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チェックと日本の現代美術界についての感想

Berlin Now

2012年5月11日


Why is it the brightest and best young artists are leaving Japan? For sure, there are "push" reasons: Japan under the shadow of Fukushima, with all its ongoing economic, political and social crises, is a difficult place to be. But there are also "pull" reasons: places calling out to artists as great places to live, work and develop. New York, London, L.A., Hong Kong: they all have their attractions. But top of the list right now is Berlin, the last free city in Europe, and for many the true global capital of contemporary art.


Ayaka Okutsu, photos of performance by Iohanna Nicenboim

Any excuse and I am happy to board an ICE cool German train, Trans-Europe Express, and head for Berlin. I arrived last week to give a talk, and by accident it was gallery weekend and the opening of the Berlin Biennale. The atmosphere in Berlin is one of space, freedom and the attitude: "let's make this happen together". Other cities feel like a struggle to survive, and a constant competition for attention; the scramble to establish your "career", the focus on ego. In Berlin you feel like you could live on next to nothing, and devote yourself to collaborative art and creativity without ever bothering again about art markets or museum shows.

This must be why there are numerous young Japanese artists surviving and thriving here. Many arrive with German scholarships to study or fellowships from Bunka-cho and Japan Foundation. Most are now staying on. Hardly any learn much German, and the thought of being back in Japan is constantly on their mind, but Berlin has become a home.


Japanese Berlin at drinks before my book talk

Even without foreplanning my weekend was full. I started out with a rendezvous for ramen -- the best in town, at Cocoro on Gipstr. -- with mid career artists Ayumi Minemura (Are You Meaning Company) and Aiko Tezuka. Minemura's gentle relational art, influenced by art school in the late 90s at Zokei with figures like Koki Tanaka, has long found its home in Berlin. She is currently working on collaborative projects that question identity and romance, such as work with American artist James Gregory Atkinson earlier this year. Tezuka, who I was meeting for the first time, I had seen a couple of years ago at the brilliant Stitch By Stitch show at Teien Museum, in Tokyo, 2009. Tezuka is well known for her deconstructive installations using carpets, large scale fabrics and embroidery. She has just arrived in Berlin from London, and can't believe the cheap prices for rent.

Our destination was the performance that evening by Ayaka Okutsu at the Collegium Hungaricum Berlin. Amidst a series of installation works by German and Hungarian artists on the theme of "The Planet as the Festival", Okutsu's performance was by turns cute, funny, alarming and, in the end, quite harrowing -- a minature narrative commentary on the human condition, a live version (I thought) of Kafka's Metamorphosis. With electronic music as a soundtrack, Okutsu climbs into a strange colourful costume she has sewn with multiple arms and legs that are attached to the cieling by cords. This is my body, she says, exploring her limbs and physical feelings in this strange claustrophobic environ. She wonders how she looks to the appreciative, excited crowd. But her psychology then starts to shift: from comfort to alarm, as she begins to feel constrained, even trapped in this outfit and scenario. She wants to be free. A dark figure in black then approaches and starts cutting the cords. The limbs fall limp, one by one, but it is not freedom she finds, but panic as she realises that she is losing her physical self. Imploring the crowd to help, eventually kindly Berliners come up to carry the arms and legs, and help her move around again.



Now a mass cluster of people, Okutsu moves and is moved out of the room and down the stairs. She is being transported somewhere. The crowd follows. In the bar downstairs, a stage awaits. A wall behind which she falls. The dark anti-bodies attack her again. She disappears into a cloud of smoke. Don't look now.

The body, claustrophobia, and violence were also the theme of an installation in a brutal former GDR industrial space, PSM, by Ujino, who has developed a very productive relationship here with the German gallerist Sabine Schmidt.




Ujino, Duet

In a dark, oppressive workshop room, into which you climb as a heavy metal door clanks shut behind, Ujino has built a mechanical track on which two sets of hanging clothes -- apparently made by draping two shirts and a skirt over car windscreen wipers -- jerk and swing abruptly to a harsh electronic soundtrack. The dance imitates in an early Fordist mechanical style the movement and grace of Noh performance. Eventually the two empty shirts attack each other: a violent interaction accompanied by an explosion of noise. A bloody red light illuminates the ballet in the dark.

Watch the video here:
http://youtu.be/SnCsD40fiis

I was delighted to get the chance to chat a bit with a cheerful Ujino afterwards, sharing a shochu sour as he showed me another performance piece on video with radios, light and sound. Our talk turned to the still little known legacy of 1990s Tokyo pop art, and how he got involved with first Gimburart in 1993, then later collaborations with artists such as Matsukage. In the 2000s he has gone from strength to strength with the strong support of the gallery Yamamoto Gendai and writer Noi Sawaragi.

Elswhere in the city, there were highly rated openings by Takehiko Koganezawa and Izumi Kato, which I couldn't make.




Ryoji Ikeda

My third highlight of the weekend then turned out not to be the enormous industrial video installation by Ryoji Ikeda in the immense abandoned German Kraftwerk on the river -- a rather crass commercial collaboration with Honda car designers, that looked cool in the incredible destroyed factory space, but was ultimately empty -- but the nearby show at DAZ (Deutsches Architektur Zentrum) by the young artist Toshihiko Mitsuya in collaboration with the architects Grohbrügge and Chermayeff, called "Structural Studies".






