“Wabi-Sabi is an intuitive appreciation of a transient beauty in the physical world that reflects the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual world. It is an understated beauty that exists in the modest, rustic, imperfect, or even decayed, an aesthetic sensibility that finds a melancholic beauty in the impermanence of all things”.
From Andrew Juniper’s ‘Wabi Sabi; The Japanese Art of Impermanence’ (2003)
Whilst the term ‘Wabi’, translated as simple austere beauty, is often paired with ‘Sabi’ in the West to describe an aesthetic concept, the Japanese would more likely refer to ‘Wabi-Sabi’ as encapsulating an emotion. ‘Wabi-Sabi’ is not limited to a list of physical traits. Instead it might be considered an aesthetic consciousness, finding value in the imperfect and temporary beyond the confines of appearance.
Jun’ichiro Tanizaki writes ‘In Praise of Shadows’ (1933) of the Japanese sensibility of ‘Sabi’:
“We do not dislike everything that shines, but we do prefer a pensive lustre to a shallow brilliance, a murky light that, whether in a stone or an artifact, bespeaks a sheen of antiquity. . . . we do love things that bear the marks of grime, soot, and weather, and we love the colours and the sheen that call to mind the past that made them”.
Japan has one of the world’s largest economies and a population that is shrinking due to low birth rates. With employment opportunities predominantly found in large urban centres there has been a marked decline in rural regions. This downturn is leaving numerous towns and villages quiet in their melancholy beauty. In some areas deserted schools and silent factories dot the landscape. Shuttered streets and shopping arcades also lie dormant in suburbs of major cities as people are drawn to the modern and centralised shopping districts.
In a world that is increasingly homogenised through global retail chains, the air of neglect and decay of these streetscapes belie a rare beauty. These images seek to document that which is temporary and to celebrate its beauty in turn. The viewer is invited to consider details and qualities in these paired scenes that may be inconspicuous, congruent or contrasting, in the knowledge that all is passing.
By Damien Drew