A painting full of gentle light and color, as if you were guided by your own name. In addition, artist Asae Soya has been attracting attention for her installations in which vivid glow echoes throughout the space, and for her video works that seem to have colors and shapes popping out of paintings. Currently, he is staying in New York as an overseas trainee of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, and is expanding his range of activities.
Born in Kanagawa and based in Yokohama, she has a deep relationship with the region, such as receiving the "Yokohama Cultural Award" (Culture and Art Encouragement Award) and "Kanagawa Cultural Award / Sports Award" (Kanagawa Cultural Award Future Award). The latest exhibition in Yokohama, which will be realized this summer, will unexpectedly be held at KAAT Kanagawa Arts Theater, which is the center of performing arts in this city.
We asked her, who had temporarily returned to Japan to prepare for it, about the origins of her creation and her thoughts on her latest work.
Interview & Text: Shinichi Uchida
Photo (Portrait): Masamasa Nishino
Composing landscapes based on the sound of colors
* Asae Soya = S
《Circles》／2007／Oil on paneled cotton cloth／130×162cm
ー Today, I would like to ask about your past creations and the latest exhibition at KAAT Kanagawa Arts Theater. Ms. Soya's work began with paintings, and eventually developed into installations and videos that are in line with her worldview. So, what kind of existence does the thing that is “drawn” mean to you?
S : I think I've been drawing since I was about 3 years old, but color has always been important to me. There is a feeling that every color emits a "sound". There are various kinds of sounds, such as the sound of a musical instrument such as a piano or a violin, the sound of the wind blowing, the beating of the heart, or the murmuring of a street corner. Relying on such sounds, I have composed landscapes and painted pictures as if to tune them.
- Is it a kind of so-called "synesthesia" (a perceptual phenomenon in which certain stimuli evoke an unusual kind of sensation, such as the perception of colors in letters or sounds)?
S : I don't know the details myself. Partly because I've always taken it for granted (laughs). For example, when one color is placed next to another, the sounds of each color resonate. While feeling the echoes and chords, when the best harmony suddenly rises, it feels like the work is completed.
- Many of your early paintings depict familiar waterscapes, such as bathrooms and washrooms, filled with light. When you paint the kind of feeling you just talked about, were these subjects naturally chosen?
S : Yes. Water has no color by itself, but it can take on any color depending on the light and environment. It also brings out the properties of light more clearly through ripples and reflections. Also, water is essential for people's lives——you still have mineral water in front of you——and at the same time, it's a very mysterious existence. I continue to have a strong interest in such "things that are too close to see".
ー Your work gives a fantastical impression, but is it not a fantasy far removed from reality?
S : I guess you want to depict "the extraordinary within the ordinary". In the "Circles" series, he depicts water in a bathtub, and the light that illuminates the ripples on the surface of the water goes further and is reflected on the bottom of the bathtub. It can be said that I drew the relationship between light and water, but I have been able to more clearly feed back my own "discoveries" into my work.
ー Now that you mention it, I feel that recent installations that make bold use of space are also connected, although they are different in form.
S : No matter what method you use, the roots are connected. However, I also think that I started to create installations because I had a strong interest in space from the beginning. And I believe that this is also related to my experience in Yokohama, which has been my production base.
ー You were born in Kanagawa, and after studying at Tokyo University of the Arts, you set up studios in places where creators gather in Yokohama, such as Kitanaka BRICK and ZAIM.
S : Yes. I think that the fact that I was able to meet artists who use a variety of expressive methods and architects who work in space creation has had an impact on me. Come to think of it, Kitanaka BRICK was also the first time I turned a space into a work of art.
[Floating Garden] 2006 / size variable Kitanaka BRICK & Kitanaka WHITE (Kanagawa)
- In Floating Garden (2006), in which the walls of two buildings face each other, the empty spaces where the white paint has peeled off are interspersed with colorful paintings.
S : That work was born from the feeling that the walls and beyond are overflowing with a world of unknown colors. Also, at ZAIM, I had the opportunity to do a live painting in one of the rooms in the building, and I was able to experience being surrounded by my own paintings. This led to the solo exhibition “Ringing Color” (2010) at the Shiseido Gallery. In this exhibition, I was able to take on a new challenge of painting on a sheet and then cutting and pasting it in various shapes. In addition, the experience of cutting a large amount of sheets at this time gave me a new awareness of "lines", and I think I have nurtured those lines since then.
ー After all, everything is connected. From "Ringing Color", the series of "Ringing Light" using a sheet that reflects light, which can be seen as an extension of that, was born, and further attempts to develop these on glass surfaces are also being born.