Structural Studies 1-4


Structural Studies 2-7


Structural Studies 7

Mitsuya is known for his rather otaku style obsession with creating minature characters and objects out of tin foil. I'd once seen an astonishing wall of his creations before, which looked like a cupboard full of freakish invented animals by a Hollywood CG designer as prototypes for some Star Wars or Lord of the Rings film. Berlin, though, is sharpening his conceptual ideas, and with the architects, he explores the sculptural possibilities of 0.02mm aluminium film. Foil is composed only of surface, has no thickness, yet gets hard if pressed and can create light based effects that cannot be achieved with clay or stone. The sculptures, lined up diagonally in a room, with the titles 1-7 on a wall, seemed to tell a story, maybe stages in a romance or a passage through emotions, in relation to abstract 3D solids in space. A truly sublime installation work.

I had met Mitsuya last year, at his partner's place, the Yamamoto Gendai artist Sako Kojima. Kojima's extraordinary live performances as a hamster articulate anxiety with the strain of humanity in modern life. She has been following painting courses in Germany, and the work she showed me at the apartment was a series of graphic, often harrowing, paintings of her suffering furry alter egos. It's almost pure expressionism, almost too painful to look at, her violent and dark paintwork mirroring the harsh theme.

Kojima and other Berlin based Japanese artists will form part of Kengo Kito's plans for a second version of THE ECHO in August this year in Berlin. THE ECHO was the show of young Japanese art that was a landmark for the 70s born generation in Yokohama during (and against) the Yokohama Triennale. I paid a social call to Kito and his partner Kei Takemura, who are now settled in Berlin with their three year old son. We talk again about the negative reactions to the orginal ECHO show in 2008 by Tokyo curators and critics, such as Minoru Shimizu, who dismissed their artist-organised initiative (I wrote for the catalogue).

My catalogue essay, "After the Gold Rush"
http://www.art-it.asia/u/rhqiun/hM5OPpsLUrWje0vGDwo4/?lang=en (English)
http://www.art-it.asia/u/rhqiun/hM5OPpsLUrWje0vGDwo4/?lang=ja (Japanese)

A large number of those artists are now making quite significant careers: among them Kohei Nawa, Taro Izumi (currenty on show in Paris), Koichi Enomoto, Go Watanabe, Satoru Aoyama, Kouichi Tabata, Hiraki Sawa... The negativity and smallness of the Tokyo scene is one reason why a lot of artists choose to leave.

Saturday evening, there was the opeing of Takashi Murakami's new Hidari Zingaro (Kaikai Kiki) gallery on the gentrifying borders of Kreuzberg and Neukolln. One locally based Japanese writer, Kiyohide Hayashi, commented that Murakami must be a masochist, given that so many people in Berlin are critical of his work and what Kaikai Kiki stands for. There is also little money to be made in the city from sales. I thought the opening had to be symbolic: a signal to be part of the most imporatnt conceptual global contemporary scene, to counteract the negative blatant commercialism of all his work with Perrotin and Gagosian. The gallery was launched with a live painting by Mahomi Kunikata , along with a new video work (very similar in style to Akino Kondoh) and her now vintage -- if not well-past-sell-by-date -- minature pornographic sushi, with little girl characters posing on blocks of fake rice-- her footnote I suppose to Makoto Aida's Edible Mimi Chan concept of 2001. I was surprised that were showing pretty much the same thing as when Murakami and Midori Matsui discovered this troubled young woman from Yokohama in the early 2000s: a riot of teenage psychiatric confession in the form of outsider manga art in garish poster paint lines and colours. Oh So Typically Japanese, I suppose. Plenty of the Germans at the opening seemed to be enjoying it as such.

Sunday evening, I was overjoyed to be able to present my new book, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990 - 2011 at the alternative bar space in the old East, Bar Babette.

Info on book:
http://www.adrianfavell.com/BASF%20blurb%20page.htm

The evening was organised and hosted by the young Japanese-French curator Nine Yamamoto-Masson, who had been talking me through the dynamics of the Berlin scene the evening before. The book is partly about the rise and fall of "Cool Japan", and the simplistic neo-japonisme that Takashi Murakami has made so successful. The rest of the book is about all the other great things the world has missed in its fixation on Superflat: and it was a great honour to have a room full of Japanese artists to discuss their alternative vision.

Ujino commented on the explosion of art in Tokyo in the early 1990s, and the key moment of Gimburart.


Kei Takemura

Kei Takemura talked about conceptual choices that took her back to various craft techniques and materials, while experiencing the memories and longing of a transnational life. Kengo Kito explained how and why their generation's art had little to do with Murakami's vision. And the discussion was rounded off with comments from the visiting Japanese writer/curator Kentaro Ichihara, talking about the experiment of Magical Art Room with Satoshi Okada, Hiromi Yoshii and others, how they all had tried to create new opportunities for young artists to emerge. Other participants in the evening included video artists Mai and Naoto, graphic artist Ryu Itadani, sculptor Yuji Mori, painter Yuki Itoda, and performance artist Ayumi Matsuzaka.

The Japanese artists in Berlin remain a close knit group. And the habits of the old Tokyo social life don't change so much. After all the talk and drinks, it was time to move on to a nijikai -- which after some confusion took a group of about 15 to a classic German bar for schnitzels and flamkuchen and lots more beer. The talk for once was about Japanese politics. Once they had thrown us out of that place at about midnight, there was more talk of sanjikai, but I for one was ready for some sleep.


adrian goes for future with Ichiro Endo: "Mirai e!!!"

ADRIAN FAVELL
http://www.adrianfavell.com

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