Op de rand van totale vernietiging|
Domeniek Ruyters is hoofdredacteur van METROPOLIS M
De vloer vol sigarettenpeuken van Keiko Sato (1957) is uitgegroeid tot een klassieker. Eens in de zoveel jaar voert ze de installatie uit 1997 opnieuw uit. Dit najaar in Annie Gentils Gallery in Antwerpen (nog te zien tot en met 15 januari). Vreemd dat het werk nog geen deel uitmaakt van een museumcollectie.
Al haar vloerwerken (in vijftien jaar heeft ze er een tiental gemaakt) ogen abstract. Toch is de maatschappij altijd dichtbij. Zoals ook bij drie recente vloerwerken die ze eerder dit jaar in een kunstcentrum in Japan realiseerde. De bezoeker komt binnen via een balkon, waar een landschap van aarde is gerealiseerd. Her en der steken er gebroken flessen uit, als vlammen van een vulkaan. Sato spreekt over een ‘archetypische wereld’, en noemt het een beginpunt.
Een tweede installatie biedt een meer huiselijk beeld, een ‘binnenwereld’ bestaande uit gebroken serviezen en verfijnde sporen van pasta en rijst. Het blijkt het tussenstation voor de derde, meest imponerende installatie, die in de aansluitende grote ruimte is opgebouwd. Het is opnieuw een landschap, een ‘buitenwereld’ dit keer met gekapte boomstronken die met een verfijnd stelsel van draden met het plafond zijn verbonden. Zoals vaker bij Sato wordt destructie gekoppeld aan constructie, teloorgang aan nieuw leven. In dit geval maakt het bos letterlijk plaats voor zonnestralen. De Duitse filosoof Martin Heidegger noemde zo’n open plek in het bos een ‘Lichtung’: er wordt ruimte gemaakt voor het mogelijke. Bij Sato moest de installatie ruimte maken voor onder meer een dansvoorstelling en een optreden van boeddhistische monniken.
Als ik Sato spreek, gaat het vooral over haar tentoonstelling in het Museum voor Moderne kunst in Arnhem, waar ze overigens geen vloerwerk zal tonen. Al een kleine tien jaar houdt ze zich veel met ander werk bezig, op onderzoek gebaseerde collages en tekst. De aanleiding voor dit tweede spoor in het oeuvre ligt bij een ziekte die het haar gedurende enige tijd onmogelijk maakte de arbeidsintensieve vloerwerken te maken. Ondanks dat ongemak trok ze naar New York voor een tentoonstelling, waar ze een van haar meest agressieve werken tot dan realiseerde. Een kantoorsetting, de bureautafel gevuld met een verwoest ensemble van computerapparatuur, in de stoel een soort vermolmde klomp, een gesmolten brok hersens, en aan de muur foto’s van ingeslagen ramen. De tentoonstelling met dit beeld van vernietigd kantoorleven opende vier dagen voor 9/11.
Sato, dochter van een voormalig Japanse kamikazepiloot, die, zo vertelde Sato’s oma haar, terugkeerde van zijn missie omdat hij te weinig kerosine had, beleefde de aanslag in New York bijzonder intensief. Het deed haar beslissen te gaan werken aan een onderzoek naar haar vader, die ze nooit gekend heeft omdat haar ouders toen ze drie was gescheiden zijn. Ze reisde naar Japan, waar ze in gesprek ging met generatiegenoten van haar vader, veelal kunstenaars die ook in het leger hadden gevochten. De gesprekken werden gefilmd en zijn later ook op papier uitgewerkt in How to tell a story of my father, waarvan in 2009 ook een afsluitende publicatie is verschenen.
In de teksten uit het boekje cirkelt Sato enigszins onzeker om het vraagstuk. De geschiedenis van haar vader en het raadsel van de kamikaze worden niet direct verduidelijkt. Het zijn meer verhalen over de oorlog vanuit verschillend perspectief, inclusief de persoonlijke drama’s, de onmogelijke keuzes, de sfeer van geweld. Het schept een indrukwekkend menselijk beeld van een generatie die wij in Nederland kennen als bijzonder gewelddadig.
Sato verwerkte de research niet alleen documentair, maar ook in tekeningen, bijvoorbeeld van de slachtoffers van Hiroshima, en in veel collageachtig werk, waarin kleine afbeeldingen zweven in een zee van woorden en notities. De beelden duiken op uit de woorden, alsof ze eruit voortkomen. Sato zegt dat het andersom bedoeld is: de beelden zetten zich voort in een eindeloos spreken, enigszins zoals in haar vloerwerken elke articulatie strijdt tegen onzichtbaarheid.
