First steps researching experimental sound culture in Osaka

With half a day free while visiting relatives in Osaka, I had an opportunity to start looking into the sound scene here. This ever-so-slight beginning will be supplemented by future visits, to develop an understanding of this city’s sonic culture. This post is a starting point from which to look into the infrastructure that exists in Osaka for practices connected with sound, including the venues, artforms, and producers involved.

Outside the HOPKEN venue in Osaka

Outside the HOPKEN venue in Osaka

With such little time available, I was doubtful that I would be able to catch any actual events, but I was fortunate that the venue HOPKEN had three bands playing the first night I had free. While certainly not my kind of music, nor particularly experimental, it was at least an opportunity to see the venue and how it worked. HOPKEN is pretty central in Osaka, an unassuming two-storey building nestled in amongst the office blocks and nearby a major elevated expressway. Inside it has a variety of spaces, from the bar that you walk into from the street, a small art gallery space downstairs in the basement, and upstairs the performing space, where books and music releases were also on display and for sale. I walked in halfway through the first act, “friendly hearts of Japan”, a laconic new wave-style band, quite tight and skilled in their playing, but a bit lackluster in their delivery, very indie. The second band was made up of a double bass player, piano, and vocals performing jazzy numbers that I found too saccharine in their delivery and formulaic in their structure, although the band seemed to have a good rapport between themselves and with their appreciative audience. After politely sitting through their set, I decided to cut my losses and leave. As I walked out onto the street a member of “Hi,how are you?”, the band who were playing next, asked me if the previous band had finished. He was interested to know what I thought about the gig, and I had to be honest with him that I wasn’t really a big fan of what I had heard so far. He told me that his band performed songs which were influenced by the British rock band Queen, which didn’t really change my mind about my decision to leave. My loss, I’m sure.

Band playing at the HOPKEN venue

Band playing at the HOPKEN venue

The following morning I had a few hours available, so I got up early and travelled to the north of Osaka, to a picturesque little alleyway where synth designer Tetsuji Masuda has his workshop. Tetsuji produces custom-made synths under the brand name JMT Synth, which are used by experimental musicians in Japan and abroad. I’m not terribly knowledgeable about the technology or practice of synths, I’m also a bit wary of the fetishisation of technology that synths seem to have come to embody, but some of Tetsuji’s creations were really quite fascinating, especially the half-dome pieces that he had hanging on the wall of the cafe/bar that he and his partner Tomoe Inoue (also an experimental musician) run on the ground floor of the building. The point where these instruments become aesthetic objects, and express in their forms the gestural performance necessary to play them could be quite interesting.

My issues with synths aside, Tetsuji and I had a very enjoyable conversation over coffee about his designs and their fabrication. Tetsuji is keen to visit China, so I tried to give him a balanced view of the situation there – perhaps someone could invite him over?

After that I hastily caught the subway down to the deep south of Osaka city, into the suburbs on the border between Osaka and Sakai cities, to visit a tiny bar/event space called Bar Kitty, run by Kaori Dohgase and her husband Snoo. This has all the features of an archetypal alternative space, its multiple functions packed into a single long, thin room, stuffed with ephemera related to their events, a bar and cooking range along one side, and a small raised platform at the end which could accommodate only two or three performers at most. In terms of audience, there is only room for around 20 people in the space – it’s very intimate! I was starving by now, having skipped breakfast, so while Snoo cooked up some tasty Yakitori Soba for lunch we chatted about their space and activities, and their relationship with the local area they exist within. They have regular weekend events with rap, noise, and experimental performances. Bar Kitty seems to be great little local hangout, providing an important home base for artists outside of the mainstream.

Many thanks to Yan Jun, Michael Eddy, Go Tsushima, and Aki Nagasaka for helping make the connections in Osaka, and to my sister- and brother-in-law for putting up with me.


Frieze website: Liu Wei at White Cube

Liu Wei

White Cube, Mason’s Yard, London

Liu Wei rose to prominence in China in the early 2000s with a diverse practice encompassing painting, photography and sculpture, often presented with a touch of humour. His solo show at White Cube focused on recent sculpture and installation pieces that demonstrated the artists professed move away from figuration but which, in the process, seemed to lose some of the agility that characterised the artist’s earlier practice.

Liu presented works from three distinct series that were organised over the two floors of the gallery. Dominating the basement gallery floor stood six geometric sculptures (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, from the ‘Density’ series, 2013) – including a cube, a ball, and other less specific shapes, the larger pieces looming over the visitor. These works used layers of cut books to form their off-white surfaces; the Chinese characters printed on the books’ pages still visible along the cut edges. This paper lent a material softness to the sculptures that contrast with the hard-edged, abstract shapes they formed.

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ArtReview Asia: Xu Tan – Questions, Soil and ‘Socio-Botanic’

Xu Tan: Questions, Soil and ‘Socio-Botanic’

Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou

19 August – 22 November

Displaying a long-term commitment to his practice, most visible for the last six years in the ongoing Keywords Project, Guangzhou-based Xu Tan chooses to address both the detail as well as the ‘bigger picture’ of cultural and social change through his works. His current solo show in Guangzhou’s Vitamin Creative Space, titled Questions, Soil and ‘Socio-Botanic,’ shifts the subject matter from language—as demonstrated by Keywords—to issues of the conceptual and legal construction of the social landscape.