S : Yes. After all, it was the light that gave me that kind of encounter—I have that feeling.
Drawing Light / Art Drawing with Light
Ringing Light / 2013 / Film on floor and wall / SHIBAURA HOUSE (Tokyo)
ー You have been painting light with a paintbrush, but in works such as Ringing Light, I feel that you are now “painting with the light itself.” What are the differences and changes in yourself in this regard?
S : Painting is still an important mode of expression for me, although I haven't completely moved from one to the other. However, I feel that I have learned to some extent about the nature of light through my observations of light in my paintings—how it shines, how it reflects, etc. Of course, I work with specialized technical staff, but I think I was able to master the basics of ``doing this will create this kind of light.''
ーIs your solo exhibition “Sorairo” (2013) at Art Tower Mito the culmination of your creative journey? Among them, "Sora", in which paintings drawn by himself are animated and lively in the room, became a hot topic.
S : At that time, I was able to show my expressions in all seven rooms. At that time, I wanted to make the high-ceilinged room located in the center a place where something is being born right now. It is the center of creation, a place that beats like a heart. From there, it led me to take on the challenge of creating my first video work. Specifically, I scanned the original drawings I drew with a computer, traced them into data, and combined them into an animation.
- The impression is that the painting is not simply divided into parts and moves, but rather an organic space where creativity is drawn like life, such as plant-like lines growing and overlapping.
S : I had the image of a growing forest of colors drifting in the sky. It looks like a beating heart, a blood vessel, or a cell, depending on who sees it, and I think all of them are correct.
ーDo you have any hesitation or hesitation when trying out completely unknown methods of expression?
S : Of course there is, but there is also a strength because I don't know how difficult it is (laughs). Even if you might be hesitant if you only know about it, you will feel like trying it anyway. In the end, it's a lot of hard work, but that experience often makes the next attempt easier or leads to a further step. With Sora, I was able to create a visual that I had never seen before, so I am also thinking about whether I can feed back that experience to the painting side.
《Sora》／2013／Animation, Sphere／Contemporary Art Center, Art Tower Mito
Photo: Nacása & Partners Inc.
Don't be afraid of friction at times and be yourself
- Mr. Soya, you are currently renting a studio at ISCP (The International Studio & Curatorial Program) in New York as an overseas trainee of the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Today, I am temporarily returning to Japan for this interview, but how was your experience there?
S : Artists from all over the world gather at ISCP, and each of them is given a room to work in. In addition to interacting with the artists, I also have the opportunity to present my work to people involved in the arts who visit frequently, making it a valuable experience.
ー Are you inspired by the city of New York?
S : I've been working mainly in Yokohama and Tokyo so far, and compared to these places, New York is stimulating because of the diversity of values and the way they collide. All kinds of beauty and ugliness insist on each other without compromising easily. To be honest, when I come back after a long absence, I realize the goodness of Japan, which is different from that, and I feel like I'm calming down (laughs).
ー Specifically, what part would you like to see?
S : For example, the clashes and frictions of values are difficult, but on the other hand, I am encouraged by the fact that I can do what I believe without hesitation. While Japan tends to avoid friction with others, I also get the impression that they tend to be suffocated by being bound by something like shackles that they have created themselves. It was a harvest that I came to realize that it is okay to be more free from that. Well, I've been doing whatever I want so far, but even more (laughs).
- In terms of "tuning" and "chords" that I mentioned at the beginning of today's talk, I feel that "friction" is a troublesome factor, but what do you think?
S : Harmonious chords and broken chords are both beautiful, and the presence of both makes them stand out. By intentionally destroying something, new energy can be created. For example, the streets of New York are full of colors, so if I were to do some kind of public art there, it might be good to use monotone expressions, which I haven't done before. When creating my works, I always had the idea that if I put something that is not "here", the space will come alive. In terms of realizing these things, it was a good experience to experience two contrasting urban cultures.
ー You will be staying until January 2015, but it seems that you still have a lot to experience.
S : Yes. It was also surprising that they were surprised at the drawings I usually draw, saying, "How can you draw such delicate lines and colors?" I wonder if there are things that I take for granted that are unique to me or Japanese. Now, I feel like I can see myself better than before.
- Do you ever think about your position in relation to your predecessors in the history of art?
