Understanding Space: Interview with Megumi Matsubara

House of 33 Years, Nara, Japan, 2013  photo © Tadasu Yamamoto

House of 33 Years, Nara, Japan, 2013
photo © Tadasu Yamamoto

Japanese artist Megumi Matsubara’s work is both sensory and highly sensitive. Fascinated by space, she uses light to create tranquil and meditative experiences for the viewer in her installations, photographs and videos. Matsubara’s work is concerned with the paradox of emptiness filling a space: her installations often consist of absent spaces that are redolent of presence. Her work expresses a certain delicacy and lightness, and is gently evocative of the traces left by memory.

The artist now lives and works between Tokyo and Fes and her fascination with light and space are directly informed by the two cultures. The interplay of the bright Moroccan sun through the arches and courtyards of Fes is echoed in her experiments with shadows and her belief in the multiplicity of memory and space is suggestive of elements of Eastern philosophy.

Matsubara’s work has been exhibited multiple times in Japan and Morocco and she will open an exhibition in Milan later this month.

I asked her more about her work and her interest in space.

How does your work incorporate elements of architecture and what about this interests you?

I cannot draw a line between architecture and art when I deal with space. I have a habit to think [of] everything with space. And when I say space, I do not mean physical. When writing texts, by using words on a blank sheet of paper, I am also creating some kind of space. To me, space has nothing to do with physical environments. The only space that exists to me is a space in my mind, in people’s minds, and it’s sharable. All my work is based on this understanding of space. Space has become my language to communicate and I like to develop this language. This language does not demand your literacy. It only demands your sensibility and everybody does have a capacity to be in touch with your own sensibility. I trust architectural space for this quality to speak, engaging our multiple senses simultaneously. It can enwrap complexity into one experience, and it does not eliminate anyone. When it is architectural space, you are already inside to experience it, no matter if you do or want to understand it or not. And the experience might change over the shift of time you spend with it. I find it awfully demanding and incredibly open. I value this quality that architectural space offers.

You have spoken previously about exposing the ‘pleats that are always hidden’ in a space, could you elaborate on this?

Since my childhood, I always wonder what we see when we close our eyes, in other words, our internal vision based on memory. Memory is the fundamental thing that is hidden under the surface of what you see. And it is highly personal and complex. If you start catching this hidden surface, endless images flow into your mind, and your experience may become more intense. I like to create this moment of awareness. I have no idea and I do not need to know what everybody is seeing through my work. But I do like my work to carry a wind that has the possibility to touch the hidden surface of each person. In pleats, there are always the other side hidden under the surface you see. This other side only appears when there is a movement. A small wind could be enough to turn over the pleats or let them spread. Even small, if a wind is allowed to touch, the consequence could be a total shift of one’s entire view.

I barely go out in the light, Archival pigment print, Framed with museum glass, 107.5 x 72 cm, 2014 © Megumi Matsubara

I barely go out in the light, Archival pigment print, Framed with museum glass, 107.5 x 72 cm, 2014
© Megumi Matsubara & Voice Gallery

What does ‘spatiality’ mean to you? When do you feel most compelled to work and create?

When you translate ‘space’ into Japanese, it is written ‘空間’, and read kuukan. It is a combination of two characters; ‘空 kuu’ meaning ‘emptiness’ or ‘void’, and ‘間 kan’ meaning ‘gap’ or ‘between’. ‘Void’ means that there is nothing. But when you say ‘between’, there is a ‘gap’, and that suggests there is something, possibly more than two things that make this gap appear between them. Space has no boundary nor end to me. When I look at this Japanese word for ‘space’, I wonder if ‘space’ is about ‘nothingness’ and ‘in between’ at the same time, which gives me two contradictory images. But this contradiction also further compels me. I am interested in something that can only exist as a state but neither as permanent nor perfect one. I am interested in the state of being that is rather fragile, therefore powerful. And I want to see more of this balanced state between presence and absence through spatiality.

What role does light play in your work and what is its significance for you?

Light has no role to play. It is light that gives a role and significance to my work. Light is there, even in the darkness we know. But oftentimes I need to be patient and look at things with attention, until light finds them and I see the light. And this attention is exactly what light requires for our secret transaction. In exchange, it gives me clarity to understand things, often about the nature of beings.

Rehearsal view, Installation & performance by Megumi Matsubara & Nástio Mosquito, YCC, Yokohama, Japan 2013 photo © Yokohama Arts Foundation

Rehearsal view, Installation & performance by Megumi Matsubara & Nástio Mosquito, YCC, Yokohama, Japan 2013
photo © Yokohama Arts Foundation


What has been your favourite exhibition experience?

Many… as I often choose to work with places with characters. What I like to do is to communicate with the exhibition space itself. I really like spending time alone in the space where I am supposed to do something. I need this very private intimate moment with it before I touch any part of it. When I first step into the potential venue for an exhibition, I always tell to myself, “Remember you do not need to do anything!” I do like to interact with space. However, it does not mean I always need to do something. So I come with this mindset “What can I do?” I am interested in adding something only if I find it is truly important to do so.

In current years, in Marrakech, I encountered two unique architectures through my exhibitions. One was Theatre Royale, a ruined opera hall that has never been finished and remained unused since it was built, and another was Douiria Mouassine in the medina that used to be a noble family’s refined guest apartment in 16th century. In such characteristic architectures, I spent many days letting myself understand the space through my body. To me it is very important to give myself time to feel the place, before I even start thinking about doing anything. But once I have established a certain level of intimacy with it, we both open up to each other, so I start knowing what I need and want to do, and that becomes my favourite moment. It is very similar to the process of human relationships, too.

