Interview with Tomoko Konoike |I want a body that accepts “the past” and moves forward

鴻池朋子インタビュー |「これまで」を受け止め、前進していく身体がほしい

Interview&Text: Shinichi Uchida Photo (Portrait): Masamasa Nishino

Tomoko Konoike uses a variety of techniques to create expressions that give the impression of traveling through a fantastical world. Is there a big change happening to her now? His first solo exhibition in the Tokyo metropolitan area in six years, ``Fundamental Violence,'' at the Kanagawa Kenmin Hall Gallery will provide a place to experience these changes firsthand. What has changed over time and what has remained the same since the 2009 culmination exhibition ``Inter Traveler: People who play with myths''? We asked him about his project in Tohoku, which was like a journey outside of art, and how he arrived at his current point after going through a period when he felt ``there was nothing inside of me.''

Discomfort with the writer's "controlling power"

“People who play with the Intertraveler myth”《Shira-Valley person, Wild person》 /2009 /©Tomoko Konoike

“People who play with the Intertraveler myth”《Shira-Valley person, Wild person》 /2009 /©Tomoko Konoike

- Mr. Konoike has shown us a world that can be described as mythical through a variety of techniques, including painting, sculpture, and animation. However, from the preliminary materials for his latest solo exhibition, I feel that there are some major changes from the past. For example, instead of using fusuma or canvas as in the past, there are works of art that are painted on sewn cowhide, and pottery made of clay. These have a somewhat primitive and wild feel to them.

Konoike : Not everything changed after a certain point. However, I feel that 2009's big solo exhibition ``Intertraveler: People Who Play with Myths'' (Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery) and 2011's Great East Japan Earthquake were major breaking points. In the process of creating that solo exhibition, I had the experience of becoming aware of an unexpected power within me. It was a strange feeling that I had never experienced before, like the artist's "control" over a large exhibition.

--Isn't it natural for an artist to control the relationship between the work and the audience to some extent in an exhibition?

Konoike : Of course, since it was a large solo exhibition, it was clear that as an artist I needed the ability to put it all together. I feel that this improved the quality of the exhibition as a result. However, when I realized that I was using that kind of power, even though I had been creating things the way I wanted, it felt very strange. I was afraid that I could use this power even more if I wanted to, but at the same time I had a feeling that even if I tried to pursue it from now on, it would end up being something boring. In any case, I'm glad that I was able to experience this feeling, even though it felt strange, and I decided to remember it.

Tomoko Konoike

——More than simply growing and evolving as an artist, would you say it was a major turning point?

Konoike : The contrasting environment of the solo exhibition ``Inter Traveler: 12 Poets'' held at Kirishima Art Forest in the same year gave me an opportunity to think about it further. I think Opera City's art gallery is a space in the city where you can immerse yourself in an experience that can be called philosophical through viewing art. Kirishima Art Forest, on the other hand, has a site of 13 hectares. The given environment is a space that includes a large forest and is not closed. I was confused as to how to utilize this and it was quite a tough experience. While I was thinking about it, I started setting up a rope outside and creating my own route, similar to an animal trail (bitter smile). But in the end, something like a response remained.

--Have you been able to reconsider the concept of "art exhibitions," which had become commonplace as you continued your career as an artist?

Konoike : In many ways, I realized once again that an exhibition is an installation in which the works are protected. However, many of the works are essentially unreliable if exposed to sunlight, rain, or wind. Furthermore, when an art exhibition opens, people involved often say things like ``Congratulations!'' and there are very few people who candidly criticize it. If you don't have the awareness that you are within the ``system'' of art, you are being asked to look at it in parentheses, so to speak. However, even in such a state of uncertainty, I continued to create works.

Intertraveller 12 Poets (c)Tomoko Konoike 2

“12 Intertraveller Poets” Exhibition / ©Tomoko Konoike

Away from the old business

——Another opportunity, what kind of changes did the East Japan Earthquake bring about for you? After the earthquake, you presided over a project called ``Mimio Library,'' which collects donations of books from people and delivers them to the disaster-stricken areas, along with the owner and the story of the book.

Konoike : After that earthquake, I couldn't help but visit the affected areas, not knowing what I could do. I am not sure whether my initial actions led to good things for the local area. However, through those experiences, there have been more instances where I can clearly see different ways of thinking, even among people close to me. This may be because my insight into such matters naturally became sharper after the earthquake. In the midst of all this, I started to feel that there was something different about continuing to live the exact same life as before.

——During this period, it seems that you moved your atelier and left the gallery you were previously contracted with.

Konoike : Yes. I wanted to do something in a place far away from Tokyo, so I started an experiment in Akita, which is my hometown. One of these projects, the ``Myths that Open Up Tohoku,'' is a project in which local participants, not me, create their own works, and I consult with them one-on-one. At first, the local person in charge wanted me to have a solo exhibition, but I wanted to do something different. Even though the culture and situation are different, I have doubts about whether it's okay to always have the same structure in what we do and what we show... This is different from denying the existence of museums.