Haar onderzoek heeft zich inmiddels uitgebreid, van Japan naar andere plekken, andere oorlogshaarden, zoals Berlijn waar ze enige tijd verbleef en waarover ze een omvangrijk ‘bulletin board’ realiseerde (ook te zien in Arnhem). Een belangrijk verschil tussen de vloerwerken en deze collages en tekstwerken is de kritische toon ervan. Waar de landschappen melancholisch zijn en zinspelen op een wereld in verval waartegen het leven zich maar moeizaam weet te organiseren, daar is dit latere werk pessimistischer van aard, minder hoopvol, soms zelfs ronduit negatief. Sato spreekt van werk dat uitdrukking geeft aan ‘menselijk leed’. Het is een aanklacht tegen de oorlog, tegen de mensheid die het humane perspectief maar al te vaak laat varen, ten gunste van geweld.
On the brink of total destruction|
Domeniek Ruyters is the editor in chief of Metropolis M
Translated into English by Evelien Rose
The floor covered in cigarette butts from Keiko Sato (1957) has become a classic. Once every few years she accomplishes the 1997 installation. This autumn in Annie Gentils Gallery in Antwerp (continues until January the 15th). Strangely this work is not part of a museum collection yet.
All her floor works (in fifteen years she made about ten) appear abstract. However, they are always related to society. Like in three recent floor works she realized in an art center in Japan earlier this year. The visitor enters by way of a balcony, where a landscape of earth is realized. Everywhere broken bottles protrude, like flames from a volcano. Sato mentions an archetype world and calls it a starting point.
A second installation shows a more domestic image, an inside world, consisting of broken tableware and subtle traces of pasta and rice. It appears to be the transitional stage to the third most impressive installation, composed in the next large area. Again a landscape, an outside world, this time with chopped down tree stumps which are connected to the ceiling with a fine construction of threads. As often the case with Sato, destruction is linked to construction, collapse to new life. In this case, the wood literally gives room to sunbeams. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger, named such an open spot in the woods a “Lichtung”: space is created for the possible. In the space of the installation Sato made room for, among others, a dance performance and a performance of Buddhist monks.
When I speak to Sato, it is mainly about her exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in Arnhem, where, by the way, she will not show floor work. For a little less than ten years now, she is much engaged in other work: collages based on investigation and text. The cause of this second track in her work lies in an illness which, for some time, made it impossible for her to make the labour intensive floor works. Despite this inconvenience she went to New York for an exhibition, where she accomplished one of her most aggressive works up till then. An office setting, the desk covered in destroyed pieces of computer equipment, in the chair something like a mouldered clog, a melted piece of brain, and on the wall pictures of shattered windows. The exhibition with this destructed office life opened four days before 9/11.
Sato, daughter of a former Japanese kamikaze pilot, who, as Sato’s grandmother told her, returned from his mission for lack of kerosene, experienced the attack in New York as extremely intense. It made her decide to work on an investigation into her father, whom she never knew because her parents were divorced when she was three years old. She travelled to Japan, where she interviewed her father’s contempories, mostly artists. One of them also fought in the army. The interviews were filmed and later on developed on paper resulting in ‘How to tell a story of my father’, of which a concluding publication appeared in 2009.
In the texts in her book, Sato circles a little insecurely around the problem. The history of her father and the enigma of the kamikaze are not clarified immediately. They are more war stories seen from different perspectives, including personal dramas, impossible choices and an atmosphere of violence. It presents an impressive human image of a generation in the Netherlands known as exceptionally violent.
Sato used the research not only for documentation, but also in drawings, e.g. of the Hiroshima victims and in many of the collage like work where small images float in a sea of words and notes. The images surface from the words as if arising from them. Sato explains that it is meant the other way around: the images proceed in endless speaking, like in her floor works every articulation battles with invisibility.
In the meantime, her research has extended from Japan to other places, other hotbeds of war, like Berlin where she stayed for some time and over which she accomplished a big ‘bulletin board’(also to be seen in Arnhem ). A significant difference between the floor works and these collages and text works is the critical note in them. Where the landscapes are showing melancholy and hint at a disintegrating world against which life only painfully knows how to organize itself, is this latter work of a more pessimistic nature, less hopeful, sometimes even downright negative. Sato calls it work that expresses human suffering. It is a complaint against war, against humanity which abandons the human perspective too often, in favour of violence.
