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チェックと日本の現代美術界についての感想

折元 立身

2011年7月20日


Why do the Japanese sometimes fail to recognise great artistic talent in their own backyard? The story of the performance/communication artist, Tatsumi Orimoto (born 1946), is a classic case in point. Venerated in elite art circles in Europe -- particularly in Germany -- he remains obscure, misunderstood, even not taken seriously sometimes in the high art circles of his own country. Yet his work is some of the most important art by any living Japanese artist.

The issue obviously vexes Orimoto, for he talks about it a lot. It was a rainy October day last year when my friend, the artist Midori Mitamura told me on the phone of a change of our plans to meet that evening. She was at the house of an artist in Kawasaki doing some archival work. Would I mind coming over and joining them for dinner? It was in fact, the legendary house of Mrs Orimoto and her son, Tatsumi, which has been immortalised in so many graphic, sensitive, and difficult-to-view images of their home life together. His life is his art, and his art now for over two decades has been devoted to the care of his nearly 90 year old mother who suffers from a particularly hard version of Alzheimer's as well as the side effects of all the medicaments she has had to take. She is close to incapicitated, and Orimoto -- who says bluntly he has no wife or children, this is his mother, and she is his "God" -- looks after her full time as a carer in the old family house.



It is an ordinary neighbourhood in a poor city: the house is full of stuff piled high everywhere. There are no end of magazines, art books, memorabilia. We have to make room around the dining room table, and I squeeze in as Orimoto makes us oden, rice and shochu for dinner. I clean off a plate and tuck in. His mother enjoys a special delivery of good quality sushi and follows our conversation. We are watching championship ice skating on the television. A very girlish looking Japanese boy who is a local hero. Later, there is a music show and a Korean girl band. Orimoto tells me all the details, so I can learn something about real Japanese culture. I try to ask about art works like Bread Man, but Orimoto doesn't want to repeat himself. He gives me some magazines and catalogues. Read that. Let's talk about other things. He makes sure that I don't pretend his mother is not there. I have to talk to her as well.

He discovered performance art in New York in the early 70s, becoming an associate of the Fluxus artist Nam June Paik. He started making performances even though he like everyone then wasn't sure if or how it could be art. Famous for his Bread Man work, in more recent years the art has focused on the immensely gentle attempt to find ways of living his life and communicating with his mother: an artwork for life at the most intimate, personal scale. The photos we see are a documentation of something living. Although a lot of Japanese tend to not want to see this kind of reality, they are always immensely touched by the sight of such art unashamed to be close to home, so lacking in style or artifice, so unlike what art usually is. In Europe, Orimoto's work fits very well with all kinds of performance theories, and has sat at the edge of an avant guard for many years. Venice in 2001 was the moment it arrived big time.

Last week, I made it to Berlin to see an Orimoto show. DNA gallery in the new east has been working with Orimoto for ten years. They opened their gallery in 2001 with his show, and the current show is their tenth anniversary. The gallery shows a number of his Mama + Son photographs, plus downstairs a selection of 23 performance videos. I watch the video of the opening from a few weeks ago. It is packed with a hip berlin crowd of art lovers and curators; I spot local resident David Elliott in the audience. Orimoto makes a strange performance opening a suitcase full of dolls and toys, many of whom he positions to represent himself and his mother. There is love and tenderness; family stories; there is also anguish. At one point, Orimoto makes one doll strip the other doll, before stopping it. "Bad boy!" he says. "A dream", he gasps. Where is mother? She should be here. She is a long way away. There seems to be a catharsis; he is expressing his love and devotion; also the pain of seeing his mother's disease. At the end he seems to expire, as he lies down on the floor. He gets up, laughing, telling everyone how he likes to be in Germany. He says today this was a funny performance, not so much pain.

Downstairs, there is also a Japanese TV documentary of his work in Japan. I can't follow everything, but parts of this show are almost intolerably moving. I feel emotional maybe because I have met Mrs Orimoto and her son for real, at their own house. At one point I watch with rapt attention as Orimoto plots the idea with his mother of their big Drum Can installation/performance. She will stand in the Drum, with him behind her in another, and they will make photos. Then more photos with more people and more drums. It is surreal; funny; an unforgettable image. His mother understands everything. She is always happy to volunteer. He once got in trouble with critics for taking photos of his mother with her two neighbours with old tyres hung on their neck (above). It is a beautiful photo of three marvellous old people, two of whom passed away shortly after. The photo, he says, is evidence of their having been in the world. He was accused of bullying the old people for a funny image; but the opposite was the case. It is a photo that makes vivid how we never look at old people in art, like we never look at old tyres. It is a moving and beautiful work.



Afterwards, the documentary follows Orimoto as he goes to visit an old people's home near Akita, the famous Green Hospital run by collector Hisashi Hozumi who believes in art as a form of therapy. He is a big collector of Yayoi Kusama, but it is clear too that Orimoto's ideas are at home in this quiet place. The old people are all suffering from similar, incapacitating diseases. It is a depressing place, but for a few hours Orimoto sparks life and energy as he talks to the old people and convinces them to take part in his "Big Shoes" performance and make photos with him. These are the famous big green shoes he made for his mother, who is very short, and for years found it difficult to walk. In the shoes she looked dignified and proud.



I visited the streets where many of Orimoto's most famous photos were taken. I'm curious about this old industrial city, Kawasaki, said to be one of the poorest in Japan. In the West, we don't think of that when we hear that word. We think of superfast motorcycles, futuristic technology. It's like when we dream of Japan as "Cool Japan", all pop culture and weird fantasies. We don't think of old ladies with Alzheimer's living at home with their son eating oden. What kind of art does Japan need now, now that "Cool Japan" is over? I think more than ever it needs art like Orimoto's: full of love, tenderness and reality. It needs to connect, it needs to communicate.

Orimoto promises me that next time I come to Kawasaki, he will take me to see the bicycle races, with all the gamblers. He used to accompany his father there when he was a boy, to keep him out of trouble. He was always his mother's son, though. We shouldn't be drinking but we get through a whole cardboard box of shochu. It's pouring with rain when we have to leave. Orimoto takes us out to the bustop, holding the umbrella. As we say goodbye, I'm thinking: it's about time I visited my mum again.

"LIFE + REALITY", DNA, Auguststr. 20, Berlin, until Aug 13
http://www.dna-galerie.de/en



ADRIAN FAVELL
http://www.adrianfavell.com

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折元 立身
投稿元 : レイバン ウェイファーラー / 2013年07月15日08:20

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