In conversation with the Japanese artist on his boundary defying creations where the position of the viewer in relation to nature is ever abundant – the installations that have been seen across the globe
‘Trees’ (2015), showcased at the Singapore Art Museum. ‘Trees’, features a found object of a tree that has been chopped down for redevelopment in the city, a city that Takashi Kuribayashi refers to as artificial «and many parks will be built there. They are made and destroyed every day. Parks in the town of Singapore are unnatural». Within ‘Trees’, Kuribayashi uses glass boxes in which he encapsulates sections of the cut-up tree. Trees themselves act as a medium for Kuribayashi as seen in several of his works. The glass boxes themselves provide individual worlds in which other parts of nature – also found in Singapore – including leaves and other smaller plants, can be seen. ‘Trees’ references the controlled surroundings in which nature can now be found in cities including Singapore. This sense of boundary, a theme explored by Kuribayashi continuously, juxtaposes the truth of nature itself. Once the decaying process has begun within the glass boxes, the inside world is ever-changing, meaning viewers will be given a new world to peer into, upon each visit.
In ‘Wald aus Wald’ (Forest from Forest), first seen in the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, in 2010, has been seen across the world, from Seoul, to Poland, to Germany. The forest itself, made of an abundance of apparent floating white trees of Awa washi (handmade paper) is made using natural materials including mitsumata (paper bush) and kozo (hybrid mulberry tree). Viewers can gaze into Kuribayashi’s forest through a crevice from below the world. This perspective, and boundary, gives viewers the sense of being an insect – looking up into their natural world. The viewer is given a perspective to view the work, to reflect on how it positions humans in relation to the forest itself. Kuribayashi intends to show viewers that «we are also part of nature» and «it is important for us to reconsider the different angles and spaces inside from the nature» this being pertinent given the fact that in some installation spaces, viewers can look down into the forest, rather than peering up into it through a curated viewing space. «In order to reconsider that oneself is the creature called the human being, we have to see the world from an angle that we cannot experience commonly».
One of Kuribayashi’s most recent works is ‘Tree of Ibuki’ (2019), created for the autumn iteration of the Setouchi Triennale and presented at the debeya in Ibukijima. The debeya was not only a place that Kuribayashi felt a strong connection to, perhaps because the island is where his own mother was born, but it also stands as a place of preciousness. Expectant mothers of the island spend a month before and after the birth of their children at the debeya and each child inheriting the legacy of three billion years of life. Childbirth itself, stands as its own form of boundary line, and in ‘Tree of Ibuki’ (Ibuki no Ki) the position of life regarding memory is presented through the kaleidoscopic effect of the mirrors attached to the Japanese cypress. Kuribayashi sees his completed works as «part of myself and the alter ego. Many will disappear, but if they keep living in viewers, they are already part of the viewers. It means I share my works with viewers».
In reference to the relationship Kuribayashi has with the viewers of his work, the position of humans is again reflected. For Kuribayashi, «the viewer and artist will synchronize, and also the viewer will be a part of the artist. In my hands-on work, the viewer sometimes becomes a part of the work and also becomes one with the work. It means that a human being is also a part of nature, but it is also a part of art». Kuribayashi remarks the need for artists to have two eyes when viewing their own work, «one as the viewer and the other as the artist. I enjoy my work as a viewer, and at the same time, I see my work calmly and objectively with the eyes as the artist to know whether I can guide the viewer properly». This guidance draws back to the idea of curation of movement in Kuribayashi’s work, specifically the three mentioned, and the idea of humans being unable to experience something commonly, but the artist not wanting them to as well.
The idea of experiencing something creates discussion surrounding what the artist’s experience in the post-production can entail. Other worlds are created in Kuribayashi’s work that hint at possibilities of the artist making a curated vision for both himself and his viewers. Viewers can only see the artist’s vision in some works and once the works are created some may feel detached from the outcome. «I don’t trust what I see. I believe my sense. By confirming my sense and conveying it, I am able to know what people feel» thus exploring the artist’s own relationship to the vision of their viewers.
The creation of other worlds or worlds within works can be seen across works such as ‘Wald aus Wald’ but is this the intention of Kuribayashi? In ‘Trees’ the worlds are enclosed, locked within time and therefore continuing the theme of boundary in Kuribayashi’s work. When reflecting upon this, the artist refers to our current world as «conceptual» and goes on to say, «it is often said that we use only a small part of the brain. Its ability is immeasurable. It is destruction if we think of it as destruction and it is development if we think of it as development. Those are the same thing, but the different world spreads out with the way of thinking of the human being. I can’t say what is right, but it becomes possible for me to let viewers choose and stop to think through my works. Many people have various thoughts through my works. There is more than one answer. As part of various possibilities, my work, my thoughts and your experience exist».
Kuribayashi’s freedom when it comes to the works comes back to the previous thoughts surrounding the viewer having their own taste of freedom as well as linking to Kuribayashi’s production methods and use of materials. «I try to create a sense of discomfort with using natural materials and artificial materials at the same time that contradict each other. Some people say it’s comfortable, and some people feel uncomfortable. Sometimes it is dangerous that everything is the same. It is evil that the artist forces. If the artist pushes his own selfishness onto others, he should make the work his hobby. It is one of the characteristics of my work to shake people’s discomfort and feeling by using two different boundaries and materials».
The use of two forms of boundaries, albeit the natural and artificial variety only comes to Kuribayashi after he has begun thinking around a theme. «I find the easiest way to convey the theme. It may be an installation or a three-dimensional work. If I think a three-dimensional work is easier to convey, I make a three-dimensional work. If I think a two-dimensional work is easier to convey, I make a two-dimensional work. In the same way, I look for the material which fits most what I want to convey». To convey a theme, sometimes the context directly relates to the methods used. When comparing ‘Trees’, which references the idea of redevelopment and the controlled state of trees in some areas, to ‘Wald aus Wald’ which stands as a symbol of ecology of the natural world, specific materials are used based on the two contexts. Kuribayashi’s references to redevelopment and in some of his other works, the issues surrounding nuclear power can put Kuribayashi’s stances with these two themes into the spotlight. However, despite working with themes such as these, the artist does not want to be opposed or be active to them. «Those are created by human beings, including myself, and it is hypocritical if I repel them. I have to let people notice it from a different angle. That is also one of the activities of the artist».
Japanese artist Takashi Kuribayashi has worked within and surrounding the idea of boundary, which itself has become a theme across his career. His works, seen in the form of installations ranging in size and medium, play host to invisible worlds, made visible to his viewers.
Born in 1968, Nagasaki Japan, Kuribayashi studied at the Musashino Art University, Tokyo in 1993 before going on to study at the University of Kassel leading to the Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf where he attained his Masters in 2001 and a year later, his diploma. Kuribayashi has since returned to the Musashino Art University as a visiting professor.