Keiko Sato in The Museum of Modern Art in Arnhem|
The pointlessness of war portrayed in collages
<H>ART (the art magazine in Antwerp), January 2011
Translated into English by Evelien Rose
The subject of artist Keiko Sato (1957, Iwaki City Japan) is a ponderous one. Personal matters and history coincide in her search for the past. For Sato was in New York in 2001, at the time the airplanes flew into the WTC towers. Instantly she thought of her own father who was a kamikaze pilot during the Second World War. He survived. On that fatal day in September the crude realization surfaced that she hardly knew anything about his experiences. So Sato undertook her own journey of exploration, resulting in a book named: “How to tell a story of my father”. The project, consisting of collages and interviews, is the core of her compact exhibition on a narrow gallery in the Museum of Modern Art in Arnhem. There, Sato knows how to keep the appalling pointlessness of war, death and decay in control in stylized collages
Sato is mainly known for her large room filling installations, full of broken bricks or pieces of glass. They express melancholy, and evoke a sense of destruction.
The artist started painting in the early eighties, attended the Goldsmith’s College of Fine Art in London and in the early nineties the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. Presently she lives in Nijmegen.
For the work ‘Berlin Wall 2006-2010 she collected images, stories and quotations by Bertolt Brecht and others. She also recorded her own, somewhat trivial memories of her stay in the city in 1987 and 1993. She felt ignorant and lonely then. The anecdotes about the war are more poignant. How for example the passageways below the underground station Gesundbrunnen served as an air-raid shelter, until there was not enough air left anymore and everybody had to get out again, whether there were bombardments or not. The fragment originates from the book: ‘Berlin, the downfall, 1945’ by Antony Beevor.
In a certain way Sato’s collages are neat. Pieces of cardboard are photocopied. The visual effect is that all rough sordidness that belongs to collages, is neatly brushed away. And then it dawns on you: her occasionally almost graphic approach works as a soothing blanket preventing the art to scream the stereotypes of war, death and violence but telling it in a more subtle way. Sometimes, whispering is better than shouting in order to be heard. Another collage consists of gruesome images of victims of the Second World War: a heartbreaking scene of a father who buried a tricycle together with his deceased three years old son. He played outside when the bomb fell on Hiroshima. Diminutively written words surround the images. Cut out cries, and sounds crawl as padding around the photographs, as if to reduce the distress.
At one time Sato worked as a midwife but wanted to start painting. The artist Kaoru Yukoi was the initiator of the artist group called Wind, which Sato joined in 1981. Yukoi was politically active in the student movement in the fifties and sixties and with a fresh memory of the atrocities of the war, he protested against the Japanese authorities. The politically committed art of Yukoi’s generation opened her eyes. Being an artist, at first she just wanted to paint, but finally she realized that art cannot be separated from political and social matters.
Politics are personal, the feminists already declared. This adagio is easily applicable to the work of Sato in her search of understanding how war influences and deforms people. It is her willingness to include other peoples’ lives and histories in her work that makes the raw emotions be left behind to be replaced by understanding and maybe even insight. A particularly impressive effect of this small presentation in Arnhem.
Keiko Sato in Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem
De zinloosheid van oorlogen in collages
<H>ART (kunsttijdschrift in Antwerp), Januari 2011
"Another Space" by Keiko Sato
Hitoshi Nakano, the curator of Kanagawa Prefectural Gallery, Japan
Good weather or bad weather A clear sky A long way
Perplexed Far away Wind Perplexed Soul Perplexed Field
People are like this
Giya Kancheli, Styx (for viola, mixed choir and orchestra)1
There is an art space run by a Dutch art foundation close to Berlin Ostbahnhof. I met Keiko Sato there on 7th June 2006, the day before she was to hold an open studio.
In Berlin City, parts of architectural implements such as gravel, fragments of the Berlin Wall, bricks, and fragments of ducts and stones wrapped in newspaper were displayed as if to smooth down the floor. The view of discarded materials covered in sand and dust spread all over reminded me of a desolate plain where the wind comes blowing from the side and makes a mess. There was something overwhelmingly violent about the work as if it was denying the human act of begging nature for redemption.
Keiko Sato. Her father was a kamikaze pilot. Her parents got divorced when she was three years old. Keiko was brought up by her maternal grandmother. After graduating senior high school, she studied at a nursing school and a training school for midwives before serving as a midwife at Fukushima Medical University Hospital. When she was around 23, she joined "Kaze [Wind]", an art group led by Kaoru Yokoi. Later on, she met the yoga [Western-style painting] artist Akira Hashimoto and concentrated further on painting. In those days, she read Shonen Art 2 as a reference book to study art. In this book, she found an article on applications for Goldsmiths' College in London. Sato went to England in 1989. She then moved to the Netherlands, where after doing postgraduate studies, she continues to be based today.
This is the first time for Sato to be presenting her work in Japan. The gallery is approximately 700 square meters large and consists of a ground floor and basement connected by two flights of stairs. As there are two levels, artists trying to create an installation in this space always rack their brains over the structure.
