An interview with Aiko Yamamoto
Updated: Apr 10
Artist Leading the Way | Taipei Artist Village: Exclusive Interviews with Artists-In-Residence
This interview was carried out by Maria Dolfini (M)and Chung Ying Ying (Y) in conversation with the artist Aiko Yamamoto (A)
Scroll down for the Chinese version.
M+ Y: The title of your exhibition ‘Mono No Aware’ or ‘The Pathos of Things’ is an ancient Japanese philosophy, can you tell us more about this concept and how does it relate to your past and present works?
A: The term ‘Mono No Aware’ – ‘Pathos of Things’ in English– originates from the Tale of Genji, a renowned novel from eleventh-century Japan. It refers to the feelings triggered by touching, seeing, hearing and interacting with things. When people are separated from these everyday things, their heart will sigh and breed ineffable affection. To the Japanese, ‘Mono No Aware’ is a familiar concept, however this time I wanted to convey through my artistic practice my own personal understanding and feeling around this notion, hoping to communicate ‘Mono No Aware’ to viewers from different cultural backgrounds.
In today’s consumerist society, led by the frenzy of information and mass production, many things are as rapidly produced as discarded in a chaotic process. What I refer to in the title of the exhibition as ‘Mono’ 物 is not only the material thing we can touch and physically sense, but also the abstract ‘Koto’ 事 which involves impalpable phenomenons, feelings and memories around the thing. The conflictual sensations generated by rapidly produced commodities in our society are an inspiration for my practice. The concept of my art, in fact, slowly came into being when reflecting on the ways people should approach and treat ‘Mono’ and ‘Koto’ in such consumerist societies. Moreover, I lived in Hangzhou, China for a period of time, and every day I was confronted with the reality of a huge amount of waste derived by fast production and construction projects. This abusive environment had a strong impact on me and made me irremediably feel guilty, but at the same time powerless in opposing the rise of these great powers. Although this is not an issue happening only in China, the size of this country makes its effects difficult to ignore. This moment of awareness can be regarded as the starting point of ‘Mono No Aware’ or the ‘Pathos of Things’ in my own artistic practice; in this sense the environment is inextricable from the meaning of my art.
M+ Y: You studied textile at university and, although you engage with different materials, textile seems to always be present somehow. Why do you think that textile and, by extension, clothes are the best means to express the ‘Pathos of Things’? A: The word ‘textile’ originates from the Latin word texere, meaning ‘to weave’. Words such as ‘texture’ and ‘text’ also have the same etymology. Therefore, the concept behind textile has multiple meanings. In this sense, I have never regarded textile merely as a material but more as a comprehensive concept. Every object has a texture. For example, as a piece of fabric woven with threads is considered a textile, in the same way a text – which also comes from the Latin word texere– can be woven into poetry, novels or other literary forms. In my work TEXERE (2014), I intertwined text, textile and threads, sewing them together to convey these ideas. This kind of material and conceptual ‘weaving’ is what I believe lies behind the word ‘textile’. In this exhibition I have also used the concept of weaving to intertwine my thoughts and the materials.
M+ Y:As you explained, the Pathos of Things is a three way relationship between the Object (Mono), Memory (Koto) and Pathos (Aware). During your residency in Treasure Hill Taipei Artist Village, what objects did you use and what memories and emotions did they trigger? Can you give us an overview? A: During my stay in the village, I collected several articles from the street or dump. Looking at these abandoned and nameless things, I often like to imagine what happened when they were still in use, and how they triggered people’s happiness, anger, grief and joy. For example, in Taipei I collected many pieces of traditional flower clothes which triggered strong memories in me: evocation of the post-war baby boom in Japan, of new life after the war and personal memories of childhood. Looking at these things (Mono), I would feel melancholic (Aware) towards those fading memories (Koto). Moreover, this flower cloth makes me visualise the vibrant energy in Taiwan at the time and the happiness brought by new babies being born, I can almost hear their crying voices! At the same time it also speaks about the anger and sorrow of those who lost the war. In this sense, I think ‘Mono No Aware’ has the potential to embody collective experience.
M+ Y: Do the materials you worked with trigger personal memories or more collective, historical and spatial memories? Can they relate to both? For example, in ‘Phantom tiger’, you used iron, old clothes, ornaments and weed in order to address a Taiwanese mythological animal. How do the materials relate to your personal memories and how do they address the specific Taiwanese cultural backgroud?
