmas tree," and it is simply fun to see masks dangling from the branches and swaying in the wind like white faces peeking through the leafy green.
The project began when I, together with Mr. Hiromichi Terashima, chief of the cultural section, and Ms. Noriko Ishio, curator, of the Hokkaido Obihiro Museum of Art, put about 400 masks on a tree in the front yard of the museum and another tree on the promenade, setting up scaffolding in the manner of a construction site and getting soaked by an early morning storm as a typhoon swept through, for the opening of the "Tokachi New Era V: Ikeda Midori" exhibition.
I have tried sample masks from different manufacturers, and am now using one with 16 layers of gauze made by Kowa Healthcare (now Kowa Shinyaku) due to its high quality, which makes it durable enough for my purposes. I would like to purchase a large supply of these masks and create a forest of Mask Trees in the near future. The masks are messengers of hope, representing human wisdom and conscience.
* Reproduced from Bijutsu pen 109, 2003 Spring(Hokkaido Bijutsu Pen Club)