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Interview about his work at the Yokohama Triennale 2017, the development of his creative process, and his sources of inspiration.By Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt | Aug 2017
Binder & Haupt: You use the Spanish word for “South” as the general title of your exhibited works at this year’s Yokohama Triennale. When we see this title, and knowing that you have been raised in Spain and studied linguistics and languages, among other things, before you turned to arts, we inevitably think of Latin American writers and their short stories, such as Jorge Luis Borges’ “El Sur”, and Julio Cortázar’s “La autopista del Sur”. To what extend you get inspired by them - or by literature in general - or see those writers as allies or companions on your path of creating metaphors to understand the world and our place on it?
Yoi Kawakubo: Yes, as you mention, I would say that the title of the whole body of works in the exhibition is definitely inspired by my experiences with Spanish literature and film. Especially, I love how you put them as “allies or companions on your path of creating metaphors to understand the world and our place on it”, which feels very much appropriate for the case, as I prefer having references to literature and other fields rather than references to visual art history.
I started to associate literature, books and films as a background reference in my works since 2012, in my first exhibition that was not solely comprised of photographs. In this exhibition titled Speak the Unspeakable I tried to mix and deliver a meta-photographic experience to the viewer, based on my reflections about photography and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus”. He uses an analogy for explaining cognition and self-awareness, stating that “our eyes must be invisible for us for them to be eyes for us.” In the same manner, I tried to explore the boundaries of cognitive processes (and the invisibility of ourselves in the process itself) through the analogy of a camera taking a photograph.
This was a period where I developed my thoughts mainly based on verbal logic (specially in Japanese), but sometimes I felt a strong frustration, as if I was caged in my own logical structure of thoughts. But shortly afterwards I came across some of Rudolf Steiner’s artworks at the 55th Venice Biennale, which were commented in the past by Borges. There, I recognized that Rudolf Steiner and Borges linked language and intuition in a manner that I have never thought, and I realized how my ‘Japanese native mind’ (when I developed my thoughts in Japanese) was much more logic-based than my ‘Spanish native mind,’ which, being acquired at an early age with more somatically related learning (as usually mother tongue is compared to second and third languages), was more intuitive and linked to my own physical body. I also started to be immensely aware of how each word and letter had a particular, personal and unnamable character for myself (and of course completely different to what other people might have and vice-versa), like a landscape that is in someone’s oldest memories, with a particular attachment, but difficult to verbalize.
This directed my focus to more intuitive manners of developing association of ideas, practices and actions to break from verbal processes of thinking, when logical process was stuck. I basically believe that intuition is most of the time illusive, and that if human cognition of the world was solely based on intuition, we would still believe that the earth is flat, and that the stars and sun move around the earth. But there are moments in literature, arts and belief where instinctive leaps, in the form of imagination gives remarkable hints for the advance of a certain process.
In this manner, I incorporated intuitive process in the logical path of my exhibition makings, creating a pendulum between reasoned thought-building and intuitive leaps. Since then, I decided to read a book or novel in the ‘background’ during the preparation of each particular exhibition; for example, Borges’ “Ficciones” during my show The Children of the Sun Dreaming of a Hidden Place, 2014; García Márquez’s “One hundred years of solitude” during Two million years of solitude, 2015; Joyce’s “Ulysses” for Fall 2016; Cortázar’s “Hopscotch” for my show Stella Maris was a name I found in a dream, 2016; or Perec’s “La disparition” (in Spanish) and Eco’s “The name of the Rose” for this year’s Triennale.
But, as one might think, the reading of novels and literature in Spanish may not always overtly show up in the work as a visible reference, but may rather only unconsciously influence my mind, so that in the end, there is a barely discernible ‘background noise’ of literature in the exhibitions, like the remnants of words floating in the air of a room after a poetry reading session.
According to the Somatic Theory (based on Antonio Damasio’s somatic marker theory), it might be explained that the primitive linguistic personal experiences that are elicited during the Spanish reading processes of literature, may influence my decision making through the creative process, and thus indirectly being actualized in the physical outcome of the artwork.
But personally, I feel that the resonance (if there is any) between my finished artwork and the literature that, in parallel, I study during the production period, is more like a linguistic rhythm that undergoes the whole flow of the narrative, rather than a thematic link. If we make an analogy about music, I feel it is not the recurring melody, the theme, nor the musical approach that connects both works, but rather something deeper and less obvious, like the rhythmical touch, the ‘groove’ or the ‘tempo’ that connect a particular set of musicians or musical works.
Binder & Haupt: In the exhibited works one can recognize that you approach the notion of “tierra / land” focusing on different aspects: As earth surface and cartographic projection; as material, soil, dirt, to relate to a personal origin; as property and economical asset; as territory and political ground; as a substance poisoned by human actions. Since “El Sur” has always a resonance of “somewhere far away”, “uncivilized” “promising”, and, since in the first piece you refer to “Terra Australis”, our question in this regard is: What future do you see (or wish to see) for Terra Australis - the Southern continent Antarctica - and its status as condominium, based on the Antarctic Treaty, where mining, military activities, waste disposal are prohibited, and scientific and ecological research is supported? Will humanity manage to keep this Utopia?