The work presented in this exhibition is entitled Metamorphosis. It is an installation composed of the three worlds of "the archetypal scene", "the outer world", and "the inner world".
In "the archetypal scene", shards of brown, green, transparent, and blue glass are arranged amidst white sand spread over in concentric?circles, waves, and streamlines. These shards are made by winding a string soaked in alcohol around a bottle and lighting it so that it gets broken, freezing a bottle so that it breaks naturally upon contact with air, or by smashing a bottle with a hammer. Consequently, this material is the result of coincidence and human effort. The sand has a powdery texture. It looks as if the gods who created the universe are looking down at the earth from the sky. The top of a mountain goes through a cloud. There are islands afloat in a wide expanse of sea. There is a metallic future city of the type that would appear in a movie. The sand is structured like the Buddhist concept of a "rock garden" or a "wind-wrought pattern" made mischievously by the wind. Sato inserts the glass shards elaborately with precision into the sand. The sand symbolizes the never-ending flow of time, during which rocks are fractionized. By piercing this sand with shards of glass, which are suggested as fragments of civilization, Sato presents the two realities of the space-time going by and the elements of which the substances surrounding us are composed.
"The outer world" is literally the outside world which confronts people. Soil, sand, and leaf mold. Vines and withered leaves. Logs cut from huge trees. If you look at the basement from the ground floor balcony, approximately 30 island-like groups composed of soil and logs are scattered across the floor. Memories of scenes in nature captured by Sato are gathered, spread, and uplifted. By going downstairs to the basement, your viewpoint shifts from a distant view to a close-range view. Viewed close by, there are electronic parts of different colors such as a transistor, a condenser, or electric wires with their covers removed. They add color to the monotone world like flowers benefitting from the faint sunlight filtering down through the trees deep in a dense forest. Attached to the logs are innumerous strings that reach up to the ceiling.
"The inner world" represents home, where rain, wind, noise, and danger are shut out and a peaceful space in daily life is secured. Groceries such as rice, dried noodles before being cooked, flour, and candy. Tableware such as plates, spoons, glasses, and cups. The materials representing the inner world rhythmically form lines and arcs and are stacked with regularity. However, there are also traces of someone's intentional and violent intrusion. Evidence of an unclear and eerie obstruction, about which there is no telling who did it for what reason. Whoever it is that created this cause seems to be holding her breath in the background of this work.
The "Styx" was the river dividing this world from Hades in ancient Greece.
Ten years prior to the current exhibition, on 7th November 1999, a grand composition given the name of this river was premiered in Amsterdam, where Keiko Sato happens to be based. This river is not the border between life and death but considered an intermediary domain where life and death come and go. All living beings are born and later depart from this world. What the human beings make will one day get broken or rotten and return to their origin. Life and death are solemn facts. However, Keiko Sato provides us not only with the pessimism induced by the death of everything but a powerful hope called regeneration, which is brought forth anew. There are signs of an allegoric death and the vitality of life concealed in this installation. The circulation of life and material appears to be an exchange of greetings between visible and invisible worlds. Here in Keiko Sato's Metamorphosis, the majestic river "Styx", which bears the transition between the finite and the infinite or grief and hope, is depicted.
1 Based on the Japanese translation of the lyrics by Yuko Adachi.
The Japan premiere took place at Kanagawa Kenritsu Ongakudo on 15th October 2005.
2 Nobuo Nakamura, Shonen Ato
Boku no Taiatari Gendai Bijutsi [Boys' Art Hurling Myself at Contemporary Art], Yudachisha, 1986.
When I create a work, I first follow the nature, structure, quality and the meaning of materials and objects that I am dealing with. For instance, I believe that the emotional meaning of cigarette butts lies in the fact that they are a remnant of human behaviour and desire. Ashes imply that something was burnt. They represent the process of disappearance and death. In the end, I use this emotional meaning and the organic structure of objects to give form to my work.
One day, I put a big glass tube (about 30cm x 150cm) on the floor in the corridor of the Art Academy. A man with limited eyesight knocked over the tube and smashed it completely. I went there and knew I had discovered something important, yet it was not clear to me what that something was. How the tube turned into pieces of glasses in one second was amazing. The tube was no longer there: only fragments remained. I then realized that in nature, everything changes, and that nothing is stable. When something disappears or is destroyed, something new begins. This discovery gave me an idea of destroying objects and making something new out of them, as if creating a new landscape with pre-existing materials.
In my work, the old and the new, and the end and the beginning are present at the same time. In other words, different concepts of time claim the same space. The works show and imply the direct and natural process of material changing. For example, when the heat of the tea inside the cylinders melts the wax and clay, it leaks onto the floor spilling their contents. Another example is in a recent work public can recognize the different states of growth of the beans in the same space.
