HOME > Articles-written by Ayako MIYAJIMA (EN/JP)

MIYAJIMA Ayako, Curator, The National Art Center, Tokyo

Azumatei Jun has been engaged since 2001 in producing a series of works entitled Float, an example of which is presented in this exhibition (Fig.1). The smoothness of the image plain may it appear to be simply a photograph capturing a beautiful, yet feeling, moment of the sky’s ever-changing expression. In actual fact, it has been crated using a photograph of the sky, rendered on an ink-jet printer, to which acrylic paint and aqueous varnish were repeatedly applied, and the dried surface sanded each time. The paint and varnish from thick layers.

This unique method is structurally connected to the artist's creative interest in the visualization of the concept of "memory": a persistent theme in Azumatei Jun's work. Here the photograph on the bottom layer corresponds to the "record," which is objective and incontrovertible, and the multiple layers of paint and varnish applied over it are the "memory," which is subjective and uncertain.

Human memory constantly wavers. It can automatically embroider unpleasant recollections, blur details of once-unforgettable events and eventually bury all in oblivion. Satisfying a fervent desire to hold on to wavering memories, people in earlier days placed their trust in painting; since the nineteenth century, photography has served the same purpose. Describing the reproductively objective quality of photography, the film critic Andre Bazin once wrote: "Originality in photography as distinct from originality in painting lies in the essentially objective character of photography." *1

Obviously, when talking about photography, the choice of subjective judgments; moreover, in today's digital age, the wholesale manipulation of images is a simple matter. Even so, we are still apt to assume that what see in photographs is fact. Azumatei sometimes found, however, that images recorded in photographs did not necessarily correspond with his memories of an event; instead, they gave rise to an uncomfortable feeling something was wrong. On the one hand, there was the pretended truth asserted by photograph to be a record of fact; on the other, there was the sense of reality within himself that could alter, disturb and occasionally even deny the photograph. For the Float series, in order to explore the connection between these two "truths," Azumatei chose the motif of the sky.

His choice of motif was born out of a coincidence. Azumatei took a trip to Europe to prepare for a solo exhibition in London in 2002. Nothing amazed him more than the rapid changes he observed in the sky patterns above London. He started taking photographs of the sky, and these became the basis for his creative endeavor. In the sky's outstanding feature, the kaleidoscopic transformation of clouds, the artist found a parallel to the human memory. Another aspect that appealed to him was the sky's potential - inasmuch as it is universally familiar ? to occupy a place in memory that stretches beyond personal boundaries. Around this time, it is said the artist also started to feel that the mindset of people might be excessively restricted by the concept of gravity. The sky ? where neither direction, nor position nor border strictly applies ? could serve as an equally appropriate motif for his problem awareness.

The photographs of the sky forming the bottom layer of the Float pieces are captured in a moment, whereas the manual tasks of applying paint and varnish and sanding require time. While repeating these manual operations, the artist's mind is presumably in constant, committed before. Put in times of Jungian depth psychology (fig.2), this might correspond to the process of moving from the layer of the consciousness into the depths of the unconscious. While clear memories stay in the consciousness, wavering memories keep crossing the border between consciousness and the individual's deeper unconscious mind. Irretrievable memories sink down to the nethermost layer of the personal unconscious. Underneath the personal unconscious lies the realm of the collective unconscious shared by all humankind, transcending individual boundaries.

By pursuing his memories of the sky into the unconscious, occasionally going even further down to the substrata of the psyche, he is attempting to salvage from the depths someone else’s memories of the sky or memories available to everyone. The accumulated recovered memories are visualized in Float as an elusive image of the sky, by means of a multilayered structure comprising thick beds of paint and varnish with a smooth finished surface. At a glance, it looks like a photograph of the sky. But, rather than being misled by appearances, if we look more closely we will begin to ask ourselves whether this is a photograph or a painting, and our gaze will move incessantly over the surface of the picture trying to hold onto its fleeting image of sky.