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UNCUT TALKS: Three interviews with UK Practitioners in the World

Following the series of interviews I made with sound workers in China back in April, and since I’ve now (temporarily!) moved back to the UK, I’ve taken the opportunity to record a further set of chats with people and groups in this country. Generally speaking these people interested me because of their approach to the way a practice negotiates the social fabric. The relationship between these speakers activities and what one might call a cultural practice is perhaps quite an ambivalent one, in some cases even an irrelevant consideration for them. I point that out because such activities have in some cases been subsumed within an art practice—specifically the “dialogic” approach—but such practices may at times be seen to “work” better when kept at a distance from such a context, a choice of position which in the process calls into question the efficacy of an art-based practice in attempting to come to grips with the world.

A chat with Bianca Elzenbaumer, Paolo Plotegher, and Rosanna Thompson of New Cross Commoners:

A chat with Dr. Lynn Turner on Guerrilla Gardening:

A chat with Maurice Carlin at Islington Mill:

Memory and Misunderstanding

Last week in our Transcultural Memory session we touched on various projects which dealt with what might be seen as the performative act of memory-making. The major examples came from Salman Rushdie’s book Midnight’s Children and Charlotte Salomon’s Leben? oder Theater? (Life? or Theatre?) In the former, Rushdie’s layering of narrative memory highlights its complicated and complicating acts. For Saloman, the myriad gouaches that make up the project (some 1,000, produced over a 2 year period of 1941-43) present a story that mixes biography and fiction in a very productive and almost overwhelming way.

But here I wanted to draw out the aspect of between-ness that Astrid mentioned, something which was related to Homi K. Bhabha’s “third space,” a concept associated with post-colonial theory in that it represents, for Bhabha, the site of hybridisation between two cultures (in that case assumed to be a colonising and a colonised culture). In the context of the session, this space is understood to be between the event and the memory, and how this can be approached and expressed through creative acts. This “third space” between event and memory interests me in that it is the type of border area that globalisation theory posits as a space of productivity through the upsetting of hegemonic this- or that-ness.

The issue of influence is an example of such a border area between a source and a receiver. I have one anecdote that might be relevant to this issue, coming from my own experience in China. A few years ago I wrote a text about a Chinese artist, Cang Xin, who began his practice in the early 1990s in Beijing, becoming associated with a small group of artists who developed certain types of performance centred on the body.

From the European perspective, one could make a connection between these Chinese artists’ works and those of the Vienna Actionists, both stylistically and conceptually, although they took the acts in very different directions based on their local conditions. Indeed during my interviews with Cang Xin, he went into some detail about the significance and nature of their knowledge of such European artists and activities. He told me that he was aware of these works primarily through a particular book on performance art that was translated into Chinese at that time. From this book, Cang Xin learned about Beuys, Brus, Nitsch, etc. His knowledge then, was based on the iconic photographs that were the overwhelming evidence of the performances after the fact (and are still the knowledge that most people in the world have of them, but that is another discussion about the mediation of performance through its imagery). Cang Xin and his peers were very excited by these works, and felt that their own activities had parallels to them.

Cang Xin told me he had read elsewhere that one of the Austrian artists that were featured in this book (Rudolf Schwarzkogler) had allegedly cut off his penis as part of a performance, a fact that made a great impression on Cang. This was in fact a misunderstanding perpetuated in an article in TIME magazine by the art critic Robert Hughes published in 1972, and indeed this story still circulates. The Chinese artists’ own belief in this story can be seen to lay some groundwork for their own understanding of a commitment to an art practice, yet marks the fragile point of translation between myth and reality.

Visiting Exhibitions by Kara Walker and John Latham

“We at Camden Arts Centre are Exceedingly Proud to Present an Exhibition of Capable Artworks by the Notable Hand of the Celebrated American, Kara Elizabeth Walker, Negress.” at Camden Arts Centre, London.

NOIT Journal Launch, at Flat-Time House, London.

From Kara Walker at the Camden Arts Centre, to John Latham at the Flat-Time House; from the visceral, to the cerebral (but that’s more about playing with words than a fair assessment of the two shows – although it does tell you something fairly basic about certain features of each show; I’m pretty sure there were never so many representations of penises in Latham’s work, as there are no scientific formulae in Walker’s, to my knowledge).

The events that Walker represents in her silhouettes seem stuck in their time, by their development and exploitation of an extreme imaginary of the history of slavery as it took place in the American South; whereas Latham’s works (at least in their meaning) have no such specificity of time and event, but are all about time and event as qualities in a very scientific sense, and as these pertain to the creative act.

Although Latham’s work might be said to have a certain style of the period when they were made, a style of the British-flavours of conceptual art (Art & Language, Liliane Lijn, to name two). But this recognition of a style might be said to incorporate as much of an imaginary as the recognition of the imagery that Walker exploits.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine two more different artists.

To focus primarily on Walker’s work, the way I have characterised it as being stuck in a time, I am suggesting is problematic. They have an interesting relationship to the development of Walker’s artworks. At this point it seems as if her format and imagery has been mined to exhaustion, and now to be actually self-creating its subject matter (although perhaps they always were). From work that draws attention to existing tropes and stereotypes, we seem to have reached a stage where these silhouettes are pushed to become a completely new set of stereotypes – Walker’s own creations rather than a reflection of a historical situation. Is this not problematic? Is the work not now creating that world which it originally accused history and society of brushing under the carpet?

Catalogue Essay: aaajiao – Between the Machine and the Human

[English text below]

机器与人之间 —— aaajiao个展《屏幕一代:前传》

2013.11.02 – 12.01


aaajiao "The Screen Generation"


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