The development of individualism has been very important in modern Europe. The strong sense of ?individual' in Europe seems to come from the conviction that human being is at the centre of the world. As a consequence, the past is ordered in a chronological way according to individual experience. In Japan, we tend to grasp history as a whole. For example, we are satisfied with the family tree, and do not try to remember each single name. In Europe, people develop by pursuing their personal desire, and by following a sense of responsibility and judgement. Having established their ego, people tend to relate differently to others. This is the reason why, in Europe, it is possible to objectify one's feelings by transforming them into symbolic forms. In Japan, we tend to acquire a sense of coexistence. Consequently, we have a tendency to make connections with things around us rather than clearly objectifying them. For example, HAIKU is a unification of the state of nature and one's feelings, not a simple expression of one's emotions. This unification is expressed by a subtle connection between words.
In my work, I consider it important to have not only an emphasis on aggression, but also on conflicting aspects of things, such as order and disorder, life and death, violence and peace, beauty and ugliness, and humour and seriousness. Therefore, I could not totally agree with some public opinions which associated my work with Hiroshima and the War. I did not intend to create a work which would express war. However, if one goes deep into a well, one can find water, which connects to another water source. As one descends deeper into sub- and un- consciousness, one reaches a level that is undifferentiated from the unconsciousness of others. While I am working, I sometimes enter a state in which I am not sure if I am the one who is creating the work or the work is leading me. According to Freud, there is a division between consciousness and unconsciousness. However, in Buddhism, there is a different level of consciousness. Lowering the level of consciousness (think, for example, of meditation) does not mean that one loses the ability to judge, or to observe and to concentrate. In this sense, my work experiences at a hospital as a midwife and a nurse, and the fact that I moved to live in Europe, that I have a childhood memory of my father as a Kamikaze pilot, and that I grew up in post-war Japan, would all be represented unconsciously in my work. It would be no surprise if some part of my work stimulates and evokes other people's deep memory.
Since 2001 I have been developing a project about my father who served as a kamikaze and survived. That is my first conscious project to find out how my personal experience actualizes as an artwork. I finall published a book in 2009. It gave me many opportunities to use the other methods (drawing, making a collage, photographing, making a video and writing text) to work out the concept, which relates to the past and present, and human grief. It required in me a development for the sensibility to examine images, and it was necessary to use the images themselves, not to transform them, but go beyond. I needed the text and other ways, like drawing and overlapping, to reach what I wanted. The drawing can be a way of transforming, but I tried to get the essence from the photos and draw them. In the process I started thinking a lot about the work of Pablo Picasso and Jean-Luc Godard. Especially the overlapping images of Jean-Luc Godard in many ways influenced the images I made for the book.
In 2006, as I began to feel the urge to keep in touch with the outside world more, I applied for the three months artist residency in Berlin. I spent almost the entire first month strolling through the area, taking pictures of graffiti and learnt the city history.
This experience greatly impacted on my works and was integrated into the narrative like installations on the floor and the wall in the studio.
In 2008 I participated in "IFFA Project" which was a three months artist residency with the artists from Africa and the artists who live in the Netherlands.
The project gave me an opportunity to actualize its theme ?Art, Migration and Identity' in my work and to collaborate with participating artists.
By this project I learned various things, which are not only important for my work, but also knowing more the unsolved issues of discriminations through meeting with African artists.
"B-sides and Rarities"|
This project starts by asking me about the process of making Art.
Why and when can I say, "This is an art work"?
How can I transform text and story to visual art?
"The marriage of reason and nightmare that has dominated the 20th century has given birth to an ever more ambiguous world. Across the communications landscape move the specters of sinister technologies and the dreams that money can buy. Thermo-nuclear weapon systems and soft-drink commercials coexist in an overlit realm ruled by advertising and pseudo-events, science and pornography. Over our lives preside the great twin leitmotifs of the 20th century - sex and paranoia."
A part of the introduction of the book, Crash, by J.G.Ballard
I was asked for the project, 'Never realized artwork' by Lokaal 01 and started thinking about an installation I wanted to make for a long time. The installation was supposed to be made by parts of broken cars on the floor. I also had an idea to deconstruct a car. One way or another, I lost the motivation to make the work. Then the project in Lokaal 01 reminded me of my intentions. It was the book, Crash by J.G.Ballard, published in 1974. I was very impressed by the introduction of the book, written by Ballard when it was republished in 1995.
What is realizing artwork? Does it mean to exhibit it or complete it as an artwork?
I asked Frederik in Lokaal 01 about it. He answered that finished artwork is different from unrealized work. Unfinished artwork can be presented in an exhibition space.
So unrealized artwork means the artwork is not yet shown.
