At first glance I’m a bit disappointed, but remind myself that the exposition was free. I stop to read the artist’s statement on the wall, and then make my way into the first room. There are mountains of Japanese characters; forests of brush strokes and tidal waves. Thousands of ideograms dance on paper, their sheer volume is mesmerizing. I’m blown away.
The Palais de Glace is old, I learn – inaugurated in 1910, the space originally served as a social club and ice-rink. As I walk past security and towards Hamano Ryuho’s exhibition, I take a deep breath. It certainly smells like one of those old Argentine buildings. It’s quiet, and the lighting is dim – perhaps as a way of camouflaging the age reflecting on the walls.
Unfortunately for me, I am not able to read Japanese, but this doesn’t stop me from appreciating the aesthetic intensity on display. Ryuho’s craft is impeccable – and thankfully, most of the exhibits have a Spanish translation of what is written. The work on display in the first room consists of poems, reflections on life and the inevitability of old-age. “Winter passes, spring comes and time is renewed. But the human being ages with its passing.”
The crux of the artist’s work lies under the dome of the Palais: hundreds of paper cylinders inscribed with the names of 790 Japanese immigrants. Termed “pioneers,” they were the first of their nationality to set sail, leave the archipelago, and make their lives in South America. In Ryuho’s calligraphy, these pioneers have found new life. I walk among them, silent, pensive.
At the end, or the beginning, of the exposition, are 17 cylinders also bearing names. They were Argentines of Japanese ancestry who were “disappeared” during the military dictatorship. The names are so close to me that I could touch them; the cylinders reach no higher than one’s knee.
I pause one more time before leaving the exhibit. Thousands of characters, like leaves, rustle in my mind. There is something so humanely fragile about the ink put to paper . It seems a fitting medium to honor the lives of Ryuho’s forebearers. I walk out of the building, my earlier disappointment forgotten, his work inscribed in my memory.