Jane and Louise Wilson are identical twin sisters who produce installations and other collaborative works using photography and the moving image. They discovered some unexpected connections with South Korea, which they had previously visited.
The sense that it’s not unilateral but in relationship to each other was so powerful
Louise: Jane and I have been collaborating for over 30 years.
Last year, we did a three-month residency on Jeju Island in South Korea. It was our first time in Asia. Korea and Japan have a close relationship, and so just when we were thinking that we would like to experience the cultures of both countries, we heard about the residency in Ise. Jeju Island has old shamanic shrines and the haenyeo female divers, so when we learned that Ise had a shrine and the ama divers, we thought it was the perfect opportunity.
Jane: It is quite powerful to come to somewhere like this. At first you are really aware of the kind of cleansing rituals and the things that you needed to do to prepare before you enter into Ise Jingu, but actually after a while you start to kind of experience just being here. The notion of something that's not always about the visible or the verbal is powerful, and it made me think about what that concept of kami is. I don’t know how to articulate that but it was a very powerful feeling of some sort of recognition.
What’s more, the dance workshop given by Nicole for the local deaf community was also about non-verbal communication, and coming after our experiences at the shrine, it was exceptionally powerful.
Louise: The “wedded rocks” in Futamigaura which we visited on the first day really struck me, and we went back several times. The scene of a larger and a smaller rock joined together by a sacred straw rope, with a torii gate on the top, is a kind of symbol of the area. In Korea, too, the lava rocks have become sites of worship, and there is something really interesting about a rock being revered.
(Typhoon Hagibis hit Ise during the residency) To see the wedded rocks after the typhoon was just extraordinary because it was such a massive typhoon but you kind of realise Japan is an island. Whether it's suffering earthquake, typhoon, there has been a lot of either natural disaster or man-made disaster around this island.
Jane: When we went to see the wedded rocks the day after the typhoon, the thick sacred straw rope which was wrapped around them five times had been severed. It was quite moving. But when we returned three days later, the two rocks were joined again by a rope, even if it was only one loop and not five. I got a strong sense of how visually important the scene of the two rocks joined by the sacred rope is, and particularly of the bond between the local people and nature, since the rocks were already joined again just three days after the typhoon.
Louise: I think there's something really interesting about that connection which is even seen at Geku and Naiku. You see the main sanctuary and then the kind of vacant site if you like, the one that is anticipating the next palace to be built. There is something compelling about how powerful the relationship is between the two sites. The sense that it is not unilateral, it is in relationship to each other – this is balance.
Jane: It is about making relationships and is very relational how it interprets its own sense of what it is. It doesn’t do it in isolation and I felt that this was very different from what we imagine religions to be.
Louise: We work collaboratively, so we really connected with this. What’s more, it’s not static: it is reinvented or re-interpreted or it's sort of reabsorbed every twenty years and I think that's really extraordinary.
Jane: And the two sites are not utterly symmetrical. I felt something even more powerful from this. They aren’t seeking absolute perfection, but they have their own. It’s a bit confusing, but I see something richer in the way they refuse to be pinned down to just one thing. I think this belief system walks its own path.
Louise: I also felt the power of ritual. When we arrived, we were thinking about how to achieve the specific things we needed to achieve, but I soon came to think that it was better to just let go and experience it, because I realised what a profound and rich culture it was. Witnessing the depth of the culture we encountered, and how it was apparent in the spirit of the rituals and in how people behaved with one another, was really interesting.
Jane: When we visited Geku the morning after the typhoon passed through, the curtain which conceals the entrance of the main sanctuary was being blown away by the force of the wind. On the other side of the curtain was an empty space, kind of a void. When I saw this, I felt as though it mirrored the way various things in Japan are covered. For example, the mirror which ought to reflect you is also covered. In other words, it is about not being focused on yourself or the surroundings, but putting yourself into the moment and experiencing it.
I think this runs through the rituals I experienced at the Ise Jingu, and everything else. Even the mirror at the hotel, which is supposed to be seen, to reflect you, is covered by a cloth. It was something deeply moving.