A: Phantom Tiger is an experimental art piece. In fact, I did not plan to create the figure of a tiger at the beginning, I was just playing with the materials instinctively with my hands. As the iron started to rust slowly and create phantom forms, it naturally began to take the shape of an injured animal, then it became more and more similar to the skin of a tiger; and this is how the theme of the ghost tiger finally emerged!
The frontal surface of this artwork is made of natural materials, while the back is created with artificial materials - metal and threads-, resulting in a contrast between nature and man-made objects. The red threads on the surfaces stands for injuries and cuts, suggesting the damage that humans inflicted onto nature and the animal world. Obviously, the harm to nature is not only happening in Taiwan, the world is facing an environmental crisis with disastrous consequences; so this artwork can also be seen as a collective experience, a complaint against humanity.
M+ Y: In your own artist statement, you mentioned that in contemporary society, old things are consumed and discarded by mass production. In today’s consumerist society, what is the difference between the value and meaning of ‘oldness’ and ‘newness’?
A: As I mentioned before, I lived in Hangzhou for a period of time. The development of contemporary China is astonishing, old things are constantly being reconstructed, and there is a strong consumerist atmosphere. I've always thought that if you try to achieve something too quickly, the working process gets easily forgotten. Once the process is forgotten, the essence vanishes and eventually only the outer shape or a hint of this shape are left. I always feel that there is some kind of hidden tragedy within these objects, because they only imitate the outer shape or style leaving the nucleus empty, while the essence of old things lies in its intrinsic meaning. Today, with the development of AI, this phenomenon has become more severe. Since simplified object without real texture are increasing, people now started to yearn for the good old times, to treasure the beauty of the process, and to think about the value of the oldness. I think this is universal. Being in the process of fast development, China is experiencing these issues as other big developing countries. Japan, like other developed countries, has faced these issues before, and is now turning back and re-thinking this value system.
In sum, I don’t think value is an individual nor independent concept. The ‘old’ and the ‘new’ can look exactly the same on the surface, but the intrinsic meaning and value within them are invisible, they need time and energy to be explored.
M+ Y: I am very interested in your series ‘Boro-Blues’, can you explain to us the process? What is the role of nature and the interaction of objects in these works?
The series ‘Boro-Blues’ obviously has to do with the fact that I love the colour blue; blue is the colour of the sky and the ocean. However, I mainly wanted to do an artwork that could not be easily judged from its surface. The indigo colour in “Boro-Blues” at first glance could merely appear as an indigo dye, but I have actually used many different kinds of blue. Although they all look blue, these indigo hues come from different materials and processes, such as the chemical reaction derived from the interaction between acid and copper Buddha statues in water, cyanotypes I made, and also the mix of black wolfberry with water to produce different tones of blue. Moreover I used the art techniques of cyanotypes and indigo dye. Everything is made by my hands, including the copper-solved water. I want to follow the process of the material closely.
‘Boro’ is a traditional Japanese folk textile made of patches of indigo-dyed cotton or linen which are mended or patched together. So these hues of blue coming from different sources and carrying different memories are gathered together here. Thus the creation process itself is an experiment! As this ‘Boro-Blues’ series is an experiment, I have also maintained the size quite small. I hope I will be able to expand the project in the future and make it into a larger, more complete piece of art.
M+ Y: In “Boro- Blues” you used old Buddha statues that you found and made different materials interact with each other. The result of the work is thus an unexpected conversation between natural materials, one which you cannot always control. This reminds me of Japanese Mono-ha (‘School of Things’), an avant-garde art movement that emerged in Tokyo in the mid-1960s. Mono-ha artists promoted the ‘refusal of making’: denying that the artist makes the work, they suggest instead that the work is led by natural processes and materials. In this sense they believed that the artist was not a maker but an enabler of encounters’. How do you relate to Mono-ha movement? Could you define yourself as an ‘enabler of encounters’ ?
A: Yes I love Mono-ha and it has a strong influence on my work, especially their idea of ‘not being able to control the whole process of making’. Although I liked Mono-ha artists and was affected by their art, for what regards my relation to objects I do not think of myself as an ‘enabler of encounters’, but more of a close friend to objects, who plays and interacts with the materials. Nature and I are in the same and equal position. Mono-ha movement advocates that human hands play the role of assistants, while all natural materials are the masters. While I believe I want to open more of a dialogue between me and nature, as if writing an exchange diary. I think human will and hands are also part of nature, so I don't want to cut off that link in my creative process and practice.