--It seems that people from all walks of life and of all ages created the works there.

Konoike : Yes. There were people who liked drawing, but there were also aunties who liked cooking, and uncles who were good at carpentry. The mother, who has nothing to do with contemporary art, enthusiastically explains her idea, saying something along the lines of, ``Build a tower like this and have water flowing from the top.'' But everyone hasn't thought about how to make it happen, so I'm going to pull out those ideas and help them out. What is created in this way may be difficult to evaluate using standard art standards. But I was very surprised, delighted and excited.

Mimio Library Ishinomaki/Museum Lodge Mural ©Tomoko Konoike

Photo from left: Mimio Library Ishinomaki/Museum Lodge Mural ©Tomoko Konoike

——Do you take the position that you are neither a creator who simply gives something nor a passive viewer?

Konoike : Being consulted by about 40 people was like experiencing the desires of Yaoyorozu Gods as a single person (lol). At that time, I was at a time when I had nothing in my head due to a lot of things going on, so I can actually say that I learned new ways of making things from them. Furthermore, the people who came to see the exhibition of completed works were very lively and started talking. ``What is this?'' Everyone was moving their hands and mouth so loudly that they were shouting (lol). I feel like I received something wild and different from what you might call an interactive art experience.

——During that period, you also had a solo exhibition in San Francisco and a large-scale public art project at Wateras, a complex in central Tokyo (both in 2013).

Konoike : Yes. In such places, I felt that people expected me to be the ``traditional Tomoko Konoike,'' and there was a part of me that wanted to live up to those expectations. Gradually, however, I began to feel suffocated by continuing to do just that. So, little by little, I felt like I was trying to change things. In Akita, we also conducted a project called ``Museum Lodge.'' Although it is called an art museum, it is actually an experiment in which my friends and I transport works to a mountain hut or other place and install them there. I approached this project with an experimental mindset, wondering if it was okay to move away from the idea of success or failure as an art exhibition.

--Did these experiments eventually lead to works such as drawings on animal skin, clay, and pottery?

Konoike : I first started working with clay when I couldn't do anything else, so I picked it up and started kneading it. There was a time, maybe six months or a year, when I tried to find something that would make my hands happy. My encounter with leather is also similar. The leather feels soft to the touch, like a cushion, and when scratched, it forms lines. The ``feeling of being hurt'' also had a sculptural feel that is not found in drawings on paper.

Title undecided 2015 Cowhide, crayon, watercolor 600x2400cm (c) Tomoko Konoike 2
Works scheduled for exhibition《Title undecided》/2015/Cowhide, crayon, watercolor/600x2400cm/©Tomoko Konoike

——It is a part of an animal that once lived, and while it has vitality, it also feels like something to be feared when using it.

Konoike : When you apply paint, it absorbs moisture, just like a living thing. Of course, the front and back sides feel different, and when you touch something stretched out, it bounces, making it reminiscent of the inside of a womb with a baby in it. Furthermore, the painting changes as it is exposed to sunlight and deteriorates. In art, deterioration over time is a negative element, but it also seems to appear as it is in daily life. I naturally felt that he was the perfect opponent for me to face.

——At the same time as the materials, there was also a change in the attitude towards expression.

Konoike : After the earthquake, I no longer trusted what I could see with my eyes, so the sense of touch became even more important to me. It feels like ``looking at it with your hands'' and ``touching it to draw.'' On the other hand, or perhaps because of this, the pictures I draw there are very descriptive. There's a heart drawn here... or something like that. That's because the support I'm drawing on has a strong presence, and I feel like I'm applying makeup to it.

——Do you also feel a sense of being freed from the constraints of ``this is what painting is''?

Konoike : I also understand the Western style of painting, which is based on symbols and metaphors on canvas. However, now I just draw my own pictures without feeling that ``painting is something sublime.'' My hands don't just create art, they also do laundry and cooking every day. Handling art supplies is a part of this lifestyle.

--This time, with the cooperation of the Akita Prefectural Museum, earthenware from the Jomon period will also be included in the exhibition.

Konoike : In terms of natural history, ancient pottery is organized and considered using specialized classification methods. However, when I heard from them that there are still things that cannot be seen, I thought it made sense. I think the same is true for art. For example, if you arrange items based on ``good shape'' and ``good texture'' instead of chronologically, something might happen. At that time, I wondered what the audience would feel? I'm also interested in things like that now.

After acknowledging the violence of “creating”

——What is the real intention behind connecting the word “violence” to “fundamental” in the title of your solo exhibition?

Konoike : "Create" means to erect some kind of stake that didn't exist in the world before, right? The same goes for the infrastructure necessary for modern life, such as buildings and roads. But the side on which the stake is erected = nature, sometimes gets hurt. In a sense, it is unnatural and a frictional resistance to nature. You could call it violence, and that means you have an opponent. When I think about it this way, I feel that whenever I create something in this world, it always stands up in a relationship with something else.

