Fireflies Ain't Here Anymore is a project Aram Tanis started to work on during his travels to Asia. Tanis strayed the city streets to photograph its people, objects, animals and buildings. Fascinated by the sharp contrasts he found there, Tanis kept on returning to Asia. Later on he started writing down his memories, which Tanis added to the photographs. The result is the autobiographical installation Fireflies Ain’t Here Anymore.
Even though Tanis set out to establish an identity through his photographs, they convey a feeling of alienation. In his search for a sense of belonging he seems to dissect the city, trying to grasp and comprehend every aspect of it. He deliberately documents the disparity between beauty and crudeness, richness and poverty, tradition and modernity. Consequently, the photographs do not just reflect his own sense of indeterminateness, but also of the cities themselves.
Yesterday I was in the city to buy a black woollen sweater. When I sit in front of my window it feels like there is no glass separating me from the outside.
I see small snowflakes dancing through the air. Snowflakes that sometimes come together and then quickly say farewell. Twelve months ago we sat here in front of this window. I still have moments I can feel you sitting next to me.
People who lose a leg or an arm often feel pain after the limb has been removed. It’s like having a memory of the pain because it is wired into the brain. You are still wired into my brain.
While I am writing this there is a performance on television of a woman we both met when we were in art school. I didn’t realize it at first, but slowly the voice of Marina Abramović got through to me. I turned my face to the screen and saw Marina on the Great Wall of China. I recognized the part she was at. I mostly remember how I sat there in total silence looking at how the Wall, like a dragon, slithers over mountains and disappears into deep valleys. Marina and Ulay walked the Great Wall to mark the ending of their twelve-year relationship. Marina’s last words in the video of the performance are: “Because in the end you are really alone”.
A few minutes ago I was making myself a cup of tea. When I opened a glass jar filled with Korean tea leaves, the aroma that escaped took me straight back to my childhood.
The first time I went to the Netherlands from Korea has been a while ago. A plane filled with baby girls and me, the only boy, was heading for Amsterdam. I was on my way to another life, a Western life with an unknown future ahead.
The sleeves had to be rolled up. I was only allowed to touch my homework and the desk I was sitting at. I wasn’t allowed to touch my hair, face or other ‘clean’ stuff. There were also times when I did my homework downstairs. The rules were just as strict. The table top consisted of 12 tiles in length and 8 tiles in width. My homework had to stay within 6 by 4 tiles.
I had a nightmare about a deadly poisonous black widow. She was attacking me and eventually she just ate me.
Ella and Louis are singing the last notes of ‘Summertime’. Now it is Frank’s turn with ‘When Somebody Loves You’.
During breakfast I was thinking of us when we used to visit a jazz café near the Yonghe Temple where they had two cats. Both had their own favourite place to rest and snooze on the rhythm of the music. At the café they served delicious homemade pies, blueberry muffins and cheesecakes.
Frank has started singing ‘I Believe That Dreams Come True’.
Listening to the music I realize my dad was right, loss by death is easier to deal with than loss by separation.
When I look up I see my reflection in the mirror. I never liked mirrors. As a teen I wanted to look white. No Asian eyes. No flat nose. Looking white was the answer to my uncertainties and would dissolve my loneliness.
Last month I was in Suwon, a city near Seoul. Streets filled with clinics. Plastic surgery is booming business in Korea and Suwon is the place to be to erase part of your Asian identity.
When I first walked in I entered a huge waiting room. It looked more like a dining hall. Everywhere were big, round wooden tables. On each table was a hand mirror. At one of the tables sat a girl, around 20 years old, looking at herself in the hand mirror. Every little detail in her face she closely inspected. Finally she put the mirror down to pick it up again a few seconds later. This ritual she repeated several times. Observing the whole thing made me feel anxious enough. I changed my mind and walked out of the clinic.
In Tokyo a large dog walked up to me. I was thirsty and decided to go to a bar and the dog just followed me. Haruki Murakami used to own a jazz bar named ‘The Peter Cat’. He sold it before he started his writing career. I knew where it was and to my amazement it still existed. As I walked in I could hear Miles Davis playing. I ordered a beer and some snacks as I sat down at the bar. The dog found a suitable place in a corner and looked quite content as he laid down.
This dog looked so familiar to me. After my third beer I remembered, it was Daido Moriyama’s ‘Stray Dog’. As you know, that photograph is one of my favourites. In this image the dog looks more like a wild wolf trying to survive in Tokyo.
I finished my beer and put some money on the bar. As I turned around the dog had left.
That evening I went to Ueno Park for a concert of Kondo, a Japanese trumpet player. Once I saw a video of him while he was performing at scenic spots throughout Japan. He was serenading the sunrise at Mount Aso and playing a tortured lament on the tsunami-ravaged coast of Kirikiri. What I liked about Kondo is that he said most trumpet players think the trumpet is a musical instrument to make sound with breathing, for him it is a musical instrument to express breathing.
