vol.1 'Metropolis' & 'Observation and decription'

Date: 29.1.2011
Exhibition Title (period): 'Metropolis' (2011.1.27-2.-3)
Exhibitor: Marte Kiessling
Exhibition Title (period): 'Observation and description' (2011.1.27-2.13)
Exhibitor: Manabu Kanai   
Participants (titles omitted): Exhibitors, Hiroko & Tatsuhiko Murata
Moderator/ Interpreter: Jaime Humphreys
Documentation: Utako Shindo

'Metropolice' Marte Kiessling

'Observation and description' Manabu Kanai

Session One – Marte Kiessling

On “Metropolis”
Jaime: We’d like to hear what you wanted to do in this work.
Marte: I want to say that actually my original plan was different. The original plan that I had when I applied here was completely different. I know that I had a project in my mind but didn’t have it worked out. When I came here, I had a completely different image in my head of a film I wanted to make, but I’m not one who plans projects in advance. Each time when I go abroad, I see things, I meet people, it’s so hard to describe but then it suddenly changes. 
              The thing with the door for example. I didn’t plan on doing something like that but I spent a-lot of time in the tatami room. I don’t sleep during the night, I work. During the night, these doors are very weird because you see the trees, the leaves, everything is moving. It’s hard to describe but they somehow became so stuck in my head that I spontaneously decided to change the whole thing and use the doors. It’s difficult to describe a concrete intention but it’s like a connection of impressions.
Utako: It’s easy for me to get the way you were. Your impression was inspired by the Japanese living environment. Maybe, Tokyo is a very large city landscape. And it’s easy to tell what you were doing prior to making this work. It’s very approachable as a viewer.
Marte: The funny thing is that I wanted to make an animation of a virtual city. That was the original plan. And it is also connected to the fact that I have a show in March about virtual cities.
Utako: What’s that?
Marte: Like a utopia. Like that film Metropolis….
So I thought my coming here was the perfect thing for that, because it’s an Asian megacity compared to Berlin because Berlin is a village. But I couldn’t really do that anymore when I was here. The whole thing I had laid out in my mind didn’t seem right anymore. That also maybe why there’s this leftover city in the background.
Jaime: So this is all just from your head?
Marte: Pretty much. 
Utako: It’s not really like what you see in Japan.
Marte: That’s actually maybe the reason why it suddenly didn’t seem right in my head anymore because I had this completely different image in my head of Tokyo when I was here ten years ago. It seemed so much crazier to me, and then when I came back this time I don’t know why the buildings are not so special.
Utako: Maybe now, in the last ten years, Shanghai and other Asian cities seem much crazier. I agree that to me now Tokyo isn’t so incredible. Skyscrapers like those in New York are also aging, while Shanghai, Singapore, and other new Asian cities seem more futuristic and exciting to me.
Marte: New York has an even different feeling. If you walk through Manhattan, it feels much slower than here in Tokyo. Even though there are huge scrapers, where you are in narrow streets and they have incredibly high buildings. Here it somehow, I suddenly realize it isn’t my image any more.
Jaime: Is it kind of a city the way you would like a city to be? Your own kind of dream world? I don’t want to use that word.
Marte: Yes, it is. Because you asked me about my intention, and it’s a little hard to describe. I always see it like a system and then I can say more. It’s like trying to create an atmosphere…Like a combination of…It was just in my head. It’s not really supposed to be scary, but it’s also not supposed to be pretty, you know what I mean?
For example, I had a very interesting conversation at the opening with somebody. He came in here and he looked at it, and then he came back again and said “that’s so cute.” And I said, “ah, it’s not supposed to be cute, but OK”. And then an hour later, he came and looked at it again, and said “it’s actually not cute, it’s scary”. I think for me it should be something in-between.
Utako: Between scary and cute? Is that the kind of atmosphere you want to convey?
Marte: Maybe yes. There is one thing which makes it very difficult to show that; it’s very noisy here.
Hiroko: I think you have found a balance between scary and cute very well. The color schemes, shapes and other elements really draw you in, it’s very open but there are things that make you feel uncomfortable. This is just my opinion, but when a female artist from  the west comes to stay at Youkobo with the paper sliding doors, it’s an unusual environment. I wonder whether that had a strong influence, these elements which are often used in movies.
Marte: I’m pretty sure that a-lot of people have used these elements before. You’re right because it is a very unusual environment for westerners because we only see that in media. Maybe the doors do exist sometimes, but we never have tatami. It is unusual so that’s why it gets used a lot. Speaking about the residency, that’s why I wanted to be in residence 1. If I’m going to be in Tokyo, I didn’t want to be in a western apartment.
Marte: Yes, I saw the pictures on the internet, the description said Japanese-style room, so I thought yes.
Utako: Did you feel something? You said before you saw shadows. Did you read something as something else?
Marte: To be honest, when I was sitting there at 4 in the morning, it was quiet and when you saw shadows, you sometimes get these strange images like you think something is moving. Now in the video, the shadows from outside. There were these strange moments when you think “oh, is there someone outside?”
Hiroko: It’s just that when a foreigner comes, you are exposed to Japanese culture. The way that you’ve used the tatami mats, the sliding doors and other elements, it’s kind of as a foreigner you have these...it’s like an alien environment, and they come out in the work as a feeling of anxiety. These kinds of feelings bubble up in the work.
Marte: I mean this is more strange, now that I stayed in that space for two months, it’s not that strange any more. But still it’s more foreign for me than the city itself.
Utako: Hiroko insisted how much she likes this work. So in a way you are looking for something really strange rather than foreign.
Marte: Maybe, I don’t really know. I have lots of German words in my head, but I don’t know how to translate that into proper English. There’s one thing that I wanted to say about this atmosphere situation. One thing I realized is that this thing is too loud, and there is a lot of noise from the street. So a part of me thinks that I should try this again. Maybe it’s too much, but it would be an interesting experiment to show it in a completely exposed space where there is no noise from outside, no noise from my heater because there is also this sound.

