Tokyo – a metropolis of dreams. It exists in a haze of past and future, quiet and super busy, organised and chaotic. The super-mega-troprolis is home to more than 35 million people: The biggest city in the history of the world. Put that into context for the UK. We have an overall population of 66.8 million. Which would be half of the UK population is living in Tokyo metropolitan area.
Despite a huge population, and what you see on TV – it never feels insanely busy except at the world famous touristy spots or the super-peak time on the subway/train. Outside of this – it often feels like it exists *just* for you.
Warrens of streets and alleyways – one leading onto another, never ending, but at the same time you are hoping that it doesn’t end either. Each area has a creative and beautiful type of lampost/light shade. The city exists in layers. Like a complex photoshop file. There’s basements with basements, shops with lifts that takes you to secret bars, there’s the odd door way that leads you to something you would have never guessed. Streets lead into shopping centres, shopping centres lead into arcades, arcades turn into parks, parks turn into temples, temples into houses, house into garages, garages into the best ramen you’ve ever had.
You could just walk one street in the centre of Tokyo of half a mile for half a day and you’d likely never find everything there, or expect to find the stuff that you do.
There’s a store for everything. If you can’t find it in Tokyo, then it doesn’t exist.
Here I can get the amazing Hawaiian drinks we drank for super cheap in Maui but are basically unavailable anywhere else on any mainlands. I can find any stationary available anywhere in the world here, but so much I can’t ever find in the UK. There’s shops dedicated to just the soul beauty of the pencil or a place that only sells lucky cats. There’s stores dedicated to the selling of things you need to make your own temple, small tiny spaces covered floor to wall & even ceiling with any kind of electrical lead/wire/bits & bobs you can imagine. Anything you want – Portuguese tarts, New Zealand s’more cookies, British pub food, worlds best burger, worlds best ramen, worlds best chocolate – Tokyo has got your back. And this is even before we get to the stuff that really matters – places dedicated to making paper, places securing 1000s years of tradition and passing it on, the way that everyone cares for the city – you could drop your sandwich on the floor in the middle of the street & it looks so clean you’d probably pick it back up and continue to eat it.
I don’t think I have ever seen a pothole in any of the roads of Tokyo. I’m not sure I can say that for anywhere else I have visited.
It’s in Tokyo that I realise that I am a person who waits. There’s a lot of queuing. More lining up than here at home in the UK. Lining up for ramen, lining up for the train, queuing up for a shop. Every few minutes, the noren curtain hanging in front of a door would twitch, discharging bodies into the Tokyo dusk, and we would steadily shuffle forward.
I am not really a person who usually likes to wait for things (thus my clutch onto Amazon Prime despite knowing how unethical it is). At home, if a friend suggests a meal at one of those tremendously cool restaurants that doesn’t take reservations, I’ll agree only if we eat geriatrically early or owlishly late. I politely reject any brunch plans that involve putting our names on a list and then hovering on the sidewalk for two hours.
It’s impatience, I suppose, but also a sort of brutal rationality: On one hand, there’s the value of my time, and on the other, there’s the value of whatever’s at the end of the line. The latter never really seemed worth that much of the former.
Public space is scaled so much better—old, human-sized spaces that also control flow and speed,” Dixon notes. In Japanese cities, people are accustomed to walking everywhere, and public transportation trumps car culture; in Tokyo, half of all trips are made on rail or bus, and a quarter on foot. Drivers are used to sharing the road and yielding to pedestrians and cyclists.
But here we were, H, R & me at that moment, 14th,15th & 16th in line waiting for a highly rated Ramen place – down a nondescript alley, just around d the corner from a super expensive department store in Shinjinku. Surrounded front and back by locals, part of a neat queue that snaked out the small restaurant’s entrance to the curb, where it broke for the tarmac only to pick up again around the corner onto a busier street. Every few minutes, the noren curtain hanging in front of the door would twitch, discharging bodies into the Tokyo late morning rain, and we would steadily shuffle forward.
We were there to eat 1 of the best Tokyo Style Shoyu Ramen, the specialty of the tiny restaurant after walking in the rain through Shinjuku Gyoen. The place is presided by a few wiry ramen masters who are all rocking a blond, boy-band coif, who dances around behind the counter, boiling and draining and plating their food with the percussive flamboyance of a flair bartender. Shoyu is a type of ramen made with chicken stock and shoyu is mixed with dashi to produce the unique Tokyo style Ramen. Tokyo Ramen is usually served with Chashu, Kamaboko, half an Egg, and is topped with chopped leek and preserved bamboo shoots.
