Category Archives: Japan

David Blandy, Anjin 1600: Edo Wonderpark (2013)

edo wonderpark

Japan has multiple ways to say “I”. Artist and multiple-self David Blandy tells us this half way through his new film Anjin 1600: Edo Wonderpark, a film itself part autobiography.

The Japanses have a dynamic way of speaking in first person, which relates to the present company; and what artist keeps such interesting company as gamer and hip hop geek Blandy?

But despite immersion in these cult-like worlds, an artist will always report back to an art audience, as embedded reporter from a land some would rather ignore.

Perhaps Edo Wonderpark is the first time that hat tips like Ulysses 31 and MCM Expo have made complete sense. The artist has long demanded you give them some attention.

And so we come to his latest assimilation: the “I” of 16th century explorer William Adams. Yes, this figure was a well paid European samurai. But no, he was always an outsider.

(Some modern comparison with Japanese footballers who sign up for the PL. It is not clear what the gaffer has in store for them. Perhaps the marketing departments know.)

It has been said that artists must be outsiders. But in a networked society with mass media and hives of trade and blockbuster exhibitions, this tradition maybe on the wane.

Blandy has found an imaginary land, somewhere that, on account of his height, his looks, his tongue, he cannot fit in. His art, in that sense, is really outsider.

Another strong point made by the film in question is the discovery, “300 years after the Renaissance”, of Japanese prints. Blandy is one who credits them with the birth of modern art.

If that be true then our ignorance about Japan is an ignorance about our own visual culture. Seen thus, the confessional script of Edo Wonderpark says is of urgent importance.

The least that might be said is that all artists need a Japan of the imagination, an uncanny home from home. “A cypher, a receptacle”, says Blandy, who may yet be as captive there as Adams.

Anjin 1600: Edo Wonderpark can be seen at Rose Lipman Building, 43 De Beauvoir Road, N1, until October 26. See Create London website for more details.

Read my 2010 interview with David Blandy here and/or a post about an early video work here.

Tabaimo, yudangami (2009) at Parasol Unit

Tabaimo’s animations are without doubt unsettling. But the more you watch yudangami (2009) the more you want to watch and the same can be said for her entire show at Parasol Unit. It would be rational to look away, but the films deal in revealing the hidden. No wonder they are compelling.

In yudangami the hair becomes a living curtain which is parted, glimpse by glimpse, to allow us to witness scenes of increasing strangeness. Disembodied hands caress this screen, building the sense of tension and of promise. They may belong to us. They may belong to the artist. Either way we are involved.

By the end we have taken part in a mystery with no obvious cause, meaning or solution. Tabaimo has enshrouded us. We succumb to the fascination of what unfolds as if to death. So the film’s very watch-ability is a problem.

But not a problem for the artist. She demonstrates that art can transport its subjects to the very edge of consciousness, or to the other side of human knowledge. You do not have to wonder why people make art when it appears to offer its users such powers.

yudangami features in Tabaimo – Boundary Layer, at Parasol Unit, London, until August 6 2010

Interview: David Blandy – Work of Fiction

©David Blandy, courtesy 176/Zabludowicz Collection, photo Thierry Bal

Picking up his gong in the Breakthrough category at The Times/South Bank Show 2010 Awards, artist David Blandy might have thanked the man who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. During WWII, his grandfather was a prisoner of war and Japan’s surrender is said to have saved his life.

“How do I reconcile my life and the life of most of my family with the 200,000 dead in Hiroshima?” he wonders aloud in his East London studio. “It can never make sense really.”

Blandy now looks East for inspiration. Martial arts, manga and video game culture all feature in his work. As a performance artist, he has long posed as a Zen-like wanderer, making countless films as The Barefoot Lone Pilgrim, armed with record bag, staff and portable turntable.

His latest alter-ego, The Child of the Atom, is a response to the atrocity which saved his grandfather. This time he has styled himself as a manga action figure with legions of fans.

“I thought it would be interesting if they were already fan made things, about this character who was already existing, so it’s like a fan homage,” he says of the film, shot in Japan in December.

Blandy himself is the consummate fan. When we meet, he is quick to show off his current favourite graphic novel, his vintage arcade machine cartridges and just a few of his many vinyl records. He may be up on art history, together with Freud, Lacan and Žižek, but this serious artist is a pop kid at heart and well aware of the absurdity.

“Art’s been very important to me in my life,” he insists, “But at the same time has it really changed me? Has it been as profound an influence as . . . Karate Kid?”

He laughs, just as the viewer might at footage of a tall, bespectacled Blandy, dressed in his orange Kung Fu suit, wandering the streets of New York in search of soul. Humour is everywhere in his work, or more seriously, “the joy of acknowledging the truth that maybe identity itself is a fiction”.

“Once you embrace that idea you realise that anything is possible,” he explains. “Rather than feeling completely constrained within your boundaries of – I don’t know? White middle-class male from North London – why can’t I be a superhero anime action figure?”

Or for that matter a black soul singer. Another film finds Blandy made up like a minstrel in reverse as he mimes along to Syl Johnson’s classic, Is It Because I’m Black? The track lasts eight minutes and in psychological terms is something of an endurance piece.

“I may have put on clown make up, but I perform the song with total . . .” he is lost for words. “I’m just inside it and in a way it’s inside me now because I’ve learnt it for the last eight years. It’s just become such an intrinsic way of how my brain is”.

It is this depth of engagement which makes the work so interesting and Blandy compares it to an experiment: “I guess I’m not scared of making a fool of myself in the aid of art, in the aid of trying to understand a bit more of who I am.”

But this serious question about identity leads the artist back to the video game Street Fighter, which he says is also hard-wired into his nervous system.

“Where do we get our ideas if we don’t read philosophy or if we don’t deal with religion?” he asks. “That desire to believe in something or have rules to live your life by is still there, so you end up relating to [game character] Ryu, wandering the world looking for the perfect fight.”

This in turn, he argues, might lead you to an interest in reading actual Zen philosophy. Just as going to a show by David Blandy could lead you to Syl Johnson, Street Fighter or manga epic Gundam. “I guess I see that almost as my role as an artist,” he adds, “To be the finger pointing at the moon, as Bruce Lee would say”.

Written for Art & Music.

Preview: Cultex – Textile as a Cross-Cultural Language

Kiyonori Shimada - proposal for gallery F15 installation.

Cultex – Textile as a Cross-Cultural Language, The Hub: National Centre for Craft and Design, Sleaford, Lincolnshire, January 30 – April 18 2010

The cultures of Norway and Japan are as far removed geographically as almost any but the UK premiere of a new exhibition shows bridges built across continents using textiles.

Cultex, which opens at the Hub in Lincolnshire, is the work of three pairs of artists representing both countries, and many common threads were evidently found.

Gabriella Göransson and Kiyonori Shimada had never met, but soon discovered a shared interest in primordial memory and archaic, organic forms.

Eva Schølberg and Yuka Kawai, having met once a long time ago, hit it off with a direction new to both. Their work in the show is based on ideas of ‘gravity’ and ‘ground’.

Meanwhile Anniken Amundsen and Machiko Agano had previously worked together, but for Cultex decided to respond to the effects of environmental change.

As all three pairs demonstrate, there are as many connections as differences between the far North and the Far East. Knowledge of technique, materials and the history of textile art transcended all boundaries.

“The works are interventionist in the broadest sense – intervening not only in physical space but also within the cultural and creative space of people living in particular times and particular places,” says curator Lesley Millar.

Aren’t there more world cultures between which a textile-based intervention might be needed?

Written for Culture24