<On masks and other elements in the animation>

Marte: The mask thing is also something very very Asian to me. You don’t see it in Germany, only in hospitals. Here you’re sometimes surrounded by people all wearing masks. I think it also has something scary in a way, because you don’t see the faces any more. I actually tried wearing one for a couple of days, but it’s actually really hard because you can’t breathe.
Utako: Yeah I don’t like the masks either. It’s scary, and it sometimes looks like something related to terrorism.
Hiroko: Masks are very important in springtime.
Marte: I suffer from hay fever as well, I’m constantly crying in springtime. Maybe I should try walking around with a mask. If I did that in Germany, people would think I’m crazy. But I was originally also thinking about working with the mask. Julia and I made some kind of performance in the streets but nobody really saw that. But somehow I got away from the masks again. I also wanted to make something using the coca-cola signs or something, I don’t know.
Utako: Maybe this is just a play with words, but a mask or screen is also a dividing device, this side and the other side. Having found these two you found in Japan, almost like pointing to an excess of Japanese culture. A kind of screening or division. But I’m sure there are so many foreign artists pick exactly this thing and use in their work when they come. There nothing wrong but it could be tricky to use obvious Japan emblems. But I was simply enjoying your work regardless of this. I thought this work was very interesting as it is.
Marte: You know what was funny, the last time I was in Japan ten years ago, I was just starting to study art, and I had an exam three months after I came back which determined whether I could stay at the school or not. I made a Japanese installation because I had just come back from Japan. Now I would say it was crappy, I would never do something like that again. But I think even though it’s not so different here from the west. People are not so different and the culture is not so different but there is still something which is completely different, so it’s hard not to take that in and use them. Maybe there is a difference in trying to take all Japanese elements and putting them on a pile, but you do get impressions that are so hard to get out of your head. Ten years ago for me it was eating noodle soup, I didn’t even know you had to eat it very loudly, so I made an installation about slurping noodle soup.
Manabu: What I thought was interesting is that you have taken different elements and experiences in Japan and put them together in one work, but not actually made any clear connection. There’s not necessarily a story there, they’re just there. Not that you were trying to make a story, but putting these elements together makes something complex but it’s not clear what it is.
Marte: I’m never trying to tell a story, to be honest. I tried that but it didn’t work. Maybe I’m just not a story teller.
Jaime: Are there elements from the past as well?
Marte: Yeah, because always when you go travelling you have time to think about so many things. And then sitting in this room at night. You do have more time than when you are back at home because at home there’s also the jobs you do and people you meet. I don’t think that much at home as I did do here. There’s a lot going on in my head.