Once it was our turn at the door, we make our orders on an old machine that’s all in Japanese and has pictures of Ramen but you can’t see really what type of meat. Being tourists, but eager to YOLO and not look foolish – we all select whatever R is ordering because he knows his food-stuff. We leave the door and wait until 3 seats become free and our order gets made fresh.
Queuing is a big deal in Japan, a physical exercise of the principles of discipline and etiquette that are drilled into every schoolchild and reinforced for every adult.
When, at last, we are waved over to a pair of seats, we watch these amazing chefs – ramen masters – prepare our dishes and they ask if we want a bib. I’m the only one who obliges but. I’m glad for it as we are all bent hungrily over our bowls, slurping the soup everywhere. Like a child & their favourite dish. Every part of me feels warmed up, and extra alive – electrified. I put my hands gently around and over the bowl. Feel the warmth and heat from the ramen. As we slurp down delicious food, we are semi-eavesdropping on the still-waiting people pressed into the narrow space behind us. “This guy is supposed to be the real deal,” an American man says to his wife.
If there’s one thing that you learn about the Japanese as a people is that they are incredibly dedicated, humble, serious, and deeply respectful, and honour driven. While it may seem like “just a noodle shop”, there’s an unspoken code of conduct that every local knows but for us as foreigners may not be as intuitive or obvious.
Consider this, most of these “rules” show that the culture is deeply rooted in the idea that as a customer, it is an honour to be able to eat the food a ramen master since we’re not able to make it ourselves and therefore respect is part of the tribute that you pay. This is craft that most chefs spend a lifetime to perfect and usually without any thought of seeking fame or fortune.
Take a second to let that sink in. This is very different from other cultures right?
I’m not a super plan-ahead kind of traveler, but Tokyo is a plan-ahead kind of city. So if you don’t book ahead, you have to queue up for hours before.
People line up, without apparent impatience, not only at ramen restaurants and store cash registers, but to board subway trains, nab a taxi at a stand, and enter elevators. After the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake—an event so tectonically powerful that it shifted the entire main island of Japan eight feet eastward and spat up a towering tsunami that ravaged the country’s northeast—the world watched in awe as millions of affected Japanese refrained almost entirely from looting, and instead waited in calm, orderly lines to receive supplies, sometimes for 12 hours or more. Next to that, how can my aversion to a queue mean anything at all?
One night R, H and I walked miles from Shibuya through it’s cool neighbourhood Shimokitazawa – it’s style is more hip and grungy than the polished global cool of Shibuya and it’s super quirky cutisy vibes of Haraujuku.
We walked up purple neon hills, seeing the city sky line happen below us, alongside train tracks and through dark tunnels. As always, Tokyo is always eerily quite, but it’s safe. We walked past Japanese baseball stores, off the beaten track pizza places, cool bars, record stores, and more weird shops. We walked until we got to a hood called Ebisu. Where I think had the best burger – and certainly the most delicious Japanese fried chicken.
We walked across all of central Tokyo neighbourhoods. I achieved my goal of seeing the place – with my own eyes.
But it took us time and Tokyo makes you a person who waits.
In the dim light of sunrise, we get up super early – an hour before to get train tickets for Mount Fuji. The time we wanted was already sold out.
We lined up for all kinds of foods and drinks and much more in between.
At the end of all those waits was, invariably, magnificence: The most jewel-like sashimi. The lightest pork cutlets. The richest, deepest, most exquisite ramen broth I’ve ever had.
There’s a phrase in Japanese for places like this⎯gyouretsu no dekiru mise: “restaurants that have very long lines.” The lines are often self-fulfilling prophecies: The wait isn’t part of the cost, as I’d always considered it; to a Japanese person, it’s part of the value. When presented with two vendors selling effectively identical products, the Japanese choose whichever one has the longer line in front of it. Making it through a long line is a praiseworthy feat of endurance, and long queues for one thing or another are always in the news.