But does the artist want to show the unfinished artwork? In the case of installation work the answer can be: "Yes". Installation work has a specific characteristic that makes it difficult to complete the work in a studio. It can depend on the exhibition space. An installation is sometimes called: work in progress. The artist presents a stage, like a sketch, study and/or research, in the process of making the artwork, even if there is no intention of completing it. On the other hand, most painting and sculpture work is finished in a studio.
The question arose if there were only practical reasons for me not to actualize this project. I thought there were, but if I really wanted to do it, it could have been possible. There must have been some personal reasons why I had not even started making this work.
How about my artistic practice? From 1996-2001 I have been very busy making different installations for various exhibitions. The experiences of 11 September 2001 and my illness made me realize to concentrate on the particular project of making a book and the need to develop my artwork to actualize it. I started to get more and more convinced that constant artistic practice is very important and necessary. When the text of Ballard first inspired me, I hesitated, because of my lack of artistic practice. At that time I did not actually know it, but somehow I felt it.
Is there another reason that I did not actualize the piece? I saw the film 'Crash', and read the book again recently. I still found it very hard, because of its perverse and pathological context of writing and depicting the idea of a crash. However, I was impressed by the beautiful way G.J. Ballard could write about human desire that could become deeply destructive within the technological world.
When a visual artist, writer, or filmmaker makes art in the way, J.G. Ballard wrote and David Gronenberg filmed, its moral issues cannot be avoided. When artists make artwork that shows a pathological character trait in human beings, it is sometimes more confronting than reality and advances arguments and discussions. The book, Crash, had this effect on me.
On TV, I saw the car crashing into the crowd on Queen's day in the Netherlands and one of my acquaintances lost her family in a car accident. The reality of a car accident is horrible and makes people's lives very difficult. I imagined that I had considered it too hard for me to make an artwork in terms of the book. So-called reality and my own morality had bothered me to actualize the idea of the book, though the form of art could have been very different from its context.
I wanted to re-examine the introduction text of Crash so I read it again several times.
Car crashes kill hundreds of thousands of people each year and injure millions.
Ballard writes. He asks if modern technology provides us with opening up our own perversity and pathologies. "Is there some deviant logic unfolded more powerful than that provided by reason?" He also writes about the fact that writers' rules are no more like in the 19th century and asks if the writer still has the moral authority to invent a self-sufficient and self-enclosed world. A writer has no moral stance. "He offers a set of options and imaginative alternatives. His role is the one of the scientist, whether on safari or in his laboratory, faced with an unknown terrain or subject. All he can do is devise various hypotheses and test them against the facts. This could be said about visual artist's rules too. I agreed with his way of thinking and recognized the importance of his book. So I am more and more willing to actualize the idea about a technological world, especially the car society we live in. Furthermore it is necessary to transform the context of the book, though I do not know how to do this yet.
I wanted to start something for the project, because I did not have any visual material to show as an example of my unrealized artwork. It was all in my head.
I went to some scrap yards in order to film some crashed cars. Nowhere, I got permission to either film or photograph. The places were very shabby and there was a strange atmosphere.
Instead of filming and photographing, I decided to collect the images of crashed cars, highways, parking lots, women in car advertisements on the internet, which I chose in order to make video clips as a sketch without any intention of making an artwork.
I wanted to present it in relation to a car parking in Breda. Lokaal 01 suggested using the corridor between a car parking towards the casino and the theatre.
The corridor was colourful, even strange, and there was a fish tank and two camera screens. People walk by and can see themselves on the screens. I wanted to place the video screen next to one of the screens. I found it very interesting to present the video, but it was impossible to use the space, because of security reasons.
How do I see the sketch now? Strangely it is becoming an artwork, though it is just the beginning.
Vitus H. Weh
From the article in Metropolis M, 1996, about the exhibition in Raum Aktueller Kunst, Austria,
Translated by Frank Janssen
The wide view is phenomenal. Hills, rivers and valleys – in generous strokes a landscape opens up. Wide the spotted ash brown plain are only interrupted by scattered pile of what kind can’t be recognized from far. The whole could be a landscape of terminal moraines, polished down by glaciers, which moved over it a long time ago, or it could be a delta where the water is missing. Since all that takes place on the floor of a gallery these comparisons sound vain – but everybody who has seen Keiko Sato’s exhibition in “Raum Aktueller Kunst” in Vienna would agree with such images. To tell the fact: the walls are empty and the floor and two windowsills are covered with buckets of tag ends and short piece of branches. That’s all. The visitor enters into the room and stand still. There is no space available for him. The feet have to feel their way into the room like wondering along puddles of melted water. Every stick and tag end seems to have found its special space. The ends of the sticks are peeled immaculately from their skin and ordered like magnetic needles.