<About the drawings and use of video as medium>

Utako: So are they drawings for animation?
Marte: No. What I usually do is….like you have to work on the computer a lot. Even though I have a very fast and very good computer, it still takes it hours sometimes to render and work. You can’t do anything else, but you can draw. So in-between, I draw.
Jaime: Are they something that you’ve seen. Is it stuff that has come up?
Marte: They are such a Japanese thing.
Utako: Are they very precious for you?
Marte: No. I have a lot of arguments about that but when I draw, it’s never as precious for me as other works. But I did argue with a lot of other people because they said I should never say that.
Utako: It’s quite refreshing for me to hear a German artist saying that a drawing is not precious, because I met a lot of German artists who really value drawing and they really value such a very raw gesture.
Marte: I also love drawing a lot. But that’s not the point. Drawing is what everybody does. Even if you don’t show drawings at the end, you make sketches of how your work will look like, you note stuff down, maybe you just doodle around. You make drawings before you make a sculpture
              I never used to show them. Because I did draw all the time. But I thought I should make a decision about the work I show. At some point, a couple of years ago, I took part in a sale show, and I was supposed to show videos. How do you show videos? Difficult! So a friend of mine said take a bunch of drawings, and they liked them and they showed and sold all of them. So there is a part of me which is torn between should I maybe draw more, and show them more often to earn some money. But I tried that, and I showed a lot of drawing, but it suddenly felt like it wasn’t me, it’s not my work. That’s when I started the animation.
Utako: Richness or content, maybe. There are so many layers and sounds. It’s very fragmental. You could make an incredibly large and intense drawing, but maybe these fragments are what’s nice about this drawing. But it’s not enough to express as an artwork.
Marte: I don’t want to say it in a bad way. It’s not that I don’t value them. But I think I value them differently from other people sometimes, because if I’m not so pleased with them I will usually throw them away. And I know that some people wouldn’t really do that. I’m also not really good at putting them away, I have some drawings in my draw, and some in the box in the basement. Maybe because I don’t do these really dense gigantic drawings. Maybe they always feel like something I can always reproduce very easily. With some of the video work I do, I back up with visual work. I always check them to see that they are still there. So maybe because of the amount of work you put into something. But then on the other hand, it’s very pleasing doing the drawings, which is why they are here. Talking about the amount of work, this takes ages and then at the end you just have a dvd. This flat thing and nothing you can touch. It’s so frustrating sometimes, because even if you do an installation with a video at the end of the show you have to take them down….
Utako: I had a chat with an art collector once in Melbourne. She said actually in her house she has three tv monitors for video work. Even to appreciate, you have to have something to make it visual unlike painting or drawing. On the other hand, it has such mobility. You can show across the world in one second.
Marte: That’s true. But it also makes it sometimes so fleeting. I do work with this video collection, and we made an open call with a certain subject. And we got hundreds of videos that don’t have any relation to the subject, but still you can find some reason to show them, and then it gets so simple sometimes. I don’t know….
Utako: What about you, Manabu? How is it using video for you?
Manabu: Video is popular with our generation. Videos are like movies, because it takes our full attention; clear story, strong audio. It’s annoying.
Utako: Just in entertainment, or in animation as well?
Manabu: But I have things I like. What I don’t like is when they have video projects, they gather a lot of material, something is just shown and you watch. Like the cinema, but in a contemporary art context. Some contemporary artists make work like a movie in a theater. Many many artworks are like this.
Marte: I forgot the name of the artist. You had to go there in the morning to get a screening time, because they would show every thirty minutes and there was only a limited amount of visitors so you had to sign up a couple of minutes in advance to get a seat. So that was the first thing I did in the morning. But the work was so boring, I was so angry at the end because you were forced into this situation. You had to get a ticket time, and its thirty minutes long, and it’s a theater situation, and you sit down expecting something. At the end it s a work you could show in a normal situation, and then everyone could decide if they want to watch for thirty minutes or not because it didn’t even tell a story, it didn’t have a beginning or an end. It was just a collection of images.
              I don’t think that with this it’s important when you start or how long you watch it. If someone just wants to take a quick look, it’s fine for me. I understand what you mean, sometimes very difficult. We tried once to turn this situation around by showing an art piece which is meant for a show in a cinema as a loop for twenty-four hours where people could go in there and they could sit down and watch ninety minutes or three hours. But the funny thing was it didn’t work, people were so used to the cinema situation that they came at the opening, they sat down and the theater was full. They watched ninety minutes and then they left, even though we said you can come and go whenever, and there was even a party in the building next to it. It is sometimes difficult.

