DIY Osaka part 2: interview with Kaori Yoshikawa, Noooooooooooo Kitty

Introduction

For the second part of this three part series of posts touching on DIY/alternative cultural practices in Osaka, Japan, I spoke to artist Kaori Yoshikawa who set up Noooooooooooo Kitty last year with her teammate Snoo. Noooooooooooo Kitty is an artist-run gallery and events space that they opened following the closure of their previous space, named Bar Kitty. The latter was located in the suburbs south of Osaka, while Noooooooooooo Kitty is located in the Baika area in the west (around the corner from Go Tsushima’s home/studio, who I interviewed in the first part of this series). Over the past few years Baika and its surroundings have become popular for artists and musicians, and a number of small galleries and live venues are also located there. In this way a certain informal cultural community appears to have developed in this area, which Noooooooooooo Kitty is now part of and benefits from in various ways. In this interview Kaori goes into detail about their motivations for the move to Baika, and how Snoo and her artistic practices are reflected in their plans for Noooooooooooo Kitty.

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DIY Osaka part 1: interview with Go Tsushima

General Introduction

Over the last year I’ve been fortunate to be able to take three short trips to the city of Osaka in Japan. While I’ve been in the city, and time permitting, I try to learn about the music and sound communities there. Last July I published some first research from these trips here on this blog, and last month I was there again for a few days. This time I was able to interview several people who represent various aspects of the alternative or DIY scene there. They are the musician Go Tsushima, Kaori Yoshikawa at the artist-run gallery/event space Noooooooooooo Kitty, and Kazuma Sasajima at the “independent culture shop” Nice Shop Su. Over the next three weeks I’ll be publishing these interviews on this blog.

First up is the interview with Go Tsushima, a musician who lives in the Baika area of Osaka. I visited him at his home/studio and we talked about his background, the music that he produces, and the Baika area in which he lives – an area that is quite special for Osaka (and maybe for Japan generally).

A little bit of background to Baika: Baika and its adjacent areas are apparently seen as unattractive, perennially unpopular due to geographical and social reasons. I have been told—and I should stress this is pure anecdote—that because Baika is in a low-lying area near the port, it is susceptible to flooding were there to be a tsunami, thus discouraging development of the area. Perhaps related to this, I was warned by one person that this side of town is the “rough” part of Osaka – although when I visited I didn’t particularly feel this.

In any case, because of this unpopularity there is perhaps an added impetus for the property agents to actively promote occupation of the vacant commercial spaces, or for local property owners to provide affordable residential accommodation. Consequently there has been a small, but possibly significant, influx of creative people and grass-roots arts organisations visiting or putting down roots in Baika. This situation has created an opening for less commercial activities, leading to a tentative community forming with, I think, great potential.

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Zhu Wenbo and Sean Lee: no performance and Okra

Despite the closure over the last few years of a number of live venues that were homes for experimental music in Beijing, the scene—while small—is generally maintaining a level of activity that gives great cause for optimism. By way of example, I’d here like to focus on the activities of two members of the Beijing improvisation scene, Zhu Wenbo and Sean Lee.

"no performance" (Sean Lee and Zhu Wenbo) performing Okra, Meridian Space, Beijing, November 2016, photograph by Edward Sanderson.

“no performance” (Sean Lee (left) and Zhu Wenbo (right)) performing Okra, Meridian Space, Beijing, November 2016, photograph by Edward Sanderson.

Zhu Wenbo has quite a high profile locally due to his activity performing solo as well as in a number of groups, and as the organiser of experimental music events, particularly the Zoomin’ Nights series. Sean Lee has a quieter presence as a performer focusing on computer music practices. They first met through their work at the social media company, Douban, and since 2015 have performed together under the name of “no performance”. Zhu Wenbo has elsewhere described no performance as, “between composition and improvisation, electronic and acoustic, or computer program and instrument”[1], and in 2016 they debuted a new piece called “Okra” combining rule-based composition and improvisation, which has since been performed in a number of forms with different sets of people. I met up with them both at Wenbo’s apartment in Beijing to talk about their backgrounds and what Okra means for them.