I still don’t like coffee, but you left two bags with Nestlé powder, so I had a go at one of them when I came home from the concert. Did you know that the boss of Nestlé thinks water is not a fundamental human right? As I was sitting outside drinking my coffee, I looked at the moon. I realized that no matter where we are, we see the same moon. You can be in Japan, I can be in China and still we see the same moon at the same time. It’s a comforting thought.
Before I forget, your grandma appeared in my sleep. First I was completely taken by surprise. Then I was very happy to meet her again. I told her I was glad to see her, but she didn't have time to listen to me. In this brief moment, I had to promise her about seven times that I would tell you she is all right. Once your grandma was really convinced I would, she sat calmly at the end of my bed.
I remember as a child I walked up to the house and the smell and light of autumn just hit me. It was a memorable experience. I felt the same when I once went into an art gallery in Seoul. They exhibited an installation named ‘Before The Rain’, which captured the atmosphere and smell of an Asian city on a steamy day.
Talking about steamy days, a few years back I visited Hong Kong in June. The heat was unbearable. The air conditioning didn’t work. What made the whole thing worse; it was three in the morning and I was starving. I went through my whole apartment to see if I could find anything to eat. In every nook and cranny I searched for something edible, of course there was nothing. I was lucky though, there was a 24-hour restaurant within walking distance. By chance they served the best Chinese food I had ever tasted. That hot night this restaurant became my all time favourite. I often think back of that restaurant.
You can wake me up for fresh oysters, sushi, shrimps, fries, tacos, nachos, pies and what not. I am fascinated by food and how it’s being produced. I went to a butcher to see how a cow is turned into a steak and witnessed the process from A to Z. I don’t know why I am so obsessed with food. Maybe because I was underfed when I arrived in the Netherlands as a small baby.
This morning I read a post on Facebook by one of my ‘friends’. Today she is officially separated from her husband. She wishes him all the best and will always love him. Why would someone post that on Facebook for everybody to read? Is she so lonely that she wants compassion from someone, anyone?
The ravens are making loud noises again. The weather is changing. Dark clouds bring rain and lightning. Groups of ravens are soring through the air. The whole scene reminds me of ‘The Solitude of Ravens’. Some time after Masahisa Fukase made this work he slipped down the stairs in his favourite bar and fell into a coma of twenty years, before he died.
After his wife had left him, Fukase suffered from depression and alcoholism and was therefore probably drawn to these birds. In Japanese mythology ravens are disruptive presences and omens of dark and dangerous times.
A few days ago I had a strange dream. Everywhere I looked I saw empty bottles, fag butts, dirty pillows and stained bed sheets lying around. As I was trying to figure out what had happened, you walked up to me with some hard-boiled eggs in your hands and asked me if I had slept well. Then you started talking about your work, family and favourite alcoholic beverages.
In my dreams I can fly, travel to places I have never seen before and be a great film director. Since you left I haven’t made new work. I sometimes catch myself just sitting at the table staring out of the window. Sometimes my eyes focus on a tree standing in the far distance, then again on my own reflection in the window.
Today is the day to check my letterbox. I postponed it for as long as I could. Sometimes you just have to stare the beast in the eyes.
There is a white envelope with your handwriting on it. It makes me nervous.
You won’t be coming back.
I my heart I already knew, but hope is such a powerful emotion. The Dalai Lama once told me I should be living in the present. When I live in the now, I will be much happier since the past and future cannot weigh down on me. I replied, that is easier said than done.
Recently I found out Joni Mitchell gave up a baby daughter for adoption. I guess that’s why she has written such beautiful lyrics like ‘A Case of You’.
Work that moves me without knowing the story behind it, is what I love. It’s like the clouds of Nobuyoshi Araki. I have always loved those photos. Many photographers photograph clouds, but Araki’s clouds are the only clouds that move me. Later I found out he took those pictures from his balcony when he had just lost his wife. Now, many years later, I still carry his clouds with me, just as I always carry ‘A Case of You’ with me.
I can see he feels anxious. After a slight hesitation he walks up to me. As we hug I look at the woman standing close by. She looks away from me. I don’t know how she feels. Is she bored? Maybe she feels ashamed.
I walk towards her to introduce myself. When I take her hand, I see how fragile it is. I can see the contours of her bones and veins through the skin. We hold each other tight as we walk to the car.
This is how the first meeting goes in my fantasy.
When I think of death I wonder what the point of life is. We live a relatively short period of time. Most people are forgotten. I don’t know who my grandmother is. I don’t know who your grandfather is. I don’t even know who my biological parents are.
Aram Tanis' book tells about Japan: modernity and chaos against tradition, which characterise this country in the collective imagination.