Session Two – Manabu Kanai

On “observation and description” 

<About the concept of the work

Jaime: Can you first explain a bit about what you have tried to do in your work.
Manabu: The most important thing I want to convey in this work is not a message conveyed by using the work itself. When thinking about what the foundation of this message is, what elements allow people to discover for themselves, how the relations can be discovered through this situation I have created, how these relationships and stories be discovered, this is the process on which I am most focused.
              My interest in this is perhaps close to that of a painter. To explain in more detail, painters look at subjects to paint, and consider how it is possible to represent that subject within a frame. For example, when they paint a picture, they give consideration to how they can best represent what they wish to represent. A decision-making process where the painter decides which elements to preserve and which are unnecessary is something that I also give consideration. I think making an exhibition means to be able to use my own skill in achieving this.
Marte: That’s actually a little bit how I understood your work as well, because for example you told me it’s about the lines, about the viewpoint, this whole thing is a composition in itself with single elements that build the image. That’s my impression, so maybe that’s similar to what you’re saying.
Manabu: It’s an image, but the use of skill comes in being able to realize something complex. It is not a clear image but something difficult to understand which leaves you wondering how you should view it. I want to create a complex environment with different elements which is not fixed; it looks like this from one perspective, while from below it looks like something different. I think those who are able to exhibit in this way effectively have a high level of skill as artists. I don’t have much skill yet, so I am only capable of what you see, but I want to keep on improving. 
Marte: Why would you say that you’re not doing it very well?
Jaime: He might just be being modest…
Manabu: Now I think it’s enough, but ten or twenty years later, I will have more skill or more knowledge. So in the future, I want to do better exhibitions. So my process will change. I think it’s enough.
Marte: I think that’s just a natural artistic process. I hope for every artist that that’s going to happen. But you know, you do one work, and it’s always getting better or more precise. Or when you redefine your ideas or whatever that’s always a step.
Utako: Can I ask a question? In Marte’s work, there are a number of images and they each have their own frame, where as in your work the room in its totality can be considered as one frame with the screen becoming an element of this composition. Are we to understand it in this way? 
Manabu: Basically yes.
Manabu: For this reason, the sea I stood in front of, the sounds I heard, the wind I felt…Seeing myself at another remove, almost meta-physically… In a physical sense, why does the sea cause wind to blow, or the situation as if someone else is present. It is a very complex response… Of course, here right now there are also the same conditions, the same conditions that were over there, but the question is how can these elements be ‘packaged’ and brought into the gallery space. The method of making this package is the thing I most wanted to do in this exhibition.
              For this reason, one of the things I wanted to do here was to use the perspective of the camera as a central rule in the work to connect the whole. This is a very complicated approach, but I thought it would be better to use this as a starting point to hook the various elements together which would thus widen out into a broader image. It makes it easier for the different elements to gradually form mutual relationships.  
Marte: I think this is interesting because talking about horizon and perspective, tourists point of view a lot of people take pictures of the ocean. It’s a very ordinary thing, you go to the ocean and think, oh beautiful and take a picture. Very often the horizon is not straight it’s a little crooked, so the ocean should actually disappear to the right and left side of the image.. Its so important to have a straight line, but very often it doesn’t happen. That’s one of the first things I thought about when I saw this.
Utako: Where’s the point of balance between the relationship with the work. For example, the sky is lower….
Manabu: This is important for me. The reason why I am deliberately using a method difficult to comprehend is this. The perception of understanding a work easily comes from using the same rules that we normally use to see the world. However, I think the most important thing is that we try to change the way we see usually view the world, and so methods that we use on a daily basis would be of absolutely no use in this work. I have to find this new method for myself, I have to change the way I usually look at things or this new method will never be found. Making this change, or looking in this new way, slightly altering the channels by which we view the world is the thing I most want to achieve in this work.   
Marte: I have another question which is maybe very technical. The water in the plastic. Is it level to the horizon of the other two screens. Do you refill it during the show.
Manabu: Sometimes I do.
I just had to think did it get less than a couple of days ago? I also thik that maybe this would be interesting that this disappears. Then maybe that disturbs the image, I don’ know.