S : I personally feel a connection with O'Keeffe in that he draws something like a universal that can be reached by pursuing individual sensibilities. When it comes to depicting light, there is of course the presence of the Impressionists, and I think that the sense of balance in composition is strongly influenced by artists like Katsushika Hokusai. I also love James Turrell and Bridget Riley from a generation closer to me, and I feel that Ernesto Neto's expressions have something in common with him in terms of his interest in bodily sensations. If you can see "things that are very close but cannot be seen", you can also see "things that are very far away". For me, the work is like a report on that, and I think that the predecessors I just mentioned are doing the same thing. When I say "very close," I don't just mean the things around me, but something closer.
Raise the "ship of creation" that is the theater
"Sora" / 2013 / Watercolor
ー Here, I would like to ask about Mr. Soya's latest work, which will appear on the "stage" of KAAT Kanagawa Arts Theater from this summer. I heard that the exhibition will make use of the characteristics of this building, that is, the open glass walls that surround the surroundings and the atrium that surrounds it—the 35-meter-high open-air space.
S : On the glass wall, I will create a new piece called Splash using cutting sheets. In the evening, we plan to project Sora on the large wall in front of the atrium with a high-brightness projector. As for "Splash", I think it shows a different expression during the day with sunlight and at night with the light from the inside of the building. I'm looking forward to it.
- Mr. Soya, you've been working on public art, haven't you? From the creator's point of view, what makes it different from spaces such as museums? If you have any thoughts from your experience staying in New York, please let me know.
S : Certainly in New York, art is everywhere in public spaces. The range of expression also varies from the masterpieces of big names to street graffiti. Some graffiti is illegal, while others are drawn in legally organized places. All of them are different from art museums, and I feel that there is a charm that allows you to encounter works in everyday life. But what makes me especially happy about this opportunity is that I can express my work in the "theater" of KAAT.
ー Certainly, one of the major features of this year's festival is that it is a work of art in a performing arts setting.
S : A theater is a place where diverse people gather to create a stage performance. That's why I'm sure that various values will clash and there will be friction. But here, collaboration is being carried out to overcome that and create a single "good thing." I think it's a place like a "ship of creation" where crew members with different specialties and talents aim for a single destination. So, in this exhibition, I likened KAAT to that ship, and I have the image of Splash, which is like a splash of water, as the waves that the ship pushes through, and Sora, the source of creation. The title of this exhibition, Floating, comes from the desire to float such a creative ship in Yokohama. In addition, as a port town with a long history, I think that it overlaps with the image of Yokohama, which is ambitious in supporting creators.
ー If you ask me, it seems that you can feel a variety of landscapes when you experience the exhibition.
S : Originally, my creative work also stems from my interest in what happens when people create something. Sora is a symbolic work in that regard, and light and sound are systems that have been involved in creation since ancient times, including art and theatre. Also, the image of a theater for me is a place that makes me dream. And I want that space to be a place that keeps me from waking up for as long as one second, no matter what the dream is. This time, I think it would be wonderful if my work could make the charm of the theater more visible and function as a device to maintain dreams. I would be happy if it could be an opportunity for regulars who love the stage, as well as people who happen to pass by and people who pass by every day, to get inside and wonder, "What is it?" KAAT's atrium is a pleasant space just to stand there, and I think everyone has their own way of enjoying it. I would be happy if small children could enjoy it too.
- I have the impression that Mr. Sotani's works can be enjoyed naturally without being prepared for generations. Come to think of it, when you won the VOCA Award, which is the Grand Prix, at the "VOCA Exhibition 2002", you also won the "Judge wa Kimi da!! Children's Award in VOCA" at the same time.
S : Yes, at that time I was happy to hear from the children that they felt like they were in a dream.
ーBy the way, do you feel that the production of this production is unique to the performing arts?
S : I feel that the people on the stage have a strong sense of solidarity as a group, and on the other hand, they have great mobility to finish the performances vigorously. Is it because of the need to create a stage space that includes the performances of the actors in a limited amount of time? In addition, the world that has been refined in this way disappears from our sight as the curtain opens and the finale is reached.
- You could say that Mr. Soya's work this time is also stage-like in that it colors KAAT for a certain period of time and then lives on in people's memories.
S : Yes. If I can synchronize the latent excitement of this place with my own work, I may be able to create a space beyond my imagination. I want it to float in Yokohama like a ship of light floating in the air. I have such expectations, and I myself am looking forward to it.
- It also leads to the "harmony rises" that was mentioned in the first story. I am looking forward to seeing the new sights that will be born there, including the appearance of the people who visit. Thank you for your time today!
Asae Soya “Floating”
Date: August to November 2014 (tentative)
Venue: KAAT Kanagawa Arts Theater Atrium
Organizer: Kanagawa Arts Foundation