My relationship with nature, since it feels like a friendship, is even freer. Sometimes I let the object to transform naturally, without imposing any process on it, sometimes I use my hands to intervene. I do my part, and the material does its part: we meet halfway. I think this feeling of controlling half of the process is an interaction between my inner self and nature outside, the inner and the outer.
M+ Y: So we largely discussed the relationship between the artist and the artwork; now I would like to ask you, what do you hope to transmit to the audience in this exhibition? What conversations you hope to encourage between the ‘Object’ (Mono) and the viewer?
A:It would be great if the artworks in the exhibition could trigger the memories of the audience! For example the same flower cloth can engender diverse thoughts and awareness in the viewers, according to their different backgrounds and personal experiences. Some people might be thinking of their grandma’s sofa, others of the quilts they slept in when they were kids. These memories of the past might be gradually revived through my exhibition. I hope everyone can experience a vast range of landscapes and feelings beyond the strict spatio-temporal framework of the ‘here’ and ‘now’.
Moreover, I curated this exhibition in a slightly different way. In the past, I always exhibit to the audience only the art objects (‘mono’), that is, only the material thing in itself. However this time, in order to conform with the main theme, I added the experience of the abstract phenomenon(‘koto’), so that a video of my artistic process in Treasure Hill and an installation of the materials I used, were able to convey those invisible memories. Thus, the first half of the exhibition is ‘mono’ (object) and half is ‘koto’ (phenomenon). I hope that the audience after seeing the exhibition will naturally interweave and re-unite the three aspects of ‘mono’, ‘koto’ and the emotions rooted in their heart, experiencing the Pathos of Things in its entire process.
M+ Y: Last question, what are your future plans? Are you interested in continuing to research the “Pathos of Things”?
A: This exhibition was actually a big turning point for me. Treating it as an experiment, I have used things that I intuitively found to create art; in the future I would like to take a more specific scope in my practice, using materials from a certain period or limited to a definite status and kind of people. I would also like to concentrate more on collecting materials in a specific time and space. In this way, the process of collecting materials can also be investigated; I want to develop creative processes that integrate with society. Therefore, I will continue to explore the theme of ‘Pathos of Things’ or ‘Mono-no Aware’ in the future, but the form and aesthetics of my oeuvre will transform, it is an unpredictable journey!
As for my next step, I can give you a clue.. I met a great professor in China, so I am considering going down the PhD path.
藝術家帶路 | 台北國際藝術村: 駐地藝術家專訪
採訪人: Maria Dolfini( 以下簡稱M )、鍾盈盈(以下簡稱Y)
藝術家: 山本愛子( 以下簡稱A )
A: 織品這個詞起源於拉丁語，相似的字元包括了織品(textile) 、紋理質地(texture)還有文字(text)，因此，織品這個概念其實是具有多元意義的。對我來說，我從來沒有把織品單單看作是創作時的一種素材而已，而是一種全方位的概念。例如今天有一個具有紋理質地(texture)的東西被織出來了，大家會認為那是一件織品(textile)，對吧？同樣的，每個物品都有它獨特的質地。而從這個拉丁字源出來的文字（text)，也可以被編織成詩、或者是小說之類的東西，這樣的“編織”才是我心目中最接近織品的概念。我在2014年曾做過一個展覽，叫做《TEXERE》，我將線、文字和織品織在一起呈現了這樣的想法。在這次的展覽中，我也利用了這樣的概念，將我心中所想的與素材結合，交織成這次的展覽。
M+Y: 我對你的 “藍之襤褸”（BORO - BLUES）系列非常感興趣，可以為我們簡單說明一下創作過程嗎？另外，在這件件作品裡,自然與物體是如何相互作用的呢？
M+Y: 在 “藍之襤褸”系列中，你提到你使用酸液使銅質佛像發生化學反應，這樣的結果其實是源自於自然，一種你無法完全預測也無法完全控制的相互作用。這讓我想起了日本“物派”，在1960年代中期左右興起於東京的一股前衛藝術運動。物派藝術家們提倡“拒絕創作”，否認藝術作品是由藝術家創作，提倡作品其實是由自然與材料所引導的。因此，物派提倡者認為藝術家不是創作者，而比較像是“促進藝術邂逅”的角色。因此想請問你自己如何看待自己與物派之間的關係？或是你認爲自己也像是這樣一種促進藝術邂逅的角色嗎？