As I committed myself ever more deeply to my new practice of patience, I wish I was shooting on film. I was missing my 40-year-old camera , which has no LCD screen with instant preview—instead I had opted to try and do moving film this time. Except it drained my battery and I had forgotten my plug adaptor. So Just like 35mm, each frame became precious, which means you need to make it worth it. You need to wait for the shot.
That’s what I was doing when the strangest, most wondrous, most ineffably Tokyo part of my time there happened. I was sitting on the stone parapet of a bridge over a canal in Nakameguro, a crushingly lovely neighborhood on Tokyo’s southwest side, waiting for the sunset colours to hit through. It was almost surreally pink.
I would be leaving Tokyo the next day, and I was on my last charged battery.
Tokyo is a magical place. I knew this going in, as I’d been before and was now hooked on it, looking for my next high. Every great city is magical, a unique alchemy of climate and culture, of the past and the future. But in Tokyo I found a magic of extremes. It’s a fast, crowded, chaotic place, surging and staccato—until it’s not. You’ll turn a corner onto a side street, or the minute hand on your watch will tick over the hour, and suddenly all that urgent density falls away. The city is a pattern of movement and stillness, sounds and silences.
What I found, as I let myself relax into being a person who waits, is that even if you’re standing near roaring traffic—or in a subway station during the crush of rush hour, or in the riot of a department store—inside the act of waiting, there’s a form of quiet. As my days in Tokyo passed by, I felt myself undergo an almost physical change: In the scurrying chaos of a dense megacity, my restlessness retreated, my breath slowed. I could feel something else emerging inside me, a blanket unrolling over a rumpled bed, a calmness that was neither contentment nor boredom.
Throughout our lives, we will come to find ourselves in a lot of different places.
A lot of different rooms.
A lot of different corners.
A lot of different wheres.
Those wheres will be unexpected. They will surprise us, scare us, change everything, change nothing, and break our hearts.
I’ve found myself in some pretty amazing wheres, and some pretty devastating places. But one of the constants was having the opportunity to be part of Postmasters Gallery, and to continue to feel like I am part of their huge art family.
Furthermore, outside of art, The Postmasters Family helped save my life… and helped me get back onto the path of trying to live my life. See Postmasters aren’t just a normal gallery. They’re everything and more. They’re community, they’re bravery, they’re hope, they’re protest, they’re US.
In 2008, I got to chance of a lifetime. I had decided the previous summer (2007), whilst working with steadfast ambitious & economically supported college-aged Americans, that I needed to catch up with my life and career ambitions. And my career ambitions was to be an artist and to live and work in NYC. Preferably in a gallery. This was no small-feat for an under confident, working class kid from Doncaster, UK (DONX!).
I worked at a bookies and at a toy-shop part-time during term-time, whilst praying to the art gods that I’d get my artworld NYC summer. I did anything to make sure I could afford to go.
I remember exactly where I was when Magda of Postmasters Gallery said she’d meet me in person with the chance of getting to be Postmasters’ intern the summer of 2008. I was sat with my friend James Cotton in the Graphic Design-Apple suite at the old art campus. It was a super sunny day for the winter and the sun was blinding through the large windows. I just-re-read that same email, over & over again. I still have it archived even though I no longer have that email address (at hotmail.com?!).
I remember being incredibly nervous. I think I was practically mute for the first 2 weeks of being at Postmasters. But I learned so much.
I learnt around 26 years of Postmasters Show history, and art history in the making, as I was set to digitalizing their whole archive. Endless slides to be scanned, and amazing write-ups of artists in ArtForum, NYT, Art In America, et al – of still practicing, artists who have since disappeared, but a theme emerged.
These shows were often groundbreaking, urgent, courageous, some genuinely funny, ahead of the curves. New Media Art shows before new media art was accepted as it is today (though we still have ways to go with this medium). Women artists equally represented, and mostly – it still felt contemporary, and alive and represented the values that Magda and Tamas have sought to bring to the artworld their whole life.
I also learnt how to send invoices via fax (though still not into faxing), I met some of the coolest artists who continue to inspire my practice today, about art museums collections & how they buy art for them, at one point – I was left manning the whole establishment for a week?! and I learnt loads from Magda and Paulina’s experiences and ideas.
