Yuko Hasegawa is chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT), and curator of 2013 Sharjah Biennial 11. She has been co-curator of the 2010 São Paulo Bienal and of Mediacity Seoul in 2006. In 2001 she curated the Istanbul Biennial. Here she shares with us her insights on the post Murakami generation in Japan, mentions artists such as Daito Manabe and Kohei Nawa, and offers a preview of her upcoming show GLOBALE: New Sensorium, Exiting from the Failures of Modernization at ZKM | Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany (Fri, 04.03.2016 to Sun, 07.08.2016).
Conversation transcription below
A Skype conversation with Yuko Hasegawa
MIKIKO (eleven play) & Daito Manabe (Rhizomatiks), Dance with drones, March, 2014, Spiral Hall, Tokyo. Music: Ametsub
Rhizomatiks (Daito Manabe + Satoshi Horii + Satoru Higa + Yusuke Tomoto)
Nao Tokui (Qosmo) & Taeji Sawai (Qosmo), “Traders,” October 2013,
Perfume, MIKIKO, Rhizomatiks & TAKCOM, Perfume Performance Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, June 2013, Cannes, France.
Michela Alessandrini: First of all, if you had to describe the Asian and Japanese art scene in one word, what would you say?
Yuko Hasegawa: This is an interesting question. I just use this metaphor to describe it: the art scene seems to be composed by an iceberg, but underneath there is some kind of very hot magma. This magma is coming from the 1980s. The 80s in Japan were quite strong. They had a strong impact, both economically and globally. Nevertheless, they also had many limits, cultural limits. There were also a lot of contacts between subculture and high art.
Now many artists are returning to the 80s. Some of the artists are starting a connection with some functions of society: some of them are very concerned about infography, other artists are very interested in creating public spaces and working with architects. What we are facing now is a very interesting time in Japanese art.
MA: How would you describe the art scene now in Japan, how do you see the post-Murakami generation? What kind of artists would you like to suggest today? Artists you have worked with closely, recently…
YH: I would mention two artists. One is Daito Manabe, the founder of the collective Rhizomatiks. He studied computer programming and video art. He has a very strong concept and tries to realize it in a very radical way, through computer programming. For instance, he designed the stage-set for Perfume. Perfume is a techno-pop group renown worldwide. He made a very special stage design for Perfume: he only used drones with cameras, therefore drones were shooting their performance from the top. This was the beginning, four years ago.
He also made a system with a design application, he then distributed this application so that the audience could download it. He made a very special costume for Perfume. Perfume wear white costumes, individually made one by one. The audience can create designs on the costumes in the concert hall. They use a special design application to create their designs on each Perfume costume directly on stage. Everybody can participate in designing the singers’ costume. This system was very successful in the entertainment world, but it comes from very radical ideas.
For instance, he made a piece, named the “Traders” for my exhibition at MOT in 2013. “Trader” is an infographic visualization of trading and stock market data; he just connected real-life information from the stock markets, one by one. The information and the situation are constantly changing. He just designed a very beautiful moving infography in the museum space. This is an amazing situation: this is almost the secret part of the stock market, because it does rule the world, the economy and the governance. Those kinds of special and influential data have been shown on real time inside the museum, with an amazing infographic design. This will allow everyone to understand what happens in world economy, which company relates to which data and to which business. All this real-time information is visualized instantly. It is really beautiful.
The artist’s position is a neutral one, but his work-face is also very radical; his idea of an infographic world, the way he has managed to interpret the world, is quite impressive to me. He said that many traders came to see his work, one by one, and they were emotionally affected by these images. Sometimes the artwork and those kinds of outcomes and presentations affected the traders’ mind: that means that trade has been changing. That is quite interesting; this is a really radical effect.
The other artist is Kohei Nawa, a 40 years old sculptor, who founded a kind of Andy Warhol factory named Sandwich. He is not just making sculptures or paintings: he also designed some spaces and worked with Comme des Garçons; he also proposed a lot of artificial city planning projects. He is really growing.
Two things are interesting. He is just using new materials, transforming the new materiality. The artists who grew up in the media environment had a peculiar idea of what physicality is, but Kohei Nawa is really inventing a new language with materials, questioning the meaning of materiality, the message it should convey and its conceptual frame. Secondly, he has certain ideas about a very organic system. When he proposed the city planning, he also designed the theatre in the building, everything is very organically connected. It doesn’t focus only on artistic programs, but also on cultural programs as everything comes together. He is working on transformation and on organical connections. It is a new quality concept. It’s not a legitimate language, it’s more a kind of practice. It works very well. He is going to be a leading artist — not only in the art world but also in other general creative cultural business.
MA: I would like you to comment this sentence: “Knowledge doesn’t come from the West anymore.” I was also reading the statement you wrote for the Sharjah Biennial 11, and I know that this is quite an important issue for you. I would therefore like you to comment on this.
YH: I would just quote my upcoming exhibition “Exiting from the Failures of Modernization.” The most problematic scene about Western modernization is that it’s much too focused on the subject, on the individual subjectivity. It is important not only to focus on individual subjectivity; it is more important to create a new relationship between human and non-human, between materials and non-materials. This means that sometimes humans can be connected to animals, to the environment, to robots. This means a very flexible idea of what subjectivity is. We are all part of the world, part of the environment. If you only focus on subjectivity, this brings to human centralization and this means a very egotistical structure. This leading modernization, led by Western subjective human oriented directions, caused a lot of problems, such as global warming or terrorist attacks. But it is not only conflicting with fundamentalism. The problem caused by modernization is more deeply rooted.
The artists coming from Asia or the Arab world — which means the Global South and which I selected for the Sharjah Biennial — are very much aware of what they had, originally, in pre-modern times. It means that they are thinking about their roots and those kinds of consciousness fields which used to be shared by people. It is not only that. Indeed, they are also very critical about the current situation and they bring up their own feedback on pre-modern times, while their cultural legacy permeates their contemporary interpretations and creations. This is a quite common element between the artists I’ve invited.
All images have been kindly provided by MOT and/or the mentioned artists