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REVIEW: MIJI Concert #39 at Meridian Space 21/9/16

This review was originally published in Chinese on the Sub Jam wechat account, on the 30th of November 2016. Thanks to Yan Jun and Yan Yulong for their support, and to 白杨 and 黄山 for translation.

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For the experimental music community in Beijing, each month holds the promise of another MIJI Concert. Organised since 2011 by various members associated with the Sub Jam record label, MIJI Concert is now in its 39th edition. This event has managed to survive in a city that has become less than fertile ground for experimental creative productions over the past few years with the closure of a number of venues that would host such events; MIJI is now one of the few regular events for such practical research into sound and music. Since edition 18 MIJI has found a home at the Meridian Space, located in a small creative cluster behind the National Art Museum of China not far from the Forbidden City in central Beijing. The long, thin, upstairs room in which it takes place is perhaps inhospitable for regular styles of performance, but within an experimental context provides an ideal foil for the artists. The quality of the space helps to work against divisions between performer and audience, so the physical relationship between them is always under negotiation – dependant on things like the equipment being used, the style of performance, and the nerve of the audience members. Last week’s MIJI Concert 39 was a case in point, with four pieces making various uses of the space, setting up different experiences of the performers’ relationship between themselves and with the audience.

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Asian Dope Boys ‘Mortuary’ Event at ModernSky Labs

Vagus Nerve (Wei Wei, Li Jianhong, Josh Feola, Yu Lubai, with dancer Maomao) and Aïsha Devi performing at last night’s ‘Mortuary’ Event by Asian Dope Boys.

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.

Yishu Journal: ON | OFF – China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice

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Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, 798 Art District, Beijing

January 13–April 14, 2013

With ON I OFF, an extensive group show that occupied all of the exhibition spaces at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing, curators Bao Dong and Sun Dongdong attempted to come to grips with the ongoing issue of rationalizing the latest round of artists to have emerged on the Chinese visual arts scene over the past few years. They chose to pursue a course of highlighting what they see as the diversity of current art production in China. The curators framed this diversity as a distinctive trait of the Chinese art environment, a trait they say works against generalizing views, describing the exhibition as an expression of “polyphony” and “multiplicity.” They go so far as to characterize contemporary art in China as “a series of encounters,” each of which must be taken on its own merits, also claiming that “any artistic practice is yet another attempt at defining the scope of practice itself.” As a result, contemporary art practices can be understood neither from “a sociological perspective—seeing [them] as evidence of any number of social realities and ideologies”—nor “by way of the so-called internal logic of artistic language and method.”1

In the exhibition format of ON I OFF itself, the curators deliberately attempted to reflect this understanding of the contemporary art world in China. Its fifty participating artists (or, in three cases, a duo of artists) were presented in what might be described as a “flat” format in the sense that there was no articulation by category, theme, or highlight. That said, despite the curators’ premise of multiplicity and the consequent lack of logical organization in the gallery spaces themselves, it was possible to pick out particular connections among the artworks.

Several artists’ work displayed an interest in investigating form or material, a a manifestation of a kind of “internal logic” that the curators apparently dismissed. The painterly abstractions of both Xie Molin and Wang Guangle, which, while using diametrically opposed techniques—Xie Molin has developed a machine to create the evenly-spaced furrows in the thick, multi-hued painted surfaces of Ji No. 4 (2012) and Inconsistent Output No. 6 (2012); while Wang Guangle labouriously hand-paints subtle progressions of coloured pigments, layer after layer, to create physical stacks of paint on the canvases121101 (2012) and 121102 (2012)—share a concern with the physicality of paint. In Heiqiao Tower of Babel (2012) and The Unknown Shimmering at the Edge of the World (2012) by Li Shurui, multiple canvases depicting shimmering interference patterns were connected to create structures that invaded the spaces in which they were installed. Liang Yuanwei’s paintings of repeating floral motifs, Pisces (left) (2011), and Pisces (right) (2012), retain an element of process-based activity in their creation, as these motifs were meticulously picked out from a gradation of colour travelling from the top to the bottom of the canvas. At first glance these repetitions appear cool and unemotional, yet the patterns apparently relate to clothes worn at significant events in the artist’s life.

[To read the full article, please pick up a copy of the Journal or visit the Yishu website]