<The background to the methods of working>

Utako: So you transferred your experiences of that sea in a package brought to this space. But you used different ways of seeing, a different channel in your work to express a new worldview. But why are you trying to do this?
Manabu: The answer will take us back quite a bit. I was born in 1983, and what I have felt while I have grown up in the Japan of today is that what is now considered good and bad, right or wrong, the right way of listening etc. were perhaps what was believed 30 years ago. For example, the fantasy of finding happiness by becoming clever through study, entering a good company, and marrying a beautiful girl still existed in the past, but from the time which I was born this has completely disappeared. No-one knows what to do, but they observe with cool detachment, and know that it is a lie..but still do it anyway, living in the same way as it was 30 years ago. Speaking in an exaggerated way, in order to change the world if you don’t change the way you view the world even in the most microscopic way, nothing will change. This is something I have felt since I was small, and this is what most informs this work from my background. 
Utako: This space is for you to reconstruct, to explore, to see the way of looking by making?
Manabu: That’s right. To change my own channel, to create my own rules, to look at things, and rethink the things that we observe.
Utako: How old are you?
Marte: Me? Tomorrow I’m going to be thirty.
Utako: So about the same generation.
Marte: Culturally completely different.
Utako: Why different backgrounds?
Marte: Yeah, I thik it’s a very different background, for example with arranged marriages don’t exist in Europe in many countries for a long time. I think all these barriers about getting married at a certain age, they stopped existing a long time before.
Utako: So you’re saying Japanese values are quite behind the times…? (laughter)
Marte: No, no….I wouldn’t say they’re behind, I would just say that they are different because if you look at it nowadays even for our parents’ generation these barriers didn’t much exist anymore. There was not really a big thought about having to get married. Maybe more than our generation, but still not anymore. But I think the opposite which is happening nowadays is that certain kinds of values did get lost in a way, and I don’t think that everyone can deal with that. Why are there so many people on the internet, on online dating services, why do they try to get hooked up with strangers on the internet?
Manabu: Maybe this kind of thing is similar between Europe and Japan. Maybe common background of internet world. Maybe the young generation is the same background.
Marte: But I think it’s our generation is the one where the cultural differences disappear because we all grew up with MacDonald’s, MTV, computers, the internet. We are not even the internet generation, internet started when we were already in our twenties. We grew up with the same thing in the eighties. We all internationally like the same things, MacDonald’s, MTV, all these things. I think that’s the international thing that suddenly changed the differences. For example, when my dad talks about thhisdifferences in Japan, he always refers to the stuff that he saw in the seventies, the middle of the eighties, he talked about fashion a-lot and he said there was this particular fashion in Japan. I think that has disappeared because nowadays its all the same. The differences are disappearing and I think in a way that that’s really sad. But in general that leads us away from the point.

