Monday, 31 January 2011

Tadasu Takamine, conceptual artist

In January 2011, I met and interviewed Tadasu Takamine at the Yokohama Museum of Art. Due to a technical glitch, our conversation was not recorded. I therefore emailed him some additional questions. Although his English ability is rather good, he emailed me back with answers in Japanese, which I then translated into English.

CBL: Do you have mixed feelings about exhibiting at the Yokohama Art Museum considering the history? I am of course referring to what happened with your video work Kimura-san some years ago.

TT: Concerning the exhibition of Kimura-san in 2004, wasn't there rather a degree of courage from the Yokohama Museum of Art in trying to display the work? Compared with other art museums not even accepting the original offer, this was very good. Concerning not being able to display, yes there was a feeling of "after all it was useless," but rather than bad feelings remaining, more important than that, there was a good feeling with regard to the Yokohama Museum of Art.

CBL: By my definition, your art is concept art. It is not concerned with aesthetics, but with ideas and concepts and making people think. The ideas generated are paramount. But the problem with conceptual art is that unless the ideas are great and the revelations revolutionary, people are likely to be disappointed. At the same time conceptual artists feel reluctant to make their concepts too clear. Do you generally try to work on the audience's mind indirectly or just make them a little confused in the hope that something good will come out of it?

TT: This is the first time my art had been called conceptual art, so it is not a bad feeling, but I don't think a conceptual artist would call a work like Baby Insa-dong conceptual art. Kimura-san and works like these, I think, are rather closer to literature than fine arts.

CBL: God Bless America is said by some to be a criticism of America. But I am not convinced. Any song could be used without changing the nature of the work. What do you think?

TT: If we imagine there is a tune other than God Bless America, it is the Japanese national anthem. I think God Bless America is suitable simply because the number of people who sing the Japanese national anthem with tears flowing are few.

CBL: Freud gave every human action a sexual connotation. With A Big Blow Job you seem to be trying to give a sexual action a non-sexual connotation. You said you had some problems with this piece when I saw it, but as you explained at the time, the basic idea is to desexualize the act of the blow job and to turn it into an analogy of our relationship with the Earth. Isn't this just stretching an analogy to the point where it becomes meaningless? What use is such an idea? Won't people just say, "Oh, I see," then shrug their shoulders and forget about it?

TT: When you say A Big Blow Job here, I think you mean Too Far to See. Blow jobs are included in sex, but the piece concerns something different from our usual way of thinking about it. Furthermore, concerning the possibility of connotation, the object of the work is to explore the possibility of images. The Japanese kanji title of Too Far to See means "exhibits in the room for after a meeting."

CBL: If an art work contains a strongly sexual element – from the point of view of ordinary people – then the sexual element tends to drown out any other element. From Kimura-san people will remember its sexual nature more than its charitable nature. From God Bless America people remember the sex between you and your partner rather than any other concepts, and from Too Far to See people are likely to remember it in a sexual way, too. For this very reason, shouldn't a conceptual artist avoid sex like the plague?

TT: Concerning what you call "people"... For example, those looking at God Bless America, if the general reaction is that they only remember the sex action and if that's the way people are, I think it's very stupid. Concerning Kimura-san it is the same. But as I have a lot of experience showing these two works to university classes, I think a further polite explanation is not necessary.

CBL: I have been reading the exhibition catalogue. I got the impression from the short essays On Not Becoming a Leader, A Hands Off Approach, and Towards Human Existence that you are very self-disparaging. But I also got the impression for some reason that this self-disparaging nature was actually hiding ambition. I got the feeling that you are very ambitious but that you think ambition is a dirty word. What was your motive for writing these pieces?

TT: I'm not certain if it's an error of the bilingual text or a difference of culture, but I think there are many cases of affirming while denying and in addition denying while affirming.

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