Tag Archives: artist interview

ARTIST INTERVIEW: Ichiro Irie on paperclips, artistic discomfort, and interdisciplinary portraiture

22 Apr

REVIEW BY RACHEL MATOS. Introducing our first in a series of articles by CP guest blogger Rachel Matos. An exhibited artist, educator and professional performer, Rachel studied at the School of Visual Arts and Columbia University, and has since worked for LACMA, Norton Simon Museum, The Guggenheim, The Met, The Bronx Museum, Montclair Art Museum, Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt and thePhiladelphia Museum of Art.  

Ichiro Irie

Have you been to the Torrance Museum of Art lately? The museum is in the midst of its first in a series of international exhibitions representing artists with similar cultural backgrounds. The first is Gateway Japan, where I had the privilege of viewing works by Japanese and Japanese American artists. The show ran the gamut of disciplines from three-dimensional portraits atop of mobile phone canvases to sumo-wrestlers creating footprints on a clay fighting ring.

As I entered the gallery, I noticed black canvases that evoked a series of emotional range. From afar, I could see a monochromatic portrait of a woman singing and a man laughing. Up close, I noticed the portraits were all made with staples on blocks of wood transforming the illusion of representational work into abstraction.

Interested in Ichiro’s interdisciplinary approach to portraiture and his participation in Gateway Japan, I asked the artist a few questions about himself, his work and what’s next.

CP: You were born in Tokyo, raised in Los Angeles, but you don’t consider yourself Japanese or American. You say you feel ‘Angelino’. What does being an Angelino mean to you?

IRIE: Technically I’m both Japanese and American.  I was born in Japan from Japanese parents.  I was brought to L.A. when I was 2, but I spoke Japanese at home, ate Japanese food at home everyday, and went to Japanese school on Saturdays.

Ichiro Irie

Ichiro Irie

On the other hand, outside of the house, I’ve lived my life mostly like any kid in L.A., my friends and acquaintances from all walks of life.  Well, I grew up in West L.A. and Brentwood, went to middle school and high school in Santa Monica, and Santa Barbara.  Most of my peers were Caucasian with a sprinkle of other races and ethnicities.  My connection to the Japanese and Japanese American communities here outside of family and a handful of friends had been limited at best.  I should also mention that I just became a U.S. citizen last year.

Nevertheless, because of my appearance, people who see or meet me here for the first time see me as the other.  Heck, I even saw myself as the other, and perhaps I still do.  My favorite movies, my favorite bands, my favorite actors and actresses, people on T.V., girls I liked, my best friends… nobody looked like me.

In Japan, I look, more or less, like everyone else, but after a few minutes of conversation, it becomes pretty obvious that I’m not completely one of them.  Often in a good way, because, when I visited Japan as a child or as a young adult, people were curious to get to know me, kind of like the exotic strange animal at the zoo.  I didn’t mind that for some reason.  In short, I’ve always been the token Japanese kid here, and the token Gringo Japanese in Japan.

I feel like an Angelino, because my identity and my outlook towards the world have been totally shaped by my experience here.  For all its politically correctness, progressive thinking, yoga, and health consciousness, life in Los Angeles is defined by racial politics.  I’m not saying anything that’s hasn’t been said 1000 times before, but just go to any restaurant in Brentwood, Melrose, Beverly Hills or Santa Monica… 90% Caucasian.  The busboys, dishwashers, housekeepers, gardeners, and day laborors… Latino.

Ichiro Irie

I have a son in grade school now.  Investigating which public schools have the highest level of education, the highest standardized test scores are in predominantly White and Asian communities.  The school in the bottom half are all Black and Latino.  This reality is not only sad, it’s criminal, although I’m not exactly sure who to blame.

I’ve read a couple statistics, one that Asian men are the most single (as in available) segment of the population, and another that they have the highest average income.  In what kind of f’d up society is the richest guy considered the least desirable?

Los Angeles is also home to Hollywood.  There are an unusual amount of people who want to be famous here.  There are an unusual number of people with cosmetic surgery.  Los Angeles is home to the San Fernando Valley, the porn capital of the world.  Los Angeles is a city where people are very isolated.  I visited New York for the first time since 2005 this year for a show.  I was shocked how random people actually walk up and talk to you.  It made me uncomfortable, and I liked it.

So, as I hope you can see, my relationship to the rest of the world, I believe, is measured against all of my experiences here in Los Angeles.  I’m a product of this city.

CP: Was there a pivotal moment that brought you awareness about the self importance and the over-glorification of oneself as an artist? Are the mediums you choose a reflection of those feelings? 

IRIE: I think those were the words of Heather Jeno Silva who wrote about my work.  Although I don’t necessarily disagree with her, I don’t make work in order to prove some point against self-glorification either.  I just try to do what comes the most naturally at any given moment.  Even when I’m being ironic from time to time, I simply try to do what feels like a sincere pursuit of my artistic concerns.  My work is diverse, dispersed, and spans media and disciplines, because of this.  I get bored easily.  I’m interested in a lot of different things.  I want my body of work to reflect an expanded definition of identity without being didactic.  I can only accomplish this within my means and my limitations, both economic and personal.  It is certainly not the most efficient strategy towards achieving commercial success or branding my self as an artist.  Maybe this is being humble, or maybe I’m trying to bite off more than I can chew.