They accumulate to mountains or made to stand like little man.
The question, if these things are all rubbish or not does not appear. The only question is how one can move without destroying it all. Those banal materials immediately create painterly hues (ochre filter with burnt white edges, ashes with their well-known dark-grey, faintly glittering tones, red brown barks covering light wood and the air is filled with metallic stale smell of previous evening parties) and at the same there is autonomous world.
However, it’s a complicated thing, to be in a beautiful painting, but at the time described landscape evokes fantasies of violence. The disgusting leftovers from the ashtrays are mutating into burned soil and miniaturized battlefields.
The aesthetic observer is at the same time the destroyer and the general, who investigates for his hordes of tin soldiers – like a navigator who is leading in plane on emitted beams from one segment of a map to another being fully distanced to the consequences of his acts, so that burning towns appear as phenomena’s of extreme and large scale beauty, as participants of air attack later admitted.
To say from where the installation draws these double binds is difficult. Probably the tense fluctuations between contradictive perspectives are founded in the culture tradition from Keiko Sato comes from, or many professions she learnt. Keiko Sato was born in 1957 in Japan and had been working from 1979 for ten years as a midwife and nurse. In 1989 she moved to London and studied Fine Arts at Gold Smith’s College and from 1993-1995 at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. The exhibition in Vienna is her first show on her own. Another floor installation was already shown in 1995 in the exhibition in themuseum Oude Bonnefanten in Maastricht. There, the associations of the preciseness of Japanese Stone garden were not that obvious as they were in Vienna. But there also the visitors were confronted with a sensitive field which reminded to Japanese ceremonies. Some cylinder of glass fell, broke and splashed their contents onto the floor. Splinters of glass and puddles, waxes and clay, fragilely standing cylinder and the evaporating tea: also in Maastricht one was in touch with such conflicting materials like in Vienna. Both times the work was not planned to be destroyed by the visitors but obviously by entering the space one had necessarily to destroy or change the installation. While in Vienna the whole tectonic stricture could be moved by a tow, in Maastricht the splinters creaked and the puddles changed their shape with everyday. And both exhibitions the installations drew its creative power from that very fact. The observer could realize directly how a mixture of symbolic and real experience brings about the “sudden ignition of a poetic moment”.
Keiko Sato shows the relations of calm reserve and sudden violence not only with the materials of the arte povera but also makes those ambivalent moments being realized in space. To paraphrase it: Into the nose of the aesthetic navigators ascends smoke.
From the exhibition catalogue, Power Up. (Museum for Contemporary Art Arnhem, 1998), Translated by Annabel Holland.
Broken glass, liquids, sand, and cigarette butts are some of the materials Keiko Sato allow occupying and traversing the open space of her installations. Chaos and control flow into each other so that even the most abject remains of human civilization become intriguing in their reborn beauty. Sato seduces the viewer into losing oneself in the spaces she processes, making the most contradictory levels of experience possible.
The installations are generally highly tangible, yet their strengths lie in the metaphorical, simultaneous narratives of the various elements: growth and decay, efflorescence and destruction, life and death. The main focus here is the human body or, more accurately, the body and spirit. Sometimes this is worked out in a psychological sense, as in her installations using brain scan, which on paper or combined with glass are fixed to a wall, or lie as burnt ash on the floor, between pieces of glass which have been joined together with telephone wire (1997). Other installations refers more symbolically to the human body, or even through the use of liquids or cigarette butts is as residues of human activities.
In her work, Sato endeavors to research the relationships between three entities, which - certainly in Western Cartesian thought are irreversibly divided. In a rationalist framework then, subject and object, person and surrounding, order and disorder, life and death have no other relationship to each other than that of contradiction, where one pole controls and dominates the others. In this framework, individual consciousness is always the measure of things. Not bad as a survival mechanism, but the opposite is always distance, alienation and a loss of meaningful experience. Experiences still occur for us in modern Western culture, but only as superficial tests of endurance not as a sanctioned activity from which we (may) drive deep meaning. Experience for us no longer belongs to the symbolic domain that defines and demarcates our reality.
Yet there are still experiences, many of them traumas, that (temporarily) breech this bastion. Experiences undergone in the harsh reality of life, shocking or frightening experiences shake your awake for a moment when you realize that the world around you isn't something that can be taken for granted. As an immigrant originally from Japan, Sato knows how it feels to be dislocated, pulled away from the values and customs of a familiar culture, away from the safety of existing social structure such as family, friends, work, political conviction and ideals. She knows how it feels to have to mentally and physically adapt to society with a different belief system, a different etiquette, other eating habits. It may not be traumatic to adjust to other habits or another language, but the fact that the relationship with the culture left behind can no longer taken be granted, certainly is. What is shocking to realize is that a culture or an identity is not a natural, static given. We are condemned to constantly new identities, often opposition to stereotypes and unequivocal icons. For Sato, being a stranger in her new world has perhaps become a permanent attitude. It forms the basis for another way to observing, of looking at a reality she can no longer assume to share with everyone else, but which leads her and her work to new insight.
