Leading Asian Artists Create New Works in Hancock Shaker Village

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Breast Stupa Topiary, by Pinaree Sanpitak, Jim Thompson Farm, Pak Tong Chai, Nakorn Ratchasima (2018). Image courtesy of the artist.

Installing Pinaree Sanpitak at Hancock Shaker Village.

In his first major exhibition of contemporary Asian art, A spirit of giving, a place of sharing is now showing at Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Mass., by November 14, 2022. This immersive, site-specific exhibition features three acclaimed Asian artists: Yusuke Asai from Japan, Pinaree Sanpitak from Thailand, and Kimsooja from South Korea.

In A spirit of giving, a place of sharing, Asai, Sanpiak, and Kimsooja focus on the spiritual connection to the Shakers and have approached their art and this campus-wide show as a gift. Although they come from cultures distinct from each other and from the Shakers, they all share an integration of the spiritual and the physical in their work, as well as common ideals. Their unique interpretations of the Shaker spirit encourage us to emerge with a new appreciation and understanding of Shakers, and perhaps of ourselves. A gift to share.

Japanese artist Yusuke Asai creates a mural using 17 types of soil and rocks taken from the grounds of Hancock Shaker Village and surrounding areas.

Inside the Poultry House, Japanese artist Yusuke Asai creates a mural using 17 types of soil and rocks taken from the grounds of the village of Hancock Shaker and its surroundings. Like the Shakers – who built the Round Stone Barn from rocks they quarried in the southern part of the land and who painted the trim an ocher yellow using a vein of ocher they found in these same stones – he works with what is on the ground.

His work evokes dreams, because “dreams are the wellsprings of the imagination, giving adults and children – and perhaps even animals – creativity, even if we risk forgetting everything once we wake up” . In Japan it is believed that the soul resides in all things animate and inanimate, so integrated into his installation Asai incorporates Shaker furniture and gift drawings to listen to their voices.

For the opening, Asai led a workshop, “Soil Searching,” making soil pigment paintings inspired by the artist’s imaginative creatures as well as Shaker’s “gift” drawings. The participants’ earth-colored drawings became contemporary artistic versions of gift drawings to be exchanged with those made by other participants.

One of Southeast Asia’s most prominent and respected feminist artists, Pinaree Sanpitak finds its ideal in the utopian society of the Shakers, where women had a social status equal to that of men. The brick dwelling and surrounding land are the main impetus for Sanpitak’s site-specific work, both inside and out. Admiring the spirit of the Shakers – simple, joyful, nurturing, supporting each other through land, work and community – Sanpitak’s artistic practice is a contemporary model of land-extending sustenance. You will see on the lawn a group of three steel sculptures that she made in collaboration with a local blacksmith and our gardeners. Beautiful art forms, these stupas are also used to grow Berkshire and Thai herbs and vegetables on the trellis-like structures.

Round stone barn at Hancock Shaker Village.
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Sanpitak is working with the chef at Hancock Shaker Village to create dishes at Bimi’s Café using produce from the farm as part of a global collaborative art and food project using Sanpitak’s stupabaking molds and shaped dishes. It has so far taken place in 12 countries and 20 cities around the world. Visitors can enjoy the special menu available at Bimi’s Café until November.

Kimsooja (who was born in South Korea and lives in Seoul, Paris and New York), creates new works in the Round Stone Barn and the Laundry & Machine Shop. A recurring theme in Kimsooja’s work is textiles and related human labors – sewing, weaving and threading. These activities become a metaphor for connecting disparate places and transcending conflict. In A spirit of giving, a place of sharing, Kimsooja creates new works that follow the Shaker story of migration from Europe, colonization and building their own lifestyle. Within laundry and machinery, Kimsooja investigates the play of natural light in the building as well as its history as a room in which the sisters did laundry. She chose Shaker sheets from the museum’s collection, which she hangs on clotheslines in the toilets, while the ethereal light she created in the ironing room highlights the spiritual importance of a seemingly mundane work, offering an ode to Mother Ann Lee’s philosophy of “hands to the work, hearts to God.

Within the laundry and machine shop, Kimsooja studies the play of natural light in the building as well as its history as a room in which the sisters did laundry.

PUBLICATION: A color catalog of the exhibition will be published with essays by director Jennifer Trainer Thompson and curators Miwako Tezuka and Linda Johnson.

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