Q&A: Alternatives – Tomoko Hayashi (part 2)
THIS IS PART 2 of the Q&A ‘Alternatives’ interview with Tomoko Hayashi. You can read Part 1 here.
View of Tomoko Hayashi’s exhibition at CoCA, Poland in 2013 – the jewellery on display was manufactured from human tears. The works were conceived after working with a group of engineers in Tokyo where she learned of an attempt to describe all human emotion in a handful of taxonomic categories. Here, as the constituent tears may have been shed by adult or infant, lover or stranger, in joy or in sadness, each artefact hints at the true complexity and variety of human emotions.
What is your opinion of the current state of the three main pillars of the contemporary arts system: the museum, the biennale and the commercial gallery?
My main experience of participating in exhibitions is at museums, and I love working in them. They give me lots of freedom and time to develop my work, and I always feel the enthusiasm of the young curators working there. Even though museums are such corporatised and authoritative institutions, I find the atmosphere among individual curators is laid back; they are passionate about introducing an emerging artist. But I can also see it can be difficult to present provocative exhibitions in public museums. That is especially true in Japan. They have to think about how to attract funders, maintain the support of government and attract audiences. Indeed, big museums often have to target a wide general audience and can end up simply repeating exhibitions of work by super-famous artists or presenting yet another exhibition of Impressionist painting. I think the curators themselves have more interesting ideas – and contexts in which they would like to communicate them – but I don’t think the system that we have in Japan offers enough support for the more radical ideas of these young curators.
I think it’s also about the cultural mores of Japan. I often hear people saying that they feel they are ‘too ordinary’ to enjoy contemporary art… People are scared of it.
How about outside Japan?
I just participated in an exhibition in Toruń, Poland; at the contemporary art centre CoCArt. It is the only museum in Poland dedicated to contemporary art so, even though Torun is a very small city two and a half hours away from Warsaw, lots of people come to see their exhibitions. The facility is very rich and the staff working there were very professional. They also invite international curators, so their exhibitions are quite edgy and provoking. They successfully draw local people into many different activities, too, so I guess museums in small cities like this have greater flexibility and the freedom to more easily overcome the fear of a general public that is less familiar with art.
I’m also participating in an exhibition at the Borderless Art Museum NO-MA in Shiga, Japan. Again, it is in a small historic town and I felt this connectedness with the local. So, in my experience, locating museums in small cities and towns is a very interesting way of maintaining artistic and curatorial freedoms.
What do you think about Art Biennales?
The only biennale I have participated in is Singapore Fringe Festival.
Of course, it’s a good thing to invite lots of people from all over the world, and biennales are great for networking and attracting a large general audience to get more acquainted with contemporary art, but it does mean that the gallery spaces become so crowded that it is hard to find the peace to consider the work itself. Consequently, I don’t go to these biennales… They are fine for landscape art and that kind of thing, but for more subtle and intimate work, it is too difficult to engage with work in the way intended by the artist or to experience its richness.
View of Tomoko Hayashi’s Tamayura project exhibited in Kyoto Art Center 2011 – originally created in 2007, Tamayura involves the moulding of lovers’ body parts in a sugar and starch paste in the manner of traditional Japanese sweets called ‘wagashi’. Emphasising the uniqueness of each individual, the wooden moulds for these sweets were carved by Yoshihiro Ichihara based on the idiosyncratic form of each lover’s anatomy.
And commercial galleries?
I have no connection to commercial galleries at the moment, so I don’t know enough about them to really comment. But I do wonder how much freedom an artist has to take risks once they are hired by a commercial gallery. They are driven by the market, so I imagine that their artists are under pressure to follow the trend in sales. I have not so far found any commercial galleries in which I would feel comfortable about installing my work, because I don’t know how my work could be profitable for them … my work is hard to sell.
That said, it would be a great thing to have managers to help artists with the practical issues of survival… but being under somebody’s commercial umbrella? I don’t know if that is such a good thing.
I’m not sure if it comes from my insecurity or not, but I feel happier when people find me and invite me for an exhibition because they have a genuine curiosity about my work, rather than doing it because they are connected with of a specific circle of people or lured by the fame of the gallery that I belong to. It doesn’t matter for me if the exhibition space is big or small, famous or unknown, where it is or how far from where I am.
I’m currently planning my first solo show in Tokyo in an artist-run gallery that is newly opened. I don’t think anybody from the art industry knows the gallery, yet. And that’s what I like about the space: the freedom of its unknown potential.
More generally, what are your views on the exhibition as the primary format and mechanism for engaging with visual art?
I think it is interesting to bring audiences to experience art works in a space that is carefully controlled and is separated from everyday life. Putting art works into a white cube is always interesting. There’s nowhere like this in ordinary buildings and it can help the audience to become immersed in the work… So I am kind of happy to have the option of the conventional exhibition as a primary format.
But I’m also interested in exhibiting in random spaces, somewhere closer to our daily lives, somewhere with more character that each time requires the artist to challenge themselves in the way they present their work. Of course, it depends on the work, too…
We installed Mutsugoto in out-of-the-way spaces in London and Edinburgh, as the piece was meant to be experienced in intimate surroundings. In this case, the museum was useful as a way of introducing the piece to a wider audience, but it wasn’t the right environment for the experience itself… somewhere that needed to be very intimate and hidden. I let people engage with the piece for as long as they wanted to, and some people stayed more than two hours…
So, while I think a museum provides experiences usefully removed from everyday life – almost separate from it – I am also interested in the special experience nestling close within daily life. That’s why I spent a year working for a life-style brand.
In the future I would like to create a service to provide new types of communication involving all five senses within daily life.
I would like to work somewhere between art and providing a bespoke service. Something that could be exhibited in the museums but also affordable for people to use themselves. Carefully crafted things that can carry people’s personal stories or encourage them to share their memories with loved ones. A perfume that is custom-made for a couple, for example, or garments that could be worn and exchanged between a couple over a distance …
I have lots of ideas, but they will need time and lot of work to prepare properly, if I am to make them happen.
Teardrops: a concept for a set of garments which facilitate an intimate encounter between long-distance lovers. The design includes a woman’s dress with a handkerchief attached to the sleeve and a man’s shirt and tie. If, while they are apart, this man’s lover should happen to shed tears of joy or sadness and wipe them with her handkerchief, his shirt will begin to ‘cry’ in empathy. The shirt is constructed in such a way that this moisture subtly reveals a love letter; written by his lover and embedded in the fabric that now rests against his chest.
The engineering uses bluetooth enabled mobile telephony, and batteries, water tubes and circuitry concealed within the collar of the man’s shirt.
This is Part 2 of an interview with Tomoko Hayashi, The read Part 1, go here.