To celebrate the opening of the 2012 Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, which opened last Saturday, all this week I’ll be posting texts that I wrote for the catalogue of said exhibition. This is the third of the six pieces I wrote, this time about Simon Fujiwara’s religious experience in front of a work of art and the work’s life within the world.
“The Mirror Stage”
What does our experience of art tell us about ourselves? We might experience the meaning and value of art through our understanding of the work of the ‘genius artist,’ or in a superlative experience that overwhelms us, an ecstatic appreciation, a moment of bliss. These understandings are essentially subjective but have become part of the mythology of Art’s work in the world, to make up in some way for its lack of practical use perhaps. As such the validity and value of these understandings cannot be taken at face value.
“Epiphany” is the word used to describe artist Simon Fujiwara’s experience in the mid-‘90s, standing in front of a large colour-field painting by artist Patrick Heron, then on display at the Tate St Ives (an outpost of the Tate Gallery in Britain). Although this event is apparently what set Fujiwara on the road to becoming an artist, we are also led to believe that, rather than a particularly spiritual epiphany, this case of revelation was a sexual one – Fujiwara’s realisation of his own homosexuality.
The Mirror Stage (2009–12) is Fujiwara’s performance and installation that dramatises this event. It has been said that this artist has “…made a career out of mixing his own life story with myths, wider histories and pilferage from the collective unconscious…”.1 So, as with the artist’s other elaborate presentations, this piece not only purposely blurs the line between truth and fiction but places into question the meaning and value of each, leaving the viewer uncertain as to the actual events and to the role of the objects and participants therein.
St Ives is a fishing town in the far South West of England, near where the artist was living with his Mother at that time, his Father being absent for much of this period in Japan. This small town is famous in British art history as the home of the “St Ives School” of artists, a group who decamped from London from the 1930’s onwards causing this out-of-the-way location to become a strong centre of modernist abstraction.
Having grown up very close by the remnants of this activity, Fujiwara was steeped in the mythology of its artistic heritage. He uses this mythology as a formative part of The Mirror Stage, giving free reign to understandings of the history of St Ives as well as his more recent history within his own theatrical setting. In the process this piece addresses multiple subjects and storylines: “the myths and clichés of artistic childhoods, through the sexual psychology of abstract painters, to the history of post-war British art.”2 On the stage, through all of this, the artist is present in a video in which he instructs an 11-year old boy in how to play the artist (himself) as he had his experience in front of the painting.
In this installation Fujiwara also intertwines the prosaic into the remarkable as a means of bringing them closer. Prosaic, through the juxtaposition of the various instances of the Tate’s licensing of the Heron painting’s pattern for use on sundry objects (ironing board covers and bed sheets), into the sociological and art-historical in his positioning of his own life-story in parallel with its retelling, and in parallel with the original art history in its various incarnations.
Fujiwara does not aim to accord each element of his story specific weight or meaning, but places them all as if into a zero gravity environment to allow their assumed values to become malleable material fodder for his own narratives and situations. In this way these presentations serve to create their own realities and reflect upon those around us.
Author: Edward Sanderson
- Herbert, Martin, “Simon Fujiwara,” Art Review, March 2012, p.121.
- Artist text.
- Originally published in Liu Ding, Carol Yinghua Lu, Su Wei (eds.) (2012), Accidental Message: Art is Not a System, Not a World, Guangzhou: LingNan Art Publishing House. pp.172–177.