12 Hoyts 2015 Cowhide, mixed media (c)Tomoko Konoike 2

Scheduled work for exhibition “12 Hoyts” / 2015 / Cowhide, mixed media / ©Tomoko Konoike

——Civilization and creative acts like art also have this kind of violence. On top of that, do you want to face the fundamental questions of why you make something and what you make?

Konoike : Personally, I started thinking anew about the meaning of showing what I do within the framework of art. However, buildings, books, food...everyone creates something every day. Up until now, we humans have created a lot of things, but do they make us happy? There is always that question. I think especially in the last few years, we have been reminded that there are things we cannot control.

--Certainly, there are things like the earthquake and reconstruction, the nuclear power plant issue, and recently, the large-scale facility plans surrounding the Tokyo Olympics... There are many events that make us reconsider the meaning of "creating."

Konoike : I think the way people view and view things that are created has also changed. But artists, including myself, don't change... The suffocation I have been feeling may also come from this. In order to think about this, I would like to get rid of things like self-expression and think about ``creating.''

--So that's the idea behind the changes in your work.

Konoike : The enchanting experience of looking at a beautiful painting is also a wonderful experience. It makes me forget about the ``now'', but I don't have any intention of denying it. If you deny something, you will end up being denied by something else. Instead, accept it and move forward. I also feel that this is different from just one person sending out a message in one direction. I would like to think about this together with as many people as possible.

--While I feel changes, I also feel that things continue from the past. For example, the feeling of going back and forth between the "other world" and this side, or a world view that seems to have a story in it.

Konoike : That's right. But what exactly does it mean when a work is described as a ``painting that tells a story''? I also thought so. While thinking about this myself, I attempted a project that allows me to see the creation of stories itself, ``Storytelling Table Runner.'' In this project, we ask Akita ladies about their sad, important, and surprising stories, and then draw them on a table runner (a cloth cloth that hangs over part of the dining table). When you first hear their stories, they may seem like trivial events, but I sensed in them the boldness and sturdiness of a time before the modern era that asked, ``Who am I?''

Tomoko Konoike

——If you look at the big trends of the times, or from the world of art, you may be on the periphery, but if you change your position a little, it could become something completely different.

Konoike : I think these stories are the origin of "fairy tales." It's an oral story that is not widely recorded in history, and the author may someday become unknown... All of them have a beginning, development, development, and conclusion, but the ending is actually not that important. The famous story of "Little Red Riding Hood" has many endings. I think the important thing is to encounter something and come back to it. Sometimes a magical event completely changes your position or situation, but the same thing happens in real life, right?

——We would like to ask you about Art Complex 2015, “An Otherworldly Marriage Story – We Can’t Stay the Same,” which will be held in conjunction with your solo exhibition. Art Complex is a project that attempts new creation by combining contemporary art with expressions from other fields such as dance and music. This project has been held in conjunction with contemporary art exhibitions at Kanagawa Kenmin Hall.

Konoike : This time, we will be using the space of a solo exhibition to work with Fuyuki Yamakawa, an artist and singer of khomei (a throat song from the Republic of Tuva in the Russian Federation). We also asked Mayako Murai, a researcher of fairy tales and comparative literature, to supervise the project.

--I'm looking forward to the activities of Mr. Yamakawa and Mr. Murai, as they seem to intersect with Mr. Konoike's interests from different angles.

Konoike : The stage will be the “Tsugihagi Hut” built in a large space in the middle of the exhibition. It looks like this will be a performance in which Mr. Yamakawa becomes both an object and a human, going back and forth between ``that side'' and ``this side.'' It would be great if we could create a hole in a different timeline, just like a fairy tale. It may be quite different from the "fairy tale" you think of. But now I want something that isn't just a definition of "this is what ○○ is" or a how-to explanation.

――It feels like you have moved far away from the place of "dominance" you had as an artist that I talked about at the beginning.

Konoike : That's right (lol). I would rather open it than close it. Even if it looks like I won't be able to collect it anymore, I want to keep doing it.

——The title of this year's Art Complex includes the phrase "It can't stay the same." It's even more interesting to combine this with Mr. Konoike's words, ``It's important to go somewhere and come back.'' Will you be able to take on the challenge of art and art exhibitions again through trial and error and changes?

Konoike : Personally, I feel like there are some things that haven't changed, but on the other hand, I feel like everything may have changed. That's why my body reacted first. At a time when the earth is shaking so unstablely, it is only natural that things above it will also change. I'm sure there are some parts of you that are nervous about it too. But on the other hand, it may be possible that forces that would not arise if things were stable could be born there.

——Do you think your latest solo exhibition will be a place for viewers to take in and think about the experience you had today?

Konoike : I intend to reflect what happened inside me in a relatively chronological manner in the exhibition. Based on the feelings I mentioned earlier, I am now thinking of creating an exhibition that properly shows the ``in-progress'' rather than the results or conclusions. I hope to think, worry, and play with the audience there. I was like, ``I'm sure you are too.''

fundamental violence

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