I Bachini – Stefania Baldi Satoh
Welcome to the world of the “mushi” that inhabit our belly.
My first encounter with these “mushi”---a Japanese term to describe our “insect, worm, caterpillar, larva and more”—was more than 10 years ago when I visited Kyushu, in Japan's southern region. The Kyushu National Museum is located in Fukuoka, the capital of the region, and houses a section dedicated to traditional medicine. It is here that one of the oldest treatises on Oriental medicine (1568) can be found. It is called “Hari-kiki-gaki”, which could be translated as “Report on Acupuncture.”
Among the four sections of the treatise are illustrations of the 63 mushi that cause disease and have, to say at least, grotesque shapes. A description of the position of each mushi in the body, its characteristics, the diseases it causes, as well as the best treatment for each is also included. Some of them have rather extravagant shapes, such as long ears like rabbits or carapaces like turtle or even wings. Others resemble elongated parasites like snakes or earthworms, which are the most common. Their appearance is not that of insects we must consider today, they look like horses, cows, with human faces, lizards …..but somehow their appearance and affect is familiar, and even humorous.
My first impression was one of utter surprise, to my eyes was a complete novelty. The fact that these small creatures were insidious and could even cause death did not make them so threatening or horrendous to me. Obviously, they are imaginary drawings, although everyone at the time believed these mushi were real, so they must have been terrified by them.
There was no comparable visual, character-based conception of disease in the West. Scientifically, with the invention of the microscope, bacteria were discovered in the 17th century and eliminating room for imaginative imaging of elements of disease. Leonardo's beautiful anatomical drawings serve to understand how the body works, primarily for artistic reasons rather than disease causation reasons. Throughout the Middle Ages, medical science was largely based on the theories of the Christian idea that human life was subject to fate and influenced by sin, the stars and, of course, God. Healing depended mainly on external factors, independent of man, and the strong link between illness and sin was made clear.
And so, it is liberating to see these intriguing mushi drawn with colours outside the blacks, greys and frustratingly meticulous precision of the world I belong to. Indeed, I think that this was the first impression I had upon seeing these illustrations. Then I remembered that I am in the country that created manga and anime and I frantically tried to find a clue, a resemblance in my memory. And, ultimately, I found a resemblance; yes, of course, the apple worm!
The artist Lica Cecato, who loves Japan where she lives for part of the year, also found these mushi tantalizing but her approach was a little different. Their shapes, colors and expressions attracted her attention so much that she wanted to represent them by enlarging them. Her encounter with the mushi occurred a short time ago during the peak pandemic period when she was living in Venice and the immediate threat of viruses and bacteria were present to remind us of nefarious pasts and mercilessly reveal our fragility.
So in pandemic lockdown, Lica drew mushi. Her drawings are not mere reproductions of those ancient illustrations; her mushi are vibrant and alive and express an artist’s hope and desire to soon come out of this current reality of physical and mental seclusion. Each stroke of her advancing pencil lightens the weight of tiredness, forms a smile, which then turns into laughter. This is the power of the mushi!
We present some of Lica Cecato’s drawings, with the explanation translated from the original Japanese.
How to read it and dimensions:
Dimensions: 24.3 cm x 21.4 cm, 152 pages
When was it written?
11 October 1568.
After Oda Nobunaga settled in Kyoto, he began attacking the countries of the Kansai region, and it was on 2 October, nine days before this Hari-kiki-gaki was written, that he besieged the country of Settsu (now Osaka Prefecture).
Who wrote it?
It was written by a man called Motoyuki, who lived in Settsu Country. It's not known what kind of person he was, but his name was Ibaraki Nisuke, and he was probably from the area around the current town of Ibaraki in Osaka Prefecture.
What is written in the book?
It consists of the four parts listed below:
(1) Documentation on the 'basic application of the needles, and how to apply them depending on the disease;
(2) Illustrations showing where to apply moxibustion and needles;
(3) Illustrations of the 'mushi' in the body and their treatment (acupuncture, moxibustion and Chinese herbal medicine); and
(4) Anatomical illustrations of the organs and body.
Part (1) documentation includes some 320 articles on the treatment of diseases and details of needle application points, etc. The content is identical to the 'Ryujyu Seiho' of the Iizan school published in 1685, which influenced the acupuncture and moxibustion schools of the early modern period.
Part (2) contains 9 illustrations of acupuncture and moxibustion, showing acupuncture and moxibustion parts for each disease, such as zhongfu, beriberi and eye diseases.
Part (3) has two sections: the upper part shows imaginary insects (mushi) that were thought to cause diseases such as Wuzheng, Liuju, etc.; the lower part shows the characteristics of the mushi and methods of treatment.
Part (4) contains Illustrations of the interior and organs of the body. They include illustrations of the lateral human body, illustrations of the five core organs and six internal viscera. and illustrations of the acupuncture and moxibustion meridians. The images differ from each other and may have been drawn under the influence of Taoism or based on actual dissections.
Relation to the Kyushu National Museum (Ku-haku)
This material is representative of Oriental medicine in the context of the Ku-haku exhibition, the theme of which is to present Japanese culture in relation to Asia and Europe. Oriental medicine was created in China and imported to Japan from ancient times. Today's Kampo medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion and anma (massage technique) are in this category. This is a valuable document showing the development of acupuncture and moxibustion in Japan.
In addition, the illustrations of the mushi are valuable material because they reveal the thinking of the people of the time about disease. There are very few documents in Japan that depict so many mushi.
Four Hands, Four Eyes, One perception – Lica Cecato
To write a text with four hands, to look at a work of art with four eyes, to open one's gaze on a subject that is curiously contemporary but 500 years old, to broaden this four-in-one look, to try to understand the approaches between the West and the East, to understand a certain humor that can become almost didactic, to attract attention to a scientific subject using amusing illustrative techniques, to approach without drama and through the graphic imagery only regarding the large percentage of our body made up of bacteria.
Stefania Baldi has been living in Japan for over thirty years by choice and because of a deep attraction to Japanese culture, which provokes continuous studies and travel with objectives that are not only aesthetic, but for a broader search for beauty, combined many times with a concept of wabi-sabi. A beauty linked to an understanding of nature, to the possibility of being able to live with it, to share what is beautiful. It is enough to sit and look at a garden, to experience moments of absolute abstraction from reality through a Noh theatre performance, to walk through the park of Nara at night, or simply to visit the great Buddha in Kamakura, to give a couple of examples.
Who knows why back in 1568, in this compendium of Chinese medicine, they used such defined red-white-black-orange colors, and such funny shapes, each with its own name and definition of what it can cause in the human body. It amazes me that with the limited number of publications at the time, and long before a cutting-edge technology could let us actually see in detail what these micro-organisms really look like, someone endeavored to introduce acupuncture, moxabustion, meridians, and a compendium of the study of Chinese science regarding these viruses. I find it ingenious, almost like a preface to manga. A culture based on the visual, that deeply values aesthetics, introduces scientific topics using its graphic soul, like a tracing of the country's personalities.
The work is on display in the Kyushu Science Museum in southern Japan. Stefania went to the museum in person and forwarded to me these mushi images of which I have chosen a subset to draw to share with you the impact it caused for me. I want to paint all 63 images and I am well on my way. I hope you will look at these images with the same joy of discovery that Stefania had through direct contact, or I had through the images she sent me, with an almost childlike look of a little kid who still has so much to learn about this uniquely wonderful civilization.