Looking at these sky images of clouds that seem on the point of moving, it is hard to know whether they are formed on the surface of the thick layers of paint, or confined somewhere within them or possibly exuded from the layers. We can never be sure what we are looking at or what part it is. While opposed elements, such as background/motif, ground/figure and layer/plain, can be seen in the picture, and are not completely foregone, the boundaries between them are hard to grasp. The title, "Float," having already evoked the volatile sky and changing memories of it, is now connected to the uncertainty of the observer's own vision. Our inability to reach a point of resolution makes us want to continue looking at the picture. The uncertainly about what we are seeing, which gives rise to an apprehension of the unreliability of perception and judgment, forces us to look at the works in the Float series in active way.

As an artist, Azumatei Jun seems gradually to have become interested in expanding the effect produced by individual pieces in Float, shifting the focus to the entire exhibition space. His showing in 2009, DOMAIN OF ART 2* AZUMATEI JUN EXHIBITION (fig.3) clearly represented a move in this direction. This installation consisted of several pieces from a series of large circular works, entitled Fiction, that were derived from Float. The circle form ? with its indeterminate top and bottom or left and right ? permits an omnidirectional point of view, in both exhibiting and seeing. By combining several circular pieces, with this intrinsically omnidirectional quality, and then going further, by randomly embedding them in a sand-covered floor, the installation rejected the idea of a "right position" from which the work should be viewed, leaving it entirely up to the viewer. In other words, the exhibition reinforced the viewer's autonomy.

After this exhibition, in July 2009, Azumatei took up residency in Basel, Switzerland. Since then his creative efforts have been devoted to further penetration of the same questions brought up by Float but using different materials and methods. I will now trace the progress of these efforts by reviewing some individual works.

In June 2010, he gave a solo exhibition in Basel entitled Thresholds. The outstanding feature of the works on show was that they were created by sticking masking tape onto walls. Masking tape is normally used to cover parts that are not to be painted. In these works, however, it is used in lieu of paint: the normal functions are reversed. Also noteworthy is that the borderlines separating the masking tape figures from the surrounding wall (i.e., the ground of the painting) are immediately apparent. In Float, as we have seen, Azumatei set out to nullify the modern dichotomy of figure and ground, by blurring the boundaries between them. Thresholds, on the other hand, can be seen as another approach to the same issue but from the opposite direction. Let us focus on the second work using this method, applied to the walls of a gallery in Hamburg (fig.4). Here the artist has reversed the figure and the ground, using masking tape. The borders between the two areas are so distinct the viewer must surely notice their presence. And yet, if asked which is the figure and which the ground, they would be struck for an answer. As well as being intertwined with each other, the two areas seem to be ever expanding, eroding the walls of the gallery. While able to recognize the evident separation of the two areas, the viewer is disconcerted, unable to settle on an identification of figure and ground or fix the boundaries of the surface.

Other works, incorporating old bedsheets, along the lines of Azumatei’s Sad but True_y (fig.5), shown at a solo exhibition in Tokyo in October 2011, represent further attempts to pursue the effect of blurred borders ? the defining feature of Float ? by applying different techniques. This piece was created by dropping aqueous varnish and poppyseed oil onto an old bedsheet stretched across a wooden frame. This peculiar technique can be positioned as an extension of method used in Float. It is defined, in the words of artist, as "the overwriting of memories."*2

His choice of an old bedsheet for his medium arose from the following episode. One day, while visiting a secondhand shop in Basel, where he lives, Azumatei found some bedding, including used sheets and pillowcase, among the articles on sale. This intrigued him. Whereas people in Japan were unlikely to use sheets passed down from someone else, in Europe they were not. Married to an Italian, the writer Suga Atsuko has recalled from her time living in Milan in the late 1950s and 1960s: "My octogenarian mother-in-low, in her last years, was laughing as she told me that some of the dish towels she was using were mere fragments of what was once a sheet, which she had spun and woven herself."*3 For Europeans, linens were important traditional items in a trousseaux; rather than being treated as expendable, they were looked after carefully and when exhausted for one purpose were adapted to another. It is no exaggeration to say that, in western culture, the bedsheet can be equated with its user. Besides which, if we consider about a third of our life is spent sleeping, the relationship seems obvious.