I was properly schooled that summer I was at Postmasters. I remember leaving after my last shift and I walked down to 9th Ave, and had to search for a working pay-phone to call my mom because I felt so sad I was leaving this amazing thing I had sort of been apart of for a short time. I left that summer with my heart heavy but inspired.
I got back to the U.K. and art school felt kind of boring after that experience. I had to do something. Magda taught me that literally, anything is possible, even starting from scratch, along as you have perseverance, some people and community who can support you.
So my friends and I started our own lil’ artspace called CAKE (rebranded CAKE Everyone). We were a small space above a bar on West Street, Sheffield, UK. We lasted around 2 years and we learnt loads and had so much fun. But the thing is, I took everything I had learnt from Magda & Postmasters, and I put it into action in Sheffield – and invested it back into our local community.
I am still employing these lessons from this time into my life and practice.
Now, it would be easy to say – I became, like, an awesome artist, or got lots of gallery jobs… but because i’m not very smart or that talented, that didn’t really happen (and that’s ok!). But the year after I graduated was HARD. I nearly lost my own belief. But Magda offered hope and advise on the end of emails. That really helped me push through what I thought was a dark time…
Then things started to work out… I got a residency at SITE Gallery, I was working freelance as an illustrator, doing some university lecturing… I came over to work a summer in Boston/New Hampshire in the U.S.A. but I had been feeling poorly for a good few months before I went… tired beyond belief, coughing up blood, endless nosebleeds, bone-pain, flu-like symptoms, drenching nightsweats.
And on the 21st August, everything changed. I found myself sitting in front an oncologist at General Mass Hospital. With my YMCA boss, 3,000 miles away from home. The doctor cleared his throat a few times and told me it looked like Lymphoma… Cancer. He told me, if it was time-sensitive and I didn’t get it sorted then I would die.
Well. As you can imagine, that wasn’t the news that I was expecting. I didn’t tell my mom for weeks (I was only 24). I felt ashamed, I don’t even know why. I thought it couldn’t be true. I googled the odds every-single-day. My boss kept telling me I needed to go home. The only person who I decided to tell who I didn’t work with — was Magda.
Because Magda was a person I knew I could trust, and always has a no bullshit take on everything but has an aabundance of empathy too.
After a crazy 32 U.S.A. state roadtrip (yolo!) Magda & Tamas put me up at their place, Magda cooked me an amazing breakfast before I left the USA for unknowns at home, not knowing whether I’d make it back again.
But the story is more complicated.
Magda nearly saw me go under. A few times.
I just had no energy. I laid in bed. Feeling sorry for myself. I was in pain. I was really sick. I couldn’t even watch Netflix. But Magda & Paulina would send reassuring tweets and emails and I slowly kept it together.
I worked harder at building my art-practice than on anything in my life, though it never felt like work. I devoted myself to it, though it never felt like sacrifice. I am also endlessly grateful. Those years gifted me experiences, skills, lessons, and friendships. I would not be me without them.
Many forget that it’s a rare privilege to find something you care about so deeply and be able to make it your life.
I had struggled to get back, but my heart wasn’t in it in the same way. I simply craved a new challenge. It didn’t matter why — I couldn’t lead my life in the same way, and I had promised myself that I wouldn’t be caught without a plan if something happened to me again.
I realized I couldn’t have my old life back, but I also didn’t want it anymore.
So I decided to go into healthcare… radiotherapy & oncology! Of all things. But I’d kept all this secret from most people. It was furtive, shadowy work, and the secrets made my stomach ache.
But I reached out to M, and I hoped that she would still think I was an okay person.
The wild thing is, Magda still helped me through emails – giving me incredible advise and inspiration for my healthcare practice. To the point that I realized that I was still a fucking artist. I had got lost, but she never stopped helping me find the tracks back. I’m now doing my PhD combining all of my double agent status’ together. Just insane.
But here’s the thing about the Postmasters Fam., is that they don’t let you down.
Magda once said to me that we get dealt the cards that we get dealt, but we play them like they’re fucking Aces. She has taught me that experience is subjective. We get to decide what’s devastating, what’s beautiful, and what we do next. In the books of our lives, we are both protagonist and narrator. And narrators have incredible power.
In writing this, I thought a lot about the places that shape us, and how, in turn, we shape those places in our minds. Postmasters have really shaped my life, in so many ways.
