Artist divines connections in Japan and Taiwan

When artist Jen Alexandra visited Japan and Taiwan late last year, she was embarking on a journey of discovery and re-discovery. Visiting fortune tellers and spiritual readers for an upcoming project gave her a glimpse into a significant side of the two societies that often go overlooked. She was supported with her research by a grant from the Foundation's Arts Practitioners Fund.
A photo of a work of art depicting a woman in traditional Japanese clothing and face paint playing a guitar and a room with a pile of clothing in the middle

A tour of boutique galleries provided Jen with insight into Tokyo's art scene (Photo: Artist Mayuko Inui's work Tamamayu (Double Cocoon) at EUKARYOTE in Tokyo)

As an artist deeply interested in the intersection of spirituality and creativity, Jen Alexandra’s visit was an opportunity to explore the unique spiritual practices of each country, while also connecting with local arts practitioners.

"Both countries are intriguing to me as sites of artistic research because of their spiritual and philosophical ideas, ancient customs, and strong craft traditions," Jen reflects.

Tokyo marked the initial stop on Jen's journey, a city she last visited in 2018 when she crafted a work dedicated to the artist-run gallery 306.

Returning to 306, Jen reconnected with 306 artist Yumi Tami, and the pair are presently in discussions regarding a prospective collaboration for an upcoming project.

Another highlight of her time in the city was taking part in a personal tour of small independent galleries alongside New Zealand curator Chloe Cull. Chloe was in Tokyo having flown in from South Korea where she had taken part in the Foundation’s South Korea Curators Tour.

“We saw a wide range of work and met exhibiting artists. The knowledge and perspective of our boutique tour leader, Yuichi Nojima, offered us a unique insight into the Tokyo art world.”

From Tokyo, Jen ventured to the Seto Islands, also known as the Art Islands, where she met with Andrew McCormick, director of the famous Naoshima Arts Center.

Their shared passion for art and community engagement sparked conversations regarding a potential residency on Naoshima. Her envisioned project entails delving into the historical significance of the island's copper factory, intertwining it with the local community through workshops and exhibitions.

Two photos one of Andrew McCormick in front of a traditional Japanese building and another photo of a sculpture of a large yellow fruit on a seawall

Director of Naoshima Arts Center Andrew McCormick on Seto Island

On to Taiwan, where Jen reconnected with founders of art magazine White Fungus, New Zealand brothers Ron and Mark Hanson.

The pair, who have become influential figures in the local arts community, are a first port of call for many New Zealand artists arriving in the country.

"Having their knowledge of the country's artists and cultural understanding was invaluable,” Jen says. 

Jen's research tour wasn't just about networking and collaboration—it was primarily an exploration of spirituality and tradition.

As well as receiving readings from spiritualists along the way, Jen visited sites such as Fortune Telling Alley at Lungshan Temple in Taiwan, delving into the practice of divination and gathering research for her project on traditional spiritual practices.

“The practice of natural medicine and plant exploration is of particular interest to my research on nature-based spirituality,” she says.

A montage of three photo showing: A fortune teller in Taipei (far left); Shian Fu Rd, Taipei; Jen with Ron and Mark Hanson in Taichung

Taiwan photos: A fortuneteller in Taipei (far left); Shian Fu Rd, Taipei; Jen with Mark (left) and Ron Hanson in Taichung

From chance encounters to lifelong friendships, her trip was a testament to the transformative power of artistic exchange and shared experience.

“Within my art practice, I am naturally collaborative and find meeting other practitioners and thinkers invaluable when developing ideas.

“People I met ranged from art world professionals—curators, writers, artists—to individuals in the world of spirituality: divinatory readers, academics, and practitioners of spiritual ideas."

Now back in New Zealand, Jen is reflecting on her travels and coalescing her experiences into ideas for a series of new works that respond to the spiritual readings she received.

She says, "The trip exceeded my expectations, not only resulting in art making and exhibition opportunities but also new research material for my art practice.”

The Foundation's Arts Programme aims to bring Asia into the mainstream of New Zealand arts by inspiring New Zealand arts professionals to grow their connections and knowledge of Asia. It also supports the presentation of Asian arts in partnership with New Zealand arts organisations and events.

The Arts Practitioners Fund provides support for experiential opportunities for individual New Zealand-based arts practitioners to deepen artistic and professional connections with Asia, including residencies, work placements, research tours and exchanges.