From this perspective, Azumatei treats the used bedsheet as an object harboring the memories of former owner. The artist stretches a sheet ? impregnated with the memories of some unknown person ? on a wooden frame. He then drops aqueous varnish and poppyseed oil onto it. They mix with each other, expand, change color and produce slightly uneven yellow smears. He waits until they dry before repeating the process. It is said to take him three months to complete a work. The artist is not able to control the expansion of the media or the process of discoloration. Furthermore he is obliged to wait. This is a frustrating technique for its exponent. Azumatei has remarked: "It is a part of the work to look at the smears, that appear somewhat like a map, while saying to myself 'this is really a long-term, collaborative process involving others'."*4 The artist’s words seem to affirm that only by undergoing this frustrating process can he join up with the memories of the person who once lay down on the sheet.

The picture has two areas: the map-like yellow figure, representing subtle gradations of tone generated by the mixing of varnish and oil, and the intact white ground of the sheet not permeated by the media. The boundaries between them, however, are extremely vague and indistinct. Additionally, the painted frame underneath and the wall behind it seem to faintly appear through the sheet. Perplexed, the viewers strains his eyes all the more, due to the uncertainly of his own vision. In terms of physical structure, the layering may remind us of Float, with its overpainted photography, but the work's dimension of transparency clearly separates it from the other. Even so, the visual effect achieved by Float ? that previously described ? has a definite correspondence to the disturbed vision experienced by viewers of this work: the uncertainty caused by the vague definition between figure and ground and the indeterminate physical depth.

Afterwards, in November 2011, Azumatei showed the installation Sad but True at a group exhibition in Basel. This time he traced, rather forcefully, the borderline between the yellow figure and the white ground (which had been indistinguishable in the "bedsheet" painting) and then recreated the picture, transposing the figure and the ground by use of thousands of golden thumbtacks. The materiality of the metal is conspicuous (fig.6). In the "bedsheet" paintings, the yellow areas were nearly integrated with the white areas ? regarded by the artist as those parts where the memories of the former owners remained intact. But now this white area acquires a distinct shape formed by the multitude of glittering golden dots. It is worth nothing that two previously-seen methods are united here: the method which visualized the uncertainty of the boundary, as in Float and the "bedsheet" paintings, and method which paradoxically questions this vagueness by clearly marking the boundary, as in the "masking tape" paintings. In this work with thumbtacks, the relationship between the two areas is even more complex. In the "bedsheet" paintings, the borderlines between the areas were blurred the limits of their expansion were blurred, though the limits of expansion were controlled by the supporting format. In the transposed picture with golden dots, on the other hand, the boundary between the areas is distinct, but the white seems to be a vast of wall ? here, it is the ground that confuses the viewer’s visual sense.

I would also like to comment on the title "Sad but True." It derives from the 1993 song by American heavy metal band Metallica. Azumatei says he adopted this title especially after 11 March 2011, the day of the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. In the artist's words, what the title is meant to suggest is a 'Uhhh…tut' or maybe something like a clicking of the tongue…with a sigh in resigned tone”*5 What is notable here is that, unlike his earlier titles, such as Float or Thresholds, this one contains a quotation from someone's words, an expression of sentiment and motion; it even personalizes the works themselves, quietly evoking something like a narrative hidden within. I feel this will further stimulate and enrich the viewer’s imagination.

The installation plan Azumatei Jun has suggested for this exhibition may be seen as an attempt to extend the complex structure and effects of Sad but True throughout the entire viewing space. Entering the exhibition room, measuring 16 meters by 12, the visitor is greeted by a space from Float series(fig.1) and a "bedsheet" painting(fig.5). Further on, there appears a rectangular platform on the floor, resembling a bed. A “bedsheet” painting is buried in the top of it. Beyond the platform stands a wall of large wooden frames forming random grids, as if cutting across the exhibition room. In the grids, 18 "bedsheet" paintings are inserted. Passing through an opening in the grid-wall, the visitor is confronted by sets of several tens of thousands of pearl pins on the facing wall. These pins describe a figure that is the material embodiment of the white areas constituting the ground of the "bedsheet" paintings of various sizes seen in the grid. Without a doubt, the constructed will keep stirring the imagination, by quietly, yet definitely, disrupting the viewer's vision.