As human beings living on earth right now, we find ourselves in a very particular where. The art-world mostly sucks, because it works for the 1%, lets not even talk about politics.
But this is something we can all help, maintain, and be a part of. Help sustain the legacy, help to make the future, help to secure a better history. Look down at your feet and decide what that means.
Instead of being afraid, I’m going to try to be brave. Instead of feeling regret, I’m going to focus on getting better tomorrow, and instead of hoping that someone else will say it or move it or mean it, I’m going to do it myself.
Postmasters has been there for us (in ways you might not even know yet!) so lets me THERE FOR THEM!
About a year ago, I saw a really cool website from Canada about the Faces of Healthcare.
And I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to have something like this for radiotherapy, and the surrounding services (which is essentially pretty much EVERYTHING in the NHS). Oncology is very much one of the most inter-disciplinary areas within healthcare, ever. From dietitians, counsellors, all different types of doctors, dementia care, mental health, social workers, GPs, ambulance drivers, nurses, students, volunteers, etc — it’s endless! Trying to seamlessly work together to provide the best patient care and experience.
It is for this exact reason why I believe we should celebrate our profession and our patients and their carers and loved ones, and for every single person who is involved within the NHS. Because without them, we’d be a bit lost.
The receptionists who make sure patients get to see the people they need to see. The porters who take the patients to Boots and reading every single sandwich ingredients to the patient. To the volunteers who run Bridge Clinic, and provide unlimited biscuits. To the student who helps someone on and off the toilet… it’s literally endless.
So many people don’t know about radiotherapy. So many patients find the process quite anxiety enhancing due to the lack of personable, friendly, understandable and in-date information online coming up to their treatment.
And as I’ve gone through my training I’ve seen some truly compassionate stuff and heard some amazing stories – of all types. The stories from patients that have stuck with staff, the stories that made staff go into the profession and stay when things have been or become tough.
Patients have been some of my best teachers throughout my training, but some of those lessons have been hard.
And I’d love to share these stories with you. Because everyone’s story deserves to be heard. And i hope through reconstructing these narratives together, we can empower our experiences.
A Radiotherapy Story is photo-documentary on kindness and trauma, on team-working, on suffering and on truly living. On being part of something bigger than yourself.
We want to share with you the stories of these people, of the NHS, to celebrate the pinnacle of humanity and kindness. Of life and death. I hope you’ll enjoy what we’ve made.
Mid-20’s isn’t that old, but I feel like I’ve aged 2 lifetimes in the past 3 years. Maybe aging like that makes you look back a bit more. Just as you can see from my blog, my focuses in life have shifted; I’m not just looking for self-improvement in what I can change per-say, but more to learn how to have grace in the parts of me that won’t budge, or have grace in things I can’t control right now.
One of the hardest parts of having to adapt to being a much slower, less interesting and hardly a multi-tasker Smizz due to illness, is being observed 24/7. I used to invite people to watch my performance of trying to make it in the artworld— I’d post lots of things I’d make, constantly advertise myself – I kind of craved the attention— but I had no idea that it was going to open me up to some damaging mindsets. It now makes me feel like I need to be on top of my shit 24 hours a day, and I can’t do that anymore. Mainly because I’m either in bed (mostly), studying (secondly), drawing, or out trying to live life (making up for 1 & 2). I’ve been trying to learn the “It’s okay to say no to things sometimes. Because if you can’t say no, you can’t fully say yes”.
I’m no longer living up to the persona I assigned to myself. I feel like I’m not only letting everyone down who invested their time into me, but I’ve let it make me believe I’m letting myself down too.
So after feeling like I was going to die, and feeling really sorry for myself. After not having the mental /energy capacity to work on my own work, just enough to work on others (which has been/is amazing, and I needed it to survive- both mentally & financially). After seeing people who I admire and respect because of their vision & dignity, struggle in this world. After months and months and months of wishing I could be part of it, I returned from this ordeal to resume work and rejoin the artworld, but my membership had expired. I felt like the Artworld had forgotten about me. And everything I made and saw seemed like trivial bullshit—because quite a bit of it was/is (not all of it). Disingenious money grabs. all speed was stupid. Some things was just despicable, because it stole the dignity of everyone involved. We deserve better.