Ichiro Irie

The materials I choose, and the images I create are a result of questioning to my self, why a person like me or just people around me in general would end up in a place like this, at this particular age.  When you are surrounded by these materials and images, they become normal, and almost invisible.  For example, with my accumulations series, I observe, depict, accumulate, and transform everyday objects such as paperclips, staples, screws, poster putty, and hair clips.  By bringing these entities to the foreground, I’m trying to show how unusual these things really are.  Imagine landing in the world today from, say, just 200 years ago.  All of these things would seem so bizarre.

This idea of transformation and humor has been particularly important to me recently, because it allows the possibility for subtle defiance, active participation and pleasure within a set of parameters, even if it is only within my tiny corner of the world.

CP: Have the tragic events in Japan changed or influenced the direction of your work in any way?

IRIE:  Yes, in 2009, I did a series of ink drawings of two adolescents, one boy and one girl, surrounded in the aftermath of some catastrophic event.  In spite of the bleak environments depicted, I believe they were hopeful pictures.  I wanted to expand on this series by doing larger drawings and paintings of a similar nature.

Because of these recent events in Japan, I’ve decided not to continue this series anymore, because I’m worried that people will think that I’m doing these works as a result of the Japanese earthquake/tsunami.  I’m worried that the works would now seem opportunistic.

CP: Can you share what you are working on and what we can look forward to?

IRIE:  I’ve been teaching at Santa Monica College and Oxnard College the past 4 years.  I feel a little bit like the catcher in the rye, trying my best to not let these kids and adults slip through the cracks.  Several of the more fortunate ones are doing remarkably well.  It’s a very rewarding process to see your students evolve.

I’ve invested so much energy in the teaching process, and with many of my students, a relationship emerges that is beyond academic or professional.  I’ve been reading up a little on the concept of transference and counter transference in relation to psychoanalysis, and playing with the idea that most of these students are trying to transfer to a 4 year university, MFA program, or simply to the next stage of their lives and careers.  My most current work revolves around these ideas of transfer and transference.

I’ve been in 5 shows in L.A., New York, Mexico City and Frankfurt in the last 4 months, and I feel a little spread thin in terms of exhibiting, so I probably won’t be showing my own work again until August.  I will be showing work at Gallery Lara in Tokyo at the end of the summer, and will be participating in the Sur Biennial curated by Ronald Lopez this fall.  I’ve also been invited to participate in a show in Berlin called “La Vida es Cruel” curated by artist/curator Florian Heinke.

In the meantime, we will continue our curatorial projects at JAUS, a small artist run space I direct in West L.A.  I’ll have my summer off for the first time since returning to L.A. from Mexico City in 2006.  I’m looking forward to spending more time in the studio, developing new works and getting some much needed R&R.

ABOUT RACHEL MATOS:

An exhibited artist, educator and professional performer, Rachel Matos studied at the School of Visual Arts and Columbia University specializing in painting and the history of modern art. She has worked for LACMA, Norton Simon Museum, The Guggenheim, The Met, The Bronx Museum, Montclair Art Museum, Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt and thePhiladelphia Museum of Art, among many others.  She is often sought to develop educational programs for art institutions and to serve as a guest lecturer and curator. Her works have been exhibited at the Woodmere Art Museum, the Colombian Consulate, the Society of Illustrators, and Rockefeller Center. Learn more about Matos here.

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MicroTextual Musings: Quintan Ana Wikswo Interview

7 Apr

Quintan Ana Wikswo is an interdisciplinary artist whose projects integrate a constellation of works in photography, original text, video and installation, as well as performance collaborations with composers and choreographers. Catalysis Projects interviews her about synesthesia, washing dishes with kitty litter, and microtonal fantasies.

MicroTextual will premiere Quintan’s Floriography I/Coimbra 1452 (with Rafael Liebich) and Floriography II/Bavaria 1543 (with Philip Shakhnis), a diptych of video-integrated text performance works about medieval botanical and ecological life at Inquisition convents and Crusade villages.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

CP-Language can be defined as a system of symbols that convey meaning. In your artistic practice, how do you convey meaning? In what way do you use your medium to create your own language?

QAW-This summer in Czech Republic – where the character system and language are completely different from English – I spent a long time in a shop trying to distinguish a box of dishwasher crystals from a box of cake mix. Both were cardboard containers of white powder with images of a kitchen and a cat and a half-eaten slice of cake on a plate. I stood there giggling happily while the workers glared at the demented Gypsy lady who might steal the box of cat litter.

