By Madeline Renn
As San Marino and Los Angeles residents, we are familiar with the feeling of claustrophobia: from traffic, to an encroaching fence, to rushing from work to school. Space, in Californian’s lives, can be difficult to find.
At The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, visitors are able to discover the Japanese concept of ma, translated loosely as “the space between.” While the concept gets slightly lost in translation, as it is spatial awareness built into the architecture of Japanese culture, it can be learned. One place to become acquainted is at The Huntington’s Japanese Teahouse.
Surprisingly, the most notable part about the Teahouse is the sparseness. Teahouses are outfitted with nothing but a matt and an alcove, all precisely arranged to ensure space, or ma. Ma is also part of the ceremony itself: long beats are taken between motions in the careful procedure.
Another way to discover the essence of ma at The Huntington is in the art of Yasuhiro Ishimoto. Ishimoto’s art has never been exhibited in America, and will be shown for the first time at The Huntington.
His art is influenced by his experience as a Japanese-American: taking from both traditions to create balance, ma, in his photography. The craft movement that is so familiar to San Marino inhabitants caught his eye in the 70s as a photographic muse. The Blacker, Gamble, and Thornsen houses were all shot by Ishimoto—magnified stills of the precision and detail curated by Greene and Greene architects.
Anne Mallek, former curator of the Gamble House and co-curator of the Ishimoto exhibition, says Ishimoto’s “work is known for its ability to synthesize tradition and modernity.” He also is able to synthesize cultures, as he grew up and went to school in America before returning to Japan. His art is the essence of ma: finding the space between, unearthing the tacit conversations between cultures and eras in times of change and turmoil.
On the second Monday of every month, The Huntington is offering Japanese Teahouse Tours from noon to 4 pm. “Yasuhiro Ishimoto: Bilingual Photography and the Architecture of Greene & Greene” will be on view beginning on Saturday, June 18 at the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, Susan and Stephen Chandler Wing. The black and white series of photographs concentrate on historic Greene and Greene architecture, and, of course, the ma that can be found in the Japanese-influenced craft movement.