This is harsh criticism, and way super cynical, but it is how I felt at the time. These feelings have eased a lil bit, but I’ve always had a critical view on the Artworld because I’ve always been coming from a disadvantaged point anyways. And I’m a Marxist. However, noticing the bad also makes it easier to see and notice the good. Many of the things I love about the artworld are still here, and doing maybe better than some of the crappy parts of the Artworld.
My friends, Lesley Guy & Dale Holmes did this super cool show at Bloc Projects in Sheffield about Pizza a few weeks ago. It was so good I went home & ordered a Domineos.
One of the best artists out there Gregory Sholette is trying to crowd-source this phenomenal project. http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/imaginary-archive-kyiv – Which is an Imaginary Archive – a collection of fictional and real documents from a past whose future never arrived of Ukraine. It’s such a special and important exhibition, and so necessary at this time, so if you can find the time/$ to support it, that would be amazing!
I really, really, really want to see William Powhida’s phenomenal “overculture” show at the most AMAZING gallery Postmasters NY, that just opened this week. Powhida’s practice is about helping us see how fucked up things are and to inspire us to strive to a world of justice, supporting (art) world which encourages criticality and risks. it’s basically the (art)world we all really want, yet too scared to bite the hand that feeds us. I keep putting (art) like this, because the artworld is just a microscopism of the ‘real’ fucked up world. Every problem within the artworld is a problem within non-art-related society. Mainly because it’s the same shitty force that drives both: greed and value in the banal, and unethical under-valued/under-paid labour in order to make $$. When in actuality, there’s significant power in our dark-matter-ness if we realize it, together.
My focus and definition on “progress” made it easy for me to forget that you can turn around from traveling in a wrong direction, and return to the place where things last felt right. You can go back. Now I feel like I’m starting from the beginning with my personal art practice, and it felt like a failure. But I’m slowly accepting that sometimes going back is sometimes progress.
A few painful years has taught me 1 of the important lessons about life: you only become bulletproof when you refuse to disguise your injuries. The wounds are a gift: You learn how to accept help, and better yet, how to better give it. This in turn is another reason why I’m studying again, to emulate the best care & understanding I kind of know that the patient needs. Remember: if you need help. Ask for it. We can’t do it all alone. All the time.
Life is now somehow more precious and less. I’m now back to my humble beginnings: To share what you know.
So that’s part of what I’ve been quietly doing/working on with F/O/R/C/E, a collaboration with Paul Harrison and a few others – > forcelectures.org
Don’t wait for a life disaster to be the thing that spurs you into action. Everything is fragile and you are more resilient than you think.
you guys know I love my bike, right? In another life, I would love to own a bike shop a bit like Mission Bikes in San Francisco. But for now, I can dream and continue to make and think about bikes. This is like the dream christmas list! If you don’t know what to get me for xmas – and you get me for secret santa or something – chances are anything on this image above would be dope. You can find out what everything is here: http://hypebeast.com/2013/11/essentials-markus-freitag
Abi Goodman and I had a fantastic day on the 19th May at Parsons X event Location. We got some amazing statements created by the locals. This image below is a statement created by an 11 year old girl. Amazing.
You know tumblr’s are all the range right. It’s because they make other peoples images look awesome. As a lil something, something to inspire me – keep me focused for the summer – take my mind off my weird health issues, I’m putting a kick ass tumblr together of great images of America & roadtrips – Until I can pop my own up during/after the roadtrip. Keep it locked here! http://roadtripsmizz.tumblr.com/
I’m excited. I have 3/4 friends who are actually game for a roadtrip in the USA this summer. I know what you’re thinking, why do you need friends to do a roadtrip anyways? I can’t drive. So basically I need friends so I can be a freeloader passenger (map navigator I will call myself). It’s really the only way you get to see America, all those small towns in the middle of nowhere. You sort of go past them on the train, you sort of get soda & use the bathroom at service stations of these nowhere places when you take the bus. But you never get to actually check them out.
Since I actually can’t drive. Or never attempted to do so, (ha) I have no idea what navigating the roads will be like. Luckily my new shexy phone has a GPS in it. Yeaaaahhhhh buddy! But where to go?!
If any of you have tips for roadtripping USA, whether thats experience or how to do it on the cheap, or whether that’s some MUST see places, or places to check out on our desired route, please holla!