Tanabata Season, Wishing Trees, And Walls of Wishes

Tanabata Season, Wishing Trees, And Walls of Wishes

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Tess Wilson
Jul 15, 2011

Ribbons, lovers separated by the milky way, traded wishes — what's not to love? It's not often the work of a contemporary Brazilian artist and an ancient Japanese festival overlap, but it appears they have, just as the mystical lovers are briefly reunited each summer…

The talented folks at Big Things attended Rivane Neuenschwander's show at the New Museum last autumn, and called it "a visually and conceptually enthralling show". The Brazilian artist filled a wall with ribbons printed with people's wishes, and visitors were invited to take one to wear until it fell off, in exchange for leaving a wish of their own. According to the in-depth New York Times profile, the work was inspired by "a tradition popular among pilgrims to the Church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim in Bahia, who bind ribbons to their wrists or the church's front gate in the belief that when the ribbons fall off or disintegrate, their wishes will be granted". I would have loved to have seen this show. I suppose I could make a wish that I will see it someday... In a way, my wish just came true! You can participate online, typing your wish and reading someone else's. Of course, you don't get a pretty ribbon, but it's still pretty enchanting.

As my head was filled with the lovely images of Neuenschwander's work, I happened upon photos from this year's Tanabata celebrations. There is such a long and complex history, but in short (according to Wikipedia), "In present-day Japan, people generally celebrate this day by writing wishes, sometimes in the form of poetry, on small pieces of paper, and hanging them on bamboo, sometimes with other decorations. The bamboo and decorations are often set afloat on a river or burned after the festival, around midnight or on the next day." I've never participated in Tanabata, but years ago I was walking around downtown Chicago at night, near Water Tower, and came upon a church with a charming little courtyard. In the courtyard was a tree entirely covered in scraps of indigo fabric. You could see bits of writing as the pieces fluttered in the breeze, and the entire effect was absolutely magical. The fabric seemed lit from within, and...it's hard to describe. It's like I could feel all the intention, and hope, that was tied onto that tree, even before I spotted the little sign informing passers-by that each scrap held a wish.

Do you celebrate Tanabata? Wouldn't it be nice to have a tree or wall of wishes in your home? So many of us have random bamboo plants (I've gotten 3 as gifts), it might be fun to have visitors tie a wish-ribbon on, maybe in exchange for taking care of someone else's ribbon?

Images: Rivane Neuenschwander Installation from Big Big Big Things, Fence of Wishes from AnOther Loves, Supermarket Wishes from Tokyo Moe, Garden of Wishes from Kashuu Calligraphy

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