2018 marks 150 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and Sweden, two countries that bear strikingly similar aesthetics in design, perhaps because both countries have long histories of careful craftsmanship and a deep appreciation for local nature. This year’s celebration of the longstanding connection between the two nations has brought about the organization of many events, conferences and exhibitions in both Sweden and Japan.
One such exciting event is the third instalment of 'Contemporary Art From Japan', which is part of an international biennial of contemporary exhibitions that alternate between Sweden and Japan, organized by Södertalje Konstnärskrets (Södertalje Artist Circle), and EAJAS, Emerging Art from Japan & Around Scandinavia.
The 2018 edition of the biennial in Sweden is quite timely with the nationwide cultural spotlight on Japan this year, but the art initiative between the two nations has been ongoing since 2010. For the past eight years artists have engaged in a series of international exchanges between the two countries, so far with exhibitions of Japanese artists in Södertalje in 2010 and 2014, and the biennial’s counterpart, 'Contemporary Art From Sweden', which brought Swedish artists to Tokyo and Yokohama in 2012 and 2016. This year marks the small biennial’s fifth edition and its third cycle of bringing contemporary Japanese artists to the Swedish city of Södertalje, an industrial center about 30 kilometers southwest of Stockholm near the beautiful Lake Mälaren. A total of 20 artists from Japan are exhibiting their works at three galleries in the city – Södertalje Konsthall, Galleri Kretsen and Saltskog Gård.
The theme and title of this year’s edition of the exchange is To be here. The artists selected for this exhibition explore different facets of the nature of materiality, both in terms of physical medium and conceptual expression. In the words of Södertalje Konsthall director Joanna Sandell, ‘What is the nature of our consciousness? Where do you end and I begin? These are some of the questions raised by the artists in To be here.’
The exhibition is made up of the following twenty practitioners: Asumi Hayashi, Takako Ishikawa, Kanako Ishii, Hitomi Iwano, Etsuko Kawai, Hiroyuki Kimura, Akiko Kondo, Yuko Kurihara, Shogo Miyasaka, Sonoko Mitsui, Atsushi Mizutani, Ailin Nakagawa, Shizuko Ono, Yoshimi Otsu, Yoshiko Sashida, Yuna Tanii, Taeko Ukon, Toshiko Watanabe, Tsuguo Yanai, and Mayuko Yumira. The artists range from emerging to established in their practice.
In To be here, we note that many of the selected works engage heavily with craft, with works containing tedious and minute attention to detail that reflect deep consciousness in their individual art practice. Tokyo-based Yuko Kurihara’s installation Afterglow presents an homage to her medium of choice – stone. 500 marble pieces create macro and micro perspectives as each individually carved object exists as its own delicate work; the pieces together create the illusion of a single form along the wall as the light catches on their flattened tops in unison. ‘The overwhelming presence of the stone gives me strength to work with my material in a flexible manner...express[ing] afterglow,’ the artist explained in her statement. ‘There are countless pieces of marble on the wall, and a single line appears there. It is a line of light made by the shadow.’
Works included in the three-part exhibition range in mediums from videowork and photography to gestural painting and minimal sculpture, but the most prominent art form on display is the recurring use of textile.
Among the various textile-based artworks exhibited, Tokyo-based artist Yoshimi Otsu’s works stand out. Otsu, one of the youngest artists selected to take part in To be here, has brought her ethereal installation Present from Japan to display at Södertalje Konsthall.
Present is made up of five large cotton cloths, dyed beautifully through an intensive process with ink extracted from black water-based pens. Viewing the series of textiles, one may think that each piece is painted with color, but Otsu instead explores the subtle variations of black, using water to draw forth a multiplicity of hidden colors in each work. For each piece, she creates a different imprint of a simple dress and installs them in the exhibit space transfixed in mid-air, as if floating underwater amid reflections of sunlight. We find that the result is reminiscent of a series of complex Rorschach inkblot tests; the shape of the dress remains clear but the familiar image appears to dissolve and disintegrate, evoking feelings of transparency, femininity, and contemplative fluidity.
Otsu visited Sweden for the first time for this exhibition, and we were lucky enough to speak to her about her process and ask a few questions to gain some insight into the impact of the international art exchange between Sweden and Japan.
I studied textile art in university. I became interested in fiber art because of the artist Magdalena Abakanowics. My technique emphasizes the color and nature of the textiles and pens while simultaneously copying the surface of the fabric. Although the expression comes about through the process of dyeing the fabric, I also feel that there are elements of printing and photography involved.
I think of clothing as cast-off skins, containing people's memories and emotions. I am interested in the fact that it is just a thin film of cloth separating a person's outer, visible surface from the inner part that no one can see. Through relationships with others, I can confront myself and hope to express the relationship between the inner and outer mind. Human to human relationships are important in finding myself.
I use the old clothes that I have worn. By believing that the owner [of the dress] is absent, viewers desire to imagine the existence of the one who wore it. Clothes that are no longer worn stop temporarily. By re-imagining clothing as an artwork, I believe that when seen by an audience – in the context of its production time and as part of an exhibition – the image can create a new timeline.
Thinking of why you are here is proof that you exist. I always think about that, and that's why I use my old clothes. I use many kinds of clothing, and I do experiments on all kinds as well. I search for an expression that fits the concept I desire, and I use it.
I did not have a connection with Sweden before, and participated in the exhibition for the exchange between Sweden and Japan. Besides the materials used in my work (clothing, cotton, black pens), water is a very important element. I live nearby rivers and the ocean now, and I knew that in Sweden there are many waterside regions; for this reason I thought there was a connection between the two countries in my work.
I felt that my work has a Japanese expression, and I was interested in what kinds of responses I would get in another country. Because of this exhibition, I think that I can have a close relationship with the Swedish country and people. We were welcomed by the artists in Sweden, and everyone is very much looking forward to seeing them again in Japan.
It was also a very valuable experience to be able to visit the forest cemetery called Skogskyrkogården while I was in Sweden. There I realized that I would like to think about the theme of death in my works. I'd like to visit again to think about life and death, and bonds with my family.
I have an exhibition coming up in October, so I am back in Tokyo now creating and producing the works. This exhibition is based on tea ceremony – it is very Japanese. I am using the kimono as a motif for the first time in my work. I feel that since I have returned from Sweden, I have a very good opportunity to think again about the country of Japan.
Yoshimi Otsu's new works will be on display in Tokyo at the exhibition entitled 現代茶ノ湯スタイル展縁-enishi (Modern Tea Ceremony Style Exhibition - Enishi) from October 23rd through November 4th, 2018 at Seibu Shibuya Building B 8th Floor Art Gallery・Alternative Space.
'Contemporary Art From Japan part III' will remain on view in Södertalje until October 21st, 2018.
For more information about this exhibition, click here.
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