Konoike Tomoko

One doesn’t have to be an adventurer to have little adventures; and there’s something about doing that we all secretly enjoy.

Tales woven by a ferocious, untamed natural world, by mute creatures: the realm of Konoike Tomoko’s works moves between this world and the other side, or between the imaginative powers of the individual, and matters universal. We talked to Konoike about Inter-Traveller, a comprehensive solo exhibition that traces the last decade of her art in a format that extends beyond simple overview.

Interview: ART iT

– First of all, tell us how you came up with the title Inter-Traveller. ‘Inter’ suggests movement back and forth across a border, would that be correct?

On a visit late last year to Kilauea in Hawaii, changing planes at Honolulu I noticed a sign saying ‘Inter Airline’. It had a good feel to it, and suddenly this vision formed in my mind: the idea of planes coming and going, departing for someplace, and coming back.

Returning to Japan and getting back into work, I was wondering what to do for a show title when I recalled that sign. Until that point I’d always had this feeling that anything I expressed would be through a dialog with the ‘outside’. A sensation not so much of being influenced, but of something transiting through me, and out again. And it seemed natural to me that this thing could change in any way – because it would already have been through me.

To express it in terms closer to home, you could say that to a large extent I’ve been formed by my dealings with people in other fields: carpenters, editors, and so on. Shedding job titles, shedding everything and entering a different realm, then returning…I’d always felt that was quite important.

Moving to and from between various ‘edges’

Konoike Tomoko: Inter-Traveller  Installation view at Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery  2009
Photo Nagare Satoshi  ©Konoike Tomoko  Courtesy the Gallery

– For this show the viewing experience itself involves a ‘journey to the center of the earth’ scenario, I believe. With a sacred mountain, wolves, butterflies, knives, faceless creatures and a giant baby…As well as conjuring up mythical views of life and death, and journeys of introspection, it struck me that the adventurous, storytelling qualities of your previous solo exhibition Hidden Mountain and the Lodge (which featured a mock mountaineering setup using the venue building) were amplified even further this time.

Everyone reads books on the train don’t they? No matter how busy we are, or how crowded the train, by opening a book and removing the bookmark we slip straight into the world therein. Then we snap it shut again and head off to work. It’s a sensation akin to that, I think. It may be a world remote from our everyday existence, but just one step inside, and we find ourselves fully, intensely immersed.

One doesn’t have to be an adventurer to have little adventures; and there’s something about that we all secretly enjoy. Books, computer games, shopping…the extraordinary finds its way into so many aspects of the ordinary. Art is one thing that highlights this to powerful effect, so for example no one protests that traveling to the center of the earth from an art museum is a load of childish nonsense! Although actually, that they don’t is more amazing (laughs).

Konoike Tomoko: Inter-Traveller  Installation view
Photo Nagare Satoshi  ©Konoike Tomoko  Courtesy Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery

Shira-Spirit from the Wild  2009  Japanese ink shell poweder, gold leaf on Kumohada-mashi paper,
fusuma panel  182 x1632cm  Installation view at Konoike Tomoko: Inter-Traveller
Photo Nagare Satoshi  ©Konoike Tomoko  Courtesy Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery

– Was there any ‘adventure’ this time for you personally?

Doing a solo show of this scale was an adventure in itself really. To mention one episode that illustrates this: until recently I’d been producing a book of my works to coincide with the show. That involved people in charge of the editing, publishing, and design, plus people from the gallery, all clashing with each other, in a pretty free and frank manner. No holds barred (laughs). In other words, it was great to be able to generate a high degree of harmony within conflict, rather than having things just quietly settled. In such a process there will necessarily be failures, and at times one just has to get right in the other person’s face. As a way to find out what’s good for each other, and what’s important.

– Although perhaps not a reference to the Hidden Mountain – fusuma painting (2008) leading in to the exhibition, you’ve said that if there’s a fusuma (sliding door) somewhere, you want to open it.

That’s right. Obviously that also requires a certain type of experience points, and etiquette, and one works out a strategy, as in, “What can I do to get them to show me what’s on the other side…?” Energy is generated where foreign bodies collide, and to my mind what happens at the molecular level also applies to humans.

The encounters and solitude of travel, and a home to go back to

mimio-Odyssey  2005  DVD  11 min. 30 sec.  © Konoike Tomoko  Courtesy Mizuma Art Gallery

– Most of the inhabitants of the Konoike world, such as Mimeo, have various encounters as part of their adventures, but there is something lonely about them that makes the viewer wonder what subsequently becomes of them. Judging by what you’ve said however, ‘coming home’ is also an important part of the journey.

Well, while traveling we are all ‘outsiders’, and all isolated. But yes, I don’t want to go and never come back; one wants to come home sometime. Home can equal reality, which no doubt means different things to different people. It’s not something confined to the realm of my works; the same applies to the way in the usual course of things I go from my house to the studio, paint, then return. On the way to and from the studio for example I encounter some odd people, obvious enough I suppose, but it’s very closely connected to my art practice. I’m like a child – able to frolic outside to my heart’s content because I have a home to go back to. It’s not that one is more precious, rather that the relationship between them and the act of moving are important. So in the period leading up to the completion of a work, those days when it’s ‘not completed’ are just as valuable to me.

– And the works produced thus then set out on their own journeys.

Once a work is complete, it’s not up to me to say anything. It then becomes all about the encounters and confrontations between work and viewers. Because finding out what will come out of those is one of the greatest joys of this job.

Konoike Tomoko
Born 1960 in Akita. After graduating in 1985 from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Painting, where she majored in Japanese painting (Nihonga), spent several years designing toys and general goods. Launched her art career in 1997. Since then her practice has grown to encompass a myriad of media including painting, sculpture, animation and picture books.

Konoike Tomoko: Inter-Traveller
18 July – 27 September 2009
Tokyo Opera City Gallery

Konoike Tomoko: Inter-Traveller – 12 Wolf Poets
9 October – 6 December 2009
Kirishima Open-Air Museum

Works by Konoike Tomoko: Inter-Traveller – People Playing with the Dead
B5 Hardcover 120 pgs. with English translation
Contributors: Takashina Shuji, Nakazawa Shinichi
¥2940 Hatori Shoten

ART iT Review: Konoike Tomoko: Inter-Traveller
ART iT Snapshots: Konoike Tomoko @ Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery

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