Art, Life, Faith - A Casual Discussion

Original article published in CHRISTIAN TODAY by Reima Shinjo, January 31, 2015
(Translated from the Japanese)

Community Arts Tokyo's first event of the year
Community Arts Tokyo’s first event of the year, “Art, Life, Faith” (ALF), was held on January 19th in a home in the middle of Tokyo. Community Arts Tokyo seeks to connect people through the arts and reconnect the arts with society and daily life. They are also a resource to organizations and churches of various denominations to provide artistic events.

In the wide range of activities Community Arts Tokyo has to offer, from performance parties and symposiums, to volunteer relief and revitalization work in areas of northern Japan hit by the 2011 disaster, ALF is a casual event, simply meeting in local homes. It is an open discussion built on the basis that the fine arts, formalized in the concert hall, theater, museum, or gallery, are present in our everyday lives, fulfilling an important role in our lives and society, and can serve as a connecting point to the God of the Bible.

Leaders, locations, and themes of the discussion differ every time, sometimes a scholarly discussion of the music of Bach, other times addressing topics from popular entertainment, like the movie “Frozen.” This evening Roger Lowther, Director of Community Arts Tokyo, presented the theme of “eyes.” Conversation was sparked with the viewing of a piece by Marina Abramović, a well-known performance artist originally from Yugoslavia, and everyone was invited to share their thoughts.

The video clip was from Marina’s performance “The Artist is Present” on exhibition in New York’s Museum of Metropolitan Art in 2010. In this performance, Marina and a member of the audience are seated on either side of a desk, silently locking eyes, while all around them a crowd of spectators looked on, waiting their turn. This simple action had a mysterious power over people. Some people would begin to cry as Marina looked at them, completely “present” for them, and then she began to weep also.

Our discussion started with questions and comments such as, “I wonder why the audience cried?” and “Like a staring contest, I think I’d start laughing!” and grew from there. As this particular ALF was attended by Japanese, American, and British participants, distinct cultural differences from each country influenced our conversation as well: “If they did this performance in Tokyo instead of Europe, do you think people would come?” “Eye contact seems more difficult for Japanese. Usually our eyes don’t meet...” “I’m hesitant to lock eyes with someone: you might give them the wrong impression, like you have feelings for them.”

In an open conversation where everyone shares their thoughts, Roger sometimes throws in a remark, such as the words of one reviewer of Marina’s performance. “The atmosphere Marina was able to create was reminiscent of a church confessional box, which is quite remarkable when you consider how public it was.” No matter the faith or background, the discussion easily drew people into the conversation, even first-time attenders.

The conversation naturally turned to the mystery of God’s gaze mentioned throughout scripture. “When Adam first sinned, he was separated from God and didn’t want to be seen.” “Hagar, the slave woman, called God ‘You are the God who sees me.’” “Jesus said to Nathaniel, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’”

ALF is never pushy about Christianity or making people believe the Bible. Roger, an organist with experience performing around the world, and his wife Abi, a pianist, are dedicated to creating a space where artists can gather, this time including many musicians and designers. This particular evening everyone happened to be Christian, but first-time visitors and people from all backgrounds are warmly welcomed.

Community Arts Tokyo director, Roger Lowther
Abi says she “hopes the arts will serve as a gateway to think about life, and through that, personally experience an encounter with God.” Living as a Christian does not mean detaching from the world, but rather living our everyday lives realizing God is present and at work all around us. This event cultivates a perspective of seeing the world through the lens of God’s Word.

This kind of work has huge significance in a country like Japan, which is not primarily Christian. Christianity is not only in Western cultures. Roger’s desire is to share together an appreciation for the excellence and charm of Japanese culture as part of this world, which was created by the same God. The discussion ended with a prayer, “With thanks to our strong, eternal, Creator God, who looks on us who are small and unworthy with a loving gaze.”

Starting next month, ALF will go from one meeting to two meetings per month in two different locations. For more details about ALF or other Community Arts Tokyo activities, please contact info@communityarts.jp.