Here we have the fifth collection of prints put together by members of [Baren] - the Internet Forum for Woodblock Printmaking. Like the immediately preceding folio, this is also a 'themed' exchange. Unlike the fairly straightforward theme of 'self-portrait' that was set for that fourth folio though, this theme was somewhat more challenging. When this exchange was in its formative stages, discussions on just what theme to use were ranging far and wide on the forum, and there was no end in sight to the stream of interesting ideas. To arrive at a consensus seemed impossible, so at one point I simply banged my gavel down on my computer keyboard, and sent the following message to the group:
O.K. here's what I'm going to do. [Baren] is an international group. Each country has its own collection of proverbs (known here in Japan as kotowaza). One in particular that is in common use here struck me as being perfect for [Baren], although when you hear it you will be surprised that this proverb is Japanese, and not say, American.
'Ju nin, to iro'
What does it say? In its simplest translation: 'Ten people, ten colours'. It can be interpreted (as can most proverbs) in varied ways; the basic idea is that 'There is no accounting for tastes', or perhaps better is 'One man's meat is another man's poison'.
[Baren] members are scattered in countries across the world, and across the range of woodblock printmaking styles. In truth, this group is '180 people, 180 colours'. Yet of course, we are united in pursuit of the same goals. 'Ju nin, to iro' could perfectly be our 'motto' if we had one - it expresses our diversity, yet implies our common purpose.
Reaction from the group was generally positive, but somewhat confused. Although the proverb is a good 'deep' one, a number of the participants had quite some trouble coming up with ideas on just how to illustrate it in a woodblock print.
As always when writing this introduction, I haven't had a chance to see the prints, and I am very curious to see just what everybody came up with! I rather doubt that most of them actually show us ten 'different' people, and I assume that they have treated the theme more figuratively than literally. Did they succeed? I think the only real test of that would be to take the prints from this folio, line them all up, and invite people to look them over and then guess the unifying concept for the 'exhibition'.
It seems difficult to believe that little over a year ago, there were no such things as [Baren] Exchanges. But this program has become such an important part of the group's activities that we cannot now think of [Baren] without thinking of the exchanges. On the very day that this one wrapped up, sign-up for the next one began. And more are already planned ...
We hope that you enjoy browsing through our print collection. A great deal of thought and planning went into each of these prints, until for each person the moment finally came when it was time to ...
Thank you for spending time with [Baren], and we hope that our 'colour' is also your 'colour'!
Tokyo, April 2000
Founder, the [Baren] Forum
(Special thanks to member Maria Arango for coordinating this exchange)