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Omnilogue: Journey To The West Exhibition
Japanese Contemporary Art. The Potential of Japan-India Art Exchange
Nivedita MAGAR Chattiya Kate NITPOLPRASERT
The Japan Foundation
Under the auspices of: Embassy of Japan in India in cooperation with Canon India Pvt. Ltd,
Casio India Co., Pvt. Ltd.
The Japan Foundation proudly presents Omnilogue, a series of three co-curated exhibitions of contemporary Japanese art that will take place in Perth, New Delhi and Singapore (under discussion) in 2011-2012. Each exhibition has a different curatorial theme and title, specific to its local, cultural contexts. The Omnilogue series, which aims to open up new possibilities of multi-directional discussions on cultural exchanges through contemporary art, will culminate in a publication featuring material on all the exhibitions.
The year 2012 also marks the 60th Anniversary of Japan-India Diplomatic relations. Following the historic signing of the Japan-India Peace Treaty in 1952, the two countries, celebrate 60 years of ever-strengthening bilateral relations with a view towards revitalising this friendship. In keeping with this spirit of nurturing empathetic cross-national ties, the Omnilogue exhibition, in New Delhi, titled, ‘Journey to the West’, explores the politics of culture, nationalism, friendship, otherness and the Asian imagination within the narratives of travel and dialogue occurring across different periods and locations.
About ‘Journey To the West’
This Japanese contemporary art exhibition was jointly planned by young curators from India, Japan and Thailand. Hints of its “Journey to the West” motif originate from two historical interactions. The first is based on an intellectual exchange between Rabindranath Tagore, a poet and philosopher from India, and Okakura Tenshin, an art historian and philosopher from Japan, at the beginning of the 20th century. The second is based on a trip to India by Sanzo Genjo, the basis of the story of the famous Chinese classic novel Saiyuki (“record of the Journey to the West”) written in the 16th century. Taking hints from these two interactions, the art exchange is expected to have the potential to open up new discussion on cultural exchange in the 21st century. Six artists seek to draw connections between India and Japan from multiple perspectives of history and culture based on field investigation, and express a singular concept through each piece.
Artists and the Works
In response to these inquiries, six Japanese artists are invited to explore inter-subjective cultural engagement and negotiation, both historical and current-day, to create and present new works for the exhibition.
Hashimoto attemptsto invertthe unilateral natureof cultural exchanges, fixed ideas of social categories andunequal economic relationshipsby acquiring a ‘circuit’, which would enable him to communicate with India,not from the outside but from ‘within’ its context. In order to realise this intention, Hashimoto invited people in India to contribute original conceptsin a publicly-issued announcement. He then selected one of the entries, paid the contributor a pre-declared sum of money for the idea and proceeded to interpret the concept in his own way. Hashimoto draws a parallel with organ transplants, where the ‘organ’ being transplanted is the purchased concept, into the ‘body’ of the artist. Through this process, Hashimoto inter-subjectively explores the ways in which he could negotiate and mediate conflicts between this ‘alien’ concept, and his own identity and predilections as an artist.
Koizumi has been working mainly with video and performance, to produce works which are compelling and visceral explorations of aspects of human psychology. Often in dialogue with actors or through his own performances, he creates precarious situations that are psychologically unstable and often as manipulative of actors as they are of the viewer. His most recent series of work are thematically focused on Japanese World War II history. In his new work for the exhibition, Koizumi will produce a video work that captures a performance directed by the artist. It takes the representation of omnipotent gods (like Senju-kannon) and goddesses (like Durga), depicted with multiple arms, as his point of departure. The multiple arms of a man hinder him from reading out loud from a book that historicises cultural communications between Japan and India. The arms interfere with the reader and interrupt the narrative, eventually making the very act of reading quite impossible. The resistance that the protagonist is made to encounter offers multiple interpretations, which may refer for instance, to the moral conflict staged within the discourse, or a subversion of the assumed power of the text while calling into the question how one composes subjectivity and meaning through reading.
Teruya has an aesthetic based onvernacular sensibilities which he weaves into his works in a poetic yet critical manner. As an artist originally from Okinawa, and currently based in New York, Teruya considers cultural traffic between east and west in an international context, while focusing on a specific current that runs through ‘Okinawa-Japan-Delhi-India’. Responding to the social, cultural and geo-political conditions in Delhi and parts of northern India, Teruya collaborates with local wood-block printing artists to make a new work, which reflects upon his researchofindigenous art forms and patterns specific to Jaipur. By recomposing inherited pattern arrangements or deliberately staginga conflict between ancestral motifs / compositions and contemporary images, Teruya explores extended collaborative possibilities that straddlethe traditional and contemporary. While the two participating artists, Hiroharu Mori and Aki Sasamoto, both deal with the issues of mortality, their works complement each other.
Hiroharu Mori works with a wide range of media including text, photography, installation performance and video. His visual practice draws strongly on language through stories, scripts, songs and idioms sourced offline as well as online (through the internet, text messages, etc.). Questions play an important role in Mori's works: the seeming simplicity of an interesting question invites audiences to enter the work and explore the artistic process. Workshop of Death is a video installation comprising documentation of a workshop conducted collaboratively by the artist and a group of young actors. Mori has realised this work in an Indian context, through a three-week workshop that attempts to engage with the idea of death, more specifically one’s own death. Participants were asked to imagine and act out the moment of their death as a short theatrical play. Throughthe process of deliberating on their life to propose a rational projection of own death, that is habitually, biologically predisposed to resist and avoid death, and through acting out the moment of death, Mori challenges the human imagination.
Sasamoto’s work concerns itself with finding a cartographical process to understand how we can imagine a post-life reality and a sense of ‘the other self’, or the self as the Other. Her research in Delhi involved interacting with people from various walks of life, including the manager of an electric crematorium, a surgeon, an ayurvedic physician, artists, funeral priests and astrologers. Their exchanges addressed the various private and public ways in which death is experienced and enacted, whether as ritual, spectacle, memory, superstition or anatomy. Aki Sasamoto devises a performance installation based on the cumulated material drawn from these conversations, as well religious and private narratives. The idea of ‘Tenjiku’, written in the Chinese novel Journey to the West, intersects the conceptual strains of these two artists with our desire to understand ‘who we are’ at an existential and ontological level.
The concerns related to an otherworldly reality explored by Aki Sasamoto poses a counterpoint to a new video work by Yahata who seeks to ground her explorations in our very worldly, everyday life. Yahata recreates and imbues mundane reality with 'magic' and 'wonder' as a way of finding a redemptive dimension to a reality that is often harsh and unrelenting. For this show, Yahata produces a video work which explores an exchange between a Japanese actor with a hearing disorder and an Indian actor who is visually impaired. Based on the imaginary narrative of their journeys and encounters, the artist tries to show the communication born between the two protagonists, as well as the way in which each grasps reality through their physical senses. This is also her attempt to ask the fundamental question, whether universal communication, one which overcomes cultural differences, is possible.