Finally, I would like to add something about the "bedsheet" paintings inserted in the wooden frames(fig7.8). Their feature is the red and green color applied in pencil to the original floral patterns of the sheets. In this way, each piece seems to take on a more distinctive character. Theimpression is emphasized by the work’s titles, such as Q-A2:Is it all a lie? (fig.7), Cy-B3:No matter what happens, it will eventually wither away.(fig.8) and so on. All the "bedsheet" paintings are given titles that suggest quotations from someone's words: possibly a monologue or part of a conversation. I wonder if these titles don't lend each piece a certain personality.

Who is uttering the words: the former owners, the artist himself or a personality arising from their intertwined memories? Could it be someone we know, possibly even ourselves? Somehow they seem to signify the start of a story. No doubt the story of each of us.

宮島綾子(国立新美術館 主任研究員)









東亭は、「Float」の1点1点が喚起するこの作用を、個別の作品から展示空間全体に敷衍することへと、次第に関心を傾けていったように思われる。2009年の「DOMAIN OF ART 2:東亭順展」の展示には(fig.3)、この方向性を明確に見てとることができるかもしれない。このとき東亭は、「Float」から派生した、大型の円形の作品「Fiction」を複数組み合わせたインスタレーションを行った。天地も左右も定めえない正円は、展示と鑑賞の双方において全方位的な視点を可能にする。すでにそれ自体で全方位的な視点を内包する円形の作品を、複数組み合わせ、壁に展示するだけでなく、床に敷き詰めた砂にランダムに埋め込んだインスタレーションは、作品が見られるべき正しい位置という概念を排し、鑑賞者に全面的に見方を委ねる、言い換えれば、鑑賞者の主体性を誘発するものであった。



他方で、東亭が2011年10月に東京での個展で発表した《Sad but True_y》(fig.5)に連なる、中古のシーツを用いた絵画の仕事は、「Float」を特徴づける境界の曖昧さを、別様の技法によって追求する試みに位置づけられるだろう。この作品は、古いシーツを木枠に張り、そこに水性ニスとポピーオイルを垂らしこむことによって制作されている。この独自の技法の特性は、「Float」のそれの延長線上に位置づけられるもので、作家に身の言葉によれば、「記憶の上書き」と定義される(註2)。

中古のシーツという素材の選択は、バーゼルに暮らす東亭が、ある日、現地のセカンド・ショップでシーツや枕カバーなどの寝具が売られていることに気付き、興味を抱いたことに端を発する。他人が使ったシーツを使うなど、日本では考えにくいが、ヨーロッパではそれを買い求める人がいるのである。1950年代末から60年代を通じてミラノに暮らした須賀敦子が、「私の姑も、八十過ぎの晩年に使っていた何枚かの皿ふきんは、自分で紡いで織ったシーツのなれのはてだと言って笑っていた」(註3) と回想しているように、ヨーロッパでは伝統的にリネン類は重要な嫁入り道具のひとつであり、消耗品というよりも、さまざまに用途を変えながら大切に使われるものであった。してみれば、西欧文化圏において、シーツは、その使用者とほぼ同一視されうるアイテムといっても過言ではないだろう。また、人はその生涯の約3分の1の時間を眠って過ごすという点でも、シーツと深く関わっている。