<The use of the exhibition space>

Utako: This room itself has many different elements, the heater, the window. How did you think about that in relation to your composition? 
Manabu: I could have drawn it, but there is also a lot to say in not drawing it. As a way of viewing, it is also possible just to see this room as a room. It is the same sense you have in a painting when you recognize, for example, something as the silhouette of a person, while it is also possible to view it simply as a pink mark placed on the canvas. This may just look like a room, but there may also exist a different illusion. And so, I don’t really feel any appeal to use a white cube gallery space. Even if I did use a white-cube space, it can also still be recognized as a white-cube space even if it contains work inside…
….So I’m not trying to create an illusion. Perhaps when you put on your shoes and go home after seeing this work, maybe when you are at home you might think ‘why did I put my bed like this?”..
Marte: But it’s interesting that you ask that because I thought about it before as well with the door, the background and especially with the air conditioner. Because the air conditioner is always in my head. But I think white cube, I don’t think that would be necessary.
Utako: I actually did enjoy your presentation there. Having other sounds from the street, and disturbing light from outside. That weirdness of what’s in the film. I’m happy with the idea for march. Your image looks more weird with these usual rough environment, even emphasise the strange enough not to be occupied by other elements.
Marte: Do you think that these elements in the background should not be there?
Utako: No, I was just questioning.
Hiroko: I think this becomes an issue when the work doesn’t have a strong presence. And so, perhaps in Marte’s case a white cube space would have been better, but rather than that what is important is whether you can be absorbed in the work. In that sense, I think both Marte and Manabu have been successful. I personally am satisfied. There are of course times when I’m not pleased with the use of the space, but that is because of the work itself.
Utako: Even if it does bother me how Manabu has used the space, there is no problem for me with the tv monitor or air conditioner, the lighting, pencils and other objects being visible, but in respect to what Manabu just mentioned in terms of it being seen as a painting, I think a painting doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be on a canvas…
Hiroko: But drawing paintings in the first place can be considered strange, can it not?
Manabu: Actually, I used to think in the same way. In the way that I just said, an artwork has to give a different dimension, the work itself has to do this, but it also has to have its own context, and this must happen to a point where it actually changes the existence of the space. In the same way, an art museum and a white-cube space are both just boxes, and if the box itself doesn’t have the power to carry the context of the work then in the opposite way, I don’t think the work will be successful. Good work must begin with this.
Marte: I don’t even like white cubes that much. I read an article ‘white cube and black box is dead’. White cubes needs a big space for the work. If this would be in a white cube, you would look at it differently because you would only see these elements. I like ti works in the space. It doesn’t even seem strange that it’s not a white cube.
Hiroko: It is obvious that the reason for making spaces into white cubes is because it makes it better to view the work, and that is why everyone strives so hard to create them. I’m not criticizing this, but I think it is important when showing work to make conditions where it is possible to concentrate on the work. Speaking simply, you want viewers to think positively of the work.
              This is inevitably a very important factor. When you show work, it is of course important to work on ideas before the actual exhibition, but it is also important to give time for the installation of work when it takes the form of a site-specific work. In the past I have asked an artist I had high expectations of to do an exhibition here, but he was too busy and it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. And so to allow physical time is essential. Residence artists have plenty of time, so they can focus on the work and show it successfully. But in the case of the gallery, there are both successes and failures. For Marte as well, if you were in Germany there would be many things keeping you from being able to focus on the work. By doing a residency, you are able to gain this time. Maybe we the staff need this time as welllaughter.

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