Recently, I also for the first time worked on a scenography for a contemporary dance theatre “Seeing Red”(*). This was not an exhibition, but was a memorable experience in creating space. Ignoring regular constraints of theatre sets as I simply didn’t know them, I only focused on a series of phenomena created by the scenography responding to light. The initiator and technical director Takayuki Fujimoto is highly acclaimed world-wide in pushing the boundary of LED lighting. He computer programmes everything and works like a magician. It was a pleasure to rely on the effect of light produced by Takayuki’s extraordinary skill and work collectively with a multi-disciplined team of about 15 people including the choreographer Jung Young Doo and three dancers, and the musician Yosio Ootani, to create a space of experience that challenges one’s perception.

* Seeing Red is a performance piece initiated and directed by Takayuki Fujimoto, choreographed by Jung Young Doo, with scenography by Megumi Matsubara. Performance premiered at KAAT – Kanagawa Arts Theatre, Yokohama, Japan in December 2014. The title is taken from Nicholas Humphrey’s book that explores the sensation created by the act of seeing red. What’s involved in “seeing red”? “Consciousness matters,” Humphrey concludes with striking paradox, “because it is its function to matter. It has been designed to create in human beings a Self whose life is worth pursuing.” Deeply inspired by this paradox, the performance piece challenges the very act of “seeing”. Through exploring the act of “seeing red”, we challenge our consciousness with which we create a Self in us as a basis of human value that connects with other Selves. The piece has already been developed since 2011, previously shown as α & β versions in Dec 2011 and Dec 2012 in BankART Yokohama. This version became the third version of creation and the first one that Megumi Matsubara joined to create its scenography to be developed as a public performance.

Installation view, The Blind Dream, Solo exhibition, Marrakech Biennale 5, Douiria Mouassine, Marrakech, Morocco, 2014 photo © Megumi Matsubara

Installation view, The Blind Dream, Solo exhibition, Marrakech Biennale 5, Douiria Mouassine, Marrakech, Morocco, 2014
photo © Megumi Matsubara

Could you tell us about your upcoming show?

The show is entitled “A proposal for a textbook to learn Braille, English, and other languages”(*). It will run from the 13th of April until the end of May 2015 at Fonderia Artistica Battaglia in Milano, Italy, where work was produced.

It is a series of bronze sculptures casted from clay sculptures made by blind students. Those original clay sculptures were made during pottery workshops in Morocco and Egypt in 2012(*). I took photographs of the objects and made an imagery work after the workshop but did not have any plan for bronze. At that time, I kept a selection of the original objects hoping one day to give another life to them. They were just clay and easily breakable, some of them already being damaged. In 2014, I decided to cast them into bronze, working in collaboration with Fonderia Artistica Battaglia, with Italy’s most skilled artisans. They make public art commissions and so on, and have never been asked to cast such strange small objects into bronze. Naturally, it became a unique and long process, but very precious one. The work began with a team of conservators to restore and reinforce the original objects. Every piece was patiently restored referring to my memory and photographs, if not the original objects. Some of them could hardly resist the molding process. The most delicate pieces were disintegrated into soil, after the molds were completed. This exhibition will be the first opportunity to showcase the finished bronze edition, featuring a complete set of thirty sculptures.

*Exhibition information: A proposal for a textbook to learn Braille, English, and other languages Megumi Matsubara What do you see, when you close your eyes? “A proposal for a textbook to learn Braille, English, and other languages” is an assemblage of internal visions: a modest presentation of the vast field of profundity where language becomes obscure, yet true to its original raison d’être; a means to describe one’s internal vision, and not external images. —Megumi Matsubara Exhibition period: 13 Apr – 30 May 2015 Fonderia Artistica Battaglia, via Stilicone, 10 Milano http://www.fonderiabattaglia.com/

*The first workshop took place at the Berber Museum of Ourika with eleven blind and visually-impaired children from IDMAJ, as part of the artist’s solo exhibition RÊVEURS RÊVE RÊVES at La Maison de La Photographie de Marrakech. The second workshop was held at Darb 1718 in Cairo, and included thirteen blind and visually-impaired girls from Al Nour Wal Amal Association.

Sculptures, A proposal for a textbook to learn Braille, English, and other languages, 2012-2015 photo © Oli Bonzanigo

Sculptures, A proposal for a textbook to learn Braille, English, and other languages, 2012-2015
photo © Oli Bonzanigo


What other projects do you have for the future?

I started a project of fragrance, entitled “Undress”. It is a new entity and medium I use, giving a further dimension to my understanding of space. The first phase will be presented in May 2015 at a group show Treffpunkt / Carrefour(*) curated by Alya Sebti, at IfA Gallery Stuttgart in Germany. I am also working with architect Hiroi Ariyama on an architecture project, villa in Karuizawa, Japan, which starts its construction phase this summer. The house has multiple courtyards, each open to the sky, and projects kaleidoscopic movement of light and shadows within, throughout the day. I admit it is a pure hybrid of two cultures: Morocco and Japan, two countries I am currently based at. And it is a hybrid of the world of images and that of reality, if those two are ever separate worlds. And there is a series of photographic poetry books I started publishing. To explore language and translation is the primary subject in this project and it is linked to my work and encounter with the blind students and our exchange.
*Exhibition information: Treffpunkt / Carrefour Exhibition period: 8 May – 5 July 2015 ifa Gallery Stuttgart (Institut fur Auslandsbeziehungen Gallery Stuttgart) http://www.ifa.de/en/visual-arts/ifa-galleries/exhibitions/carrefour-treffpunkt.html

 

Megumi Matsubara, Theatre Royale, 2012 photo © Micke Thorsby

Megumi Matsubara, Theatre Royale, 2012
photo © Micke Thorsby

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