Drawing on her own history, Sato makes works that are physically present, but which at the same time describe reality on different levels. Hence, an installation comprising cigarettebutts and ash can represent the total annihilation of earth, while also symbolizing an ode to life. The stinking human remains of our own neurotic and deviant behabiour digging our graves symbolize not only death and destruction, but also their opposites. Equally present are the multiple meanings of the desire for death and destruction. According to certain thought of traditions, only in this matter can unity, and therefore new life, be recovered.
Sato's installations instantly provoke resistance and repulsion, but these sentiments cannot conquer a profound aesthetic attraction leading to a new quest for meaning. She ultimately succeeds in linking (culturally) different systems and methods, and using them alongside one another without having to reduce one to the stereotypical opposite of the other. The results are scenes in which concrete experiences can lead to a wide range of metaphors and meanings, without requiring prejudicial contrasts.
From an article in Art Monthly, June 2000
The exhibition of Honiton Festival 2000, UK
Fortunately two installations by Keiko Sato allowed some space for the viewers to make meaning. At spacex a tense web of builder’s scrim was fixed with large dabs of plaster to the floor, walls, and ceilings making a hectic skyway that criss-crossed the space seemingly at random. Bits of what looked like computer circuitry and hair were inserted into the waves of the scrim but also littered the floor creating a sense of dystopic anomie - the technological world as inherently dysfunctional, always broken and out of date. Sato’s apocalyptic sensibility was also in evidence in a large floor piece spread out amidst the columns of the nave at St Michael’s. Small piles of crumbling red and pink bricks and lumps of asphalt and broken stonework were unified by a scattering of earth, brick dust and grey paper pulp that seemed to map the aftermath of a disaster. Shards of white domestic sanitary ware threatened to church underfoot and there were occasional glimpses through the debris of photographs torn from newspapers showing cities and Japanese schoolgirls. Of course Hiroshima springs to mind but that devastation did not take much time at all. What take the time is the memory work, the re-forming and re- presenting of the losses of the past in order to make them manageable and to allow us to be able to enjoy life on a sunny day in Devon.
From an article in What’s On, September 2002
The exhibition of Different States in Spacex Gallery, Exceter, UK
Of the three participants, Keiko Sato makes the most lasting impact with her ‘work in progress’. Seemingly intended as an ongoing preoccupation with no known conceivable end, it is a scattering of familiar domestic objects that splatter and shatter themselves across the smooth surface of the gallery as though of their own accord. Dishes, plants, rice, spaghetti, tea, coffee, flour, soil, clay, the detritus of daily life – urban reminders of the passing of time; a collage of both the sordid and sublime.
For all the spontaneity and apparent offhandedness of Sato’s piece, her art and method appear as one.
A Part of interview in the newsletter
Lacinca project in The Veemvloer, 2003
Miklos Beyer: What is the difference in working on a horizontal surface vs. working on a vertical surface?
The viewpoint is different. When working on the floor I stand and look down. My physical point of view determines to a large extent how I perceive things. Usually when I’m doing floor pieces I use objects, which I deconstruct by literally breaking their meaning so it becomes material. I was interested in transforming concrete material and everyday objects into a landscape. The floor is also near my feet. It is a base and I perceive it as something physical.
Working on the wall with images and words I perceive as working with my head. The material and input like photos, texts and thoughts all relate to real events. It feels as if I give an insight into what’s going on in my head.
When I worked too much on the wall I had to work on the floor piece. On the wall I focused on the upper side of my body and on the floor piece I focused on the lower part of my body.
The difference between the two is like comparing the practical with the imaginary.
To describe the wall piece right now is too difficult. It has similarities to working on the floor but it's very different. I linked images on the same intuitive level as I did when working on the floor, but there was a big difference in the emotional weight of the activity.
Can you compare it with mowing the lawn or washing the dishes where the activity itself becomes subconscious?
Yeah maybe, it's an interesting thought.
Are you trying to forget when you work on the floor piece?
Well, its like working with my subconscious, the moment I'm doing the work I don't fully realize what it is that I'm doing but afterwards I will remember the thoughts I had while doing it. During the making of a floor piece I sense that the material stimulates me to make and break forms, in a repeating fashion and so creating new forms, very similar to the making of a painting. Working with images and words is different in the sense that they bring me to other images, words and meaning. It seems similar to the process of multiplying but without the construction of form.