次いで、2011年11月のバーゼルにおけるグループ展で発表した「Sad but True」のインスタレーションにおいて、東亭は、シーツの絵画でほぼ判別不可能なものとして提示した黄色い図像と白い地との境目を、半ば強引に書き起こし、その地と図を反転させた鏡像を、物質感のある何百個もの金色の画鋲によって明示した(fig.6)。絵画では黄色の領域と半ば一体化していた白い領域 - 作家はそれをシーツの持ち主の手つかずの記憶が残る領域と見なす - は、金色に輝くドットの連なりによって、鮮明なかたちを与えられる。ここで特筆すべきは、「Float」とシーツの絵画に共有される、境界の不確かさそのものを可視化する手法と、マスキング・テープの絵画で追求された、境界の明示によって逆説的にその曖昧さを問う手法が、ひとつに結ばれ、領域の関係性がさらに複雑化されていることだ。絵画では二つの領域の境目は曖昧であったが、それらの範囲は支持体によって限定されていた。対して、鏡像にあっては、領域間の境は明快でありながら、どこまでも広がる白い壁??地の領域が、観者の感覚を惑わせる。

もうひとつ付言しておきたいのが、「Sad but True」というタイトルについてである。とくに3.11以降に制作した作品に付すことが多かったというこのタイトルは、アメリカのバンド、メタリカの楽曲(1993年)のそれに由来する。直訳すれば「悲しいけれど本当さ」となるが、作家はこれの示唆するところを、「「フゥー・・・チッ」というような諦めを含んだタメ息まじりの舌打ち?のような感じ」(註5) と述べている。ここで注目したいのは、このタイトルが、それまでの「Float」や「Thresholds」とは異なって、誰かによって発せられた言葉や、その心情、感情を連想させることである。それは、作品に人格を纏わせ、そのうちにひそむ物語性とでも言うべきものを、ほのかに喚起する。その含みは、観者の想像力を豊かに刺激するものではないだろうか。

本展のために東亭が提示した展示プランは、この「Sad but True」の重層的な構造と作用を、空間全体に拡張する試みと言えるかもしれない。16×12メートルの展示室に踏み入れた私たちを出迎えるのは、「Float」シリーズからの1点(fig.1)と、シーツを用いた絵画1点(fig.5)である。さらに先を見やると、床上に置かれたベッドのような矩形の台が目にとまるだろう。その上面にはシーツの絵画が1点はめ込まれる。その先には、ランダムな格子をなす大きな木枠が、展示室を斜めに横切る。木枠にはシーツの絵画18点がはめ込まれ、門のような開口部がひとつある。それを通り抜けると、目前の壁に、何千本ものパールピンの連なりが現われるはずだ。それらは、木枠にはめられた大小さまざまなシーツの絵画の地をなす白い領域を、ひとつの図像として物質的に浮かび上がらせる。そこにはきっと、私たちの視覚を静かに、だが確実に揺さぶりながら、想像力を無限にかきたてる空間が出現することだろう。





Fig.1 Float_22.07.2011
撮影:Adriano A Biond

Fig.2 心の構造
2009年[1999年初版] p.33より転載

Fig.3 Domain of Art:2 東亭順展
プラザノース・ノースギャラリー 埼玉

Fig.4 Thresholds 2010
壁にマスキングテープ、 310 x 928 cm
Kuenstlerhaus FRISE, ハンブルク

Fig.5 Sad but True_y
a piece of space APS

Fig.6 Sad but True
Bollag projektraum、バーゼル

Fig.7 Q-A2:あれは全部嘘だということでしょ?
2012年、100 x 100 cm
撮影:Adriano A Biond

Fig.8 Cy-B3:どちらにしてもそのうちに枯れてしまう1
2012年、100 x 100 cm
撮影:Adriano A Biond

1. Andre Bazin, Qu'est-ce que le Cin?ma? I : Ontologie et Langage, 1958, Paris, p.15. 邦訳:アンドレ・バザン/訳:小海永二「写真映像の存在論」、『映画とは何か』2、美術出版社、1970年、p.19
2. 作家より提示された本展プランのメモ、2012年8月21日
3. 須賀敦子「プロシュッティ先生のパスコリ」、『ミラノ 霧の風景』、1990年、白水社(『須賀敦子全集』第1巻、河出書房新社、2006年、p.39)
4. 筆者宛のメール、2012年6月7日
5. 筆者宛のメール、2012年10月28日

林道義『無意識への扉をひらく ユング心理学入門I』、PHP新書、2000年