N E X T .

Peeling Out (でてくる)

2016 Kyoto, Nishiki Market (錦市場)

  • Haptic conversations ‧ happen-stance as survey ‧ discovery in defamiliarisation ‧ nimble field work

Created within the ‘Mapping the Aesthetics of Urban Life in Asia’ Winter School of International Institute for Asian Studies (Leiden) and Center for Southeast Asian Studies (Kyoto), in collaboration with Kim Dînh Bùi, Anissa Rahadiningtyas, Elizabeth Wijaya, and Shinya Akutagawa.

This haptic-led dialogue was realized in 36 hours and evolved around a tray with large onion, hand towel, and warm water. The vendors at the traditional Nishiki Market were asked to peel the onion layer by layer: while doing so, they elaborated on what makes their hometown beautiful. The unusual dexterity assisted people in uncovering their own sense of ‘beauty’ beyond mere words and language barriers. The dismantled onion layers were collected and deep-fried into a Tempura snack for the closing presentation of the study conference.

Onion peeling as the manual extension of conversation was inspired by the idea of townmaking that stems from the collaboration of hands, more so than money. Kyoto prides itself for its craft and tradition that uphold handmaking values. Also, the onion is more than just an age-old vegetable. For example in Shusaku Endo’s novel Deep River (深い河), the Onion becomes the metaphor and protagonist for the divine.


Market vendors were asked to reveal the beauty of their hometown, one pungent layer at a time. Here are a few selected responses.

Nigiri (riceball) vendor: Needless to say, beauty is in the scenery. The most important thing in Kyoto is to develop a rapport to each other.

Fish vendor: Hm, in daily life I don’t need to peel onions in such a way.

Soup vendor: In this market arcade, everybody keeps the public space tidy by themselves.

Snack vendor: Beauty is in the inner most part of the onion. Now the onion is revealing its bud!

Butchershop vendor: The beauty of Kyoto is that people maintain old things for what they are. I am originally from another city so it’s this remarkable sense of beauty. People never know what they lose until it’s gone and too late for regrets. Citizens in Kyoto are careful what they should keep so they won’t have to regret it later.

Veggie vendor: This core piece of the onion is beautifully firm and solid in shape. If I continue to peel it off by force, I may break it.

Peeling Out
Reflecting on matters of beauty while peeling onion.
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Equipped with onions, handtowel and warm water.
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One onion lasted for up to three conversations.
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Peeled onion layers being deep-fried into Tempura.
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Onion Tempura served at conference’s closing event.