Yoi Kawakubo: For this show, as you very sharply pointed, I had in mind the “mysterious” and “far away land” sense that the words “El Sur” connotes (and might be less strong in the English translation “The South”), that are latent in Borges’ short novel, or Victor Erice’s film El Sur, as a way to reference “Utopia” or “the place that is no-where”.
Also I want to acknowledge your interesting insight about how the word “tierra” meaning “land” ,“soil” and “earth” in Spanish imply the notions that you mention, and would also like to comment that I feel “tierra” might be a human-sized linking point between the microscopic or quantum physical dimension of the universe (quantum particles constructing atoms and particles, constructing molecules that make the metals that build the earth), and the macroscopic or gravitational physical side (stars, clusters of galaxies and dark matter) of the universe.
Having said that, I feel that despite the ‘turbulences’ that current world society is going though, I strongly want to believe that human activity or the activity that might replace us, as artificial intelligence gradually takes over us, will keep the Antarctic land and Treatise as a base or symbol for a new social paradigm, when breaking away from the current one based on individualistic “right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” (or to “life, health, liberty or possessions” as John Locke originally put it in Law of Nature Ch. 2.6, in Two Treatises of Government, 1698/1690).
Binder & Haupt: Is there any aspect of your work or background thoughts that you feel important for the viewer to know, in order to better understand, enjoy, or reflect about your exhibition at the Yokohama Triennale?
Yoi Kawakubo: For this show, as in many of my works, the artworks are often not completely physical, but a “remain” or representation of the absence of the target itself. For example the polished wall in Atlas’ Walls is smooth and marble-like, and is a representation of numbers but has no volume and will disappear when the walls are painted again.
In the Kingdom of a Thousand Suns the presented film is a “record” of the exposure to the invisible radiation in Fukushima, and the contract of solar energy is a “print” of the financial tricks that are built in our highly complex symbolic society.
Or the 52 kg of soil and the film to dig a hole is just a record or document of the act of digging a hole in certain lands, that just serves as a step for the viewer to imagine a net of connections, supposedly performed acts or fictitious stories.
For the work Slice of a torus for Terra Australis, as the title suggests, the presented drawing is the “tip of an iceberg” which is a full torus map. I decided to make a map with the shape of a torus, because a torus is a shape that has no edges (when the two horizontal ends of a plane are joint a cylinder is made, and if the two extremes of the cylinder are joint again, a torus is obtained) as a metaphor of the universe without beginning or end, as most scientists and physicists believe today, where everything is connected; and took a small slice of it for the exhibition.
So, in the whole, the exhibition (and the gaps not showed in the exhibition) might be a representation (or a caricature) of the process to understand the world through many of the contemporary issues that I am interested in, issues that at the same time blind us from the larger view of the whole world.
I wish that exhibition, just in the same manner as many other works of human endeavor have always been a continuous source of inspiration for me, might serve as a stone for the viewer to leap across an archipelago of mysteries, as wings to imagine new worlds, or as a sail for our never ending journey in search for the non-place. A non-place always far away, somewhere beyond the sea, somewhere beyond the South.
Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt
Publishers of Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art. Based in Berlin, Germany.
Yoi Kawakubo: El Sur
Kawakubo has lived in different parts of the world and created works inquiring into the meanings and roles of divided and revalued land and territory while exploring issues of identity shaken by divisions of language.
In his work shown in the Yokohama Triennale, the artist superimposes his own personal history on the view of “the South” as a symbol of unknown lands and utopias.
Yokohama Triennale 2017
Islands, Constellations & Galapagos
4 August - 5 November 2017
Yokohama Museum of Art
* 1979 in Toledo, Spain. Lives in London, UK.
"El Sur" is comprised of five works:
Slice of a torus for Terra Australis
Watercolor, gold leaf, ink on paper, coloured steel.
360 cm x 180 cm x 145 cm
Walls of the museum sanded and polished with the shape of an economic graph.
900 cm x 450 cm
Imaginary lines #2 (Gibraltar Strait North/South)
155 cm x 195 cm each photograph
archival pigment print mounted in k-panel
The Kingdom of a Thousand Suns / Camera Lucida
160 cm x 190 cm x 360 cm
Lambda print on acrylic film, LED strips, urethane foam, led sheet, wood, paper.
to dig a hole #2
Video (colour, stereo), soil
Internat. Architecture Exhibition, 22 May - 21 November 2021. Curator: Hashim Sarkis.
59th International Art Exhibition, 23 April - 27 November 2022. Artistic Director: Cecilia Alemani.