Natasha Norman Visual Artist

1 Hour of Politeness

1 Hour of Politeness Performance
1 Hour of Politeness Performance

Image Credit: Brenda Petays


Today I took part in a performance piece after studio time. Brenda Petays, a Canadian artist, is part of a performance collective that meets once a month and does a performance for 1 hour. It doesn’t matter where in the world the group members are, the performance takes place on the same day and time and guests are invited, so Carol Justin (UK) and I volunteered for ‘1 hour of politeness’ in which we wore the paper face masks that we see so many Japanese wearing in public.

The mask has many connotations. To a Western gaze it looks like a precaution against an epidemic and indeed the popularity of the mask did reach a pitch with the outbreak of Bird flu in 2012. Today, according to our Japanese staff at the residency, it is worn to keep a cold or flu virus contentiously to oneself (so out of respect for the community at large) or as an aid to hayfever sufferers (poor Hayato is suffering from hayfever to such an extent that he has gone to Tokyo to see a doctor). But both Keiko and Hayato agree it can also be read as a sign that someone is being a bit of a hypochondriac.

Outside of the society of extreme politeness in Japan, it would be difficult to read the mask as anything other than a plague warning. So we decided (under Brenda’s guidance) to don the mask and venture into a public space. We were met with little to no reactions – as is the Japanese way – so we were left to consider the affect of the mask on ourselves. Carol noted how comforting it felt: a way of keeping one’s face warm in the chilly afternoon air and an excuse not to have to engage too much with passers-by. It was disconcerting, for me, to have to engage with my company given only their eyes as expressive markers.

When the hour was up we parted ways at the Fuji View Hotel, so named for its incredible view of Mount Fuji from the hotel entrance - the peak framed by road and garden so as to finish the point perspective. I went inside for my second hot springs bathing experience and returned completely blissed out. I had the mineral baths all to myself and a dreamscape walk back to the residency through a lamp-lit blossom tree avenue. Top that off with ginger, spring onion, soya and sake fried fresh salmon and I think I could get used to life here.

Carol Justin
Carol Justin

Image Credit: Brenda Petays


Brenda Petays
Brenda Petays

Image credit: Brenda Petays


Natasha Norman
Natasha Norman

Image Credit: Brenda Petays

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