A few years ago I was told I have synesthesia, which tends to tangle up meaning through some aberrant neurological and cognitive wiring. As a visual artist and writer, this is a big tangle. For instance, the color yellow makes a sound, and thus has stronger auditory than visual meaning  – yellow is not a “color.” Likewise, letters are very visually and emotionally evocative – much as human faces convey very distinctive personalities.  When I make words, I make little villages. Sentences are civilizations. The integrated text-video-performance pieces for MicroTextual (Floriography I and II) explore mass slaughter and genocide, but I built the texts using letters whose personalities are extremely gentle and pretty and demure. A bit shy, with the tendency to daintily cringe away from any unpleasantness.

Clearly, there’s no way an outside audience could share in that kind of personal language. Yet every creature is fairly clueless about what its fellows are trying to say, and at some point it’s the process of conveying meaning that can be most mesmerizing – watching someone try to wash dishes with kitty litter, or bake a cake using dishwashing powder is more intriguing than doing it just like everyone else. This struggle about attaching symbols and meanings have resulted in psychiatric asylums, Carnegie Hall, and the Crusades. It’s nice to imagine that as artists we finally have the right to draw our own conclusions.

CP-Text can be understood as a code – a symbolic mark-making that some others can “read,” but yet completely unintelligible to people not fluent in that language.  How important is it to you whether your “text” conveys a comprehensible meaning or communication to your audiences?

QAW-My most fertile conversations begin with misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and errors of interpretation. Otherwise, there’s no friction. No rough edges to catch against. I find a perverse pleasure in being artistically uncomfortable and confused and disoriented. Over time, this sensation has become a barometer that monitors my stagnation and aeration. I never create a work from a tidy place of comprehension – my own works are documents of an awkward struggle to understand something I find unwieldy.

As artists and audiences, I think it’s very important that we get excited by – rather than intimidated by – disorienting, perplexing, unfamiliar communication. I rarely want anyone to pre-digest anything for me, and I try to carry that philosophy forward to audiences, whether they like it or not.

Overall, I think it’s fruitful to resist the marketplace-driven phobia about being misunderstood – the whole idea that everything must be distilled to a tits-out elevator speech where god forbid something isn’t quick and easy and sexy. It’s repellant, but not in the fun way.  Likewise, the attempt to control the outcome for an audience is very dull and stultifying – when artworks are presented with a hegemonic surveillance around “the right meaning” it completely kills the chemical reactions between artist and audience.  It makes artworks that smother rather than kindle.

A lot of my work is politically engaged, and so for me to try and control or police meaning would get really ugly. The pieces being performed at MicroTextual explore epic historic genocides, and of course I have various points to make. But it would be splendid if someone just gets that there are green butterflies in a field. When someone attaches a new meaning to my work, it means the piece sprouts renegade tendrils and grows weird vegetables in someone else’s brain. Birth is meant to be a struggle for everyone involved.

CP-The term microtonality is generally applied only to music that uses a tuning system other than twelve-tone equal-temperament.  However, we believe that, because microtonality breaks down one of the fundamental building blocks of western music (the tyranny of the twelve), it is a term that can be applied to other disciplines of artmaking.  Do you see microtonality in your, or other, fields? How does your work on the April 16 concert find the small spaces between the keys or between the words.

QAW-I realized recently that I have developed an little fantasy about microtonal music being an arcane, Kabbalistic, alchemical treasure hunt where secret notes are hidden between the visible notes.  Rather like an auditory wormhole through which one can vanish out of mundane do-re-me territory and emerge someplace altogether fantastic. Like sailing to the edge of a flat earth and expecting to fall off, only to discover a sphere…or vice versa. How lovely!

Microtonal music is also such a wonderful imposition on musicians and audiences who might otherwise fall into a rut of twelve – let’s make it fast! Let’s take the interstate, instead of Route 66.  I love how microtonality forces participants to navigate unfamiliar, disorienting situations, and requires people to grow new perceptual antennae to sleuth out what’s going down. The risk is feeling foolish, vulnerable, overwhelmed, annoyed and exhausted, but the reward is gaining a new auditory knowledge that’s a bit secret and arcane.

When you approached me about contributing works to this event, the challenge was to find a analogous “microtonal” tuning in literature – a way of composing and performing text that involves that sense of striding off the map, sailing over the edge, spending time in uncharted waters. I thought about how much I love spending time in countries where I’m illiterate in the written and spoken language because I’m forced to embark upon that treasure hunt for other clues of meaning, like gesture and expression and context.

So I created two works for the April 16th concert that involve finding the small spaces between languages – each text piece is visually projected in English, while being overspoken in other languages such as Russian, Hebrew, and Portuguese. In a sense, the audience is the performance, occupying that space between the two languages where a third meaning emerges.

I’m very excited to hear everyone’s pieces at the April concert, especially so many premieres. It’s impossible for artists to really play it safe within these creative parameters, and that’s tremendously inspiring.  Besides – if the world doesn’t turn out to be spherical, the ship will make a lovely crash as it falls off the edge of the world.