Also present Anthony Lam and Ma Jung Yeon
Photographs © Anthony lam 2008
Text © Erika Tan 2008
Masaki Fujihata is making work for his show in Manchester Cornerhouse a couple of weeks away; he invites us to visit his studio in Tokyo. His PhD student Jung Yeon kindly escorts us there from Yokohama. The map we are given has no English, so we are lost without her help. She has been in Japan about a year now, having met Masaki during the set up for an exhibition in Korea and been very inspired by his work, enough so to relocate to study under him at the newly developed Yokohama based graduate campus of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music [Department of New Media, Graduate School of Film and New media]…. On arrival we enter his studio which has a couple of people industriously working at computers, he is not there so Jung Yeon makes coffee and shows us some of the publications Masaki has been involved in. An hour later we decide we should give him a call, our mobile call produces the sound of another ringing simultaneously! He has left it behind! So we continue politely looking from a distance at the space that surrounds us. A large room, book shelves lining 2 walls, windows out to the road, several computers on several desks- he does not work alone – a large set of speakers and valve amp sit on one side of the room, other bits of equipment are visible, but on the whole there is little that gives away the processes involved in making his work. Books perhaps give more of a suggestion of his interest, philosophy, art history, new media. A corridor space with meeting table and white board looks like a place for discussion and working through ideas in dialogue [this is where most of the interview takes place]. Off from this space is a room too dark to see what’s in it. And the entrance to all these spaces comes through the little kitchen galley with coffee and whisky on the shelf. We drink the coffee, even though neither of us normally does, I start feeling nervous, is it the coffee or the knowledge that this is like filming, a one shot event, with no re-takes. I wonder if he will have patience for my questions, if I have understood his ambitions for his work, if my interpretations of his work will make any sense to him, and if we will understand each other linguistically!
The transcript that follows has been edited slightly to provide a little more clarity at certain points. The interview took about 1hr 20 min. Certain Japanese phrases have been kept in, they tend to be the ones repeated the most and the ones I understand as conversational phrases needed for timing, space and thinking. eg:
“sou, sou, sou ” means [I agree and yes it is, that’s true.. ]
“dakara ” means [so, therefore, accordingly].
“eeto, e-to” means [ummm]
Part One: “Very rough, very rude”
E: I know you’re making new work for the show.
M: Yes, so my position is I am shooting the piece; I still need to shoot something for the piece. I am working over there at the moment, so
maybe this will be a good reference for you [points to another room]
E: Yes, great. Because I’m thinking that you’ve done quite a lot of writing about your work and other people have also written extensively about your work, I thought my focus would be about process
M: I see [laughs]
E: And were it is… yes
E: Yes the hidden side! It’s not the secrets necessarily, it’s the ‘thing’ that’s behind the work, the ‘thing’ that comes before the show, but also when I was reading about your work and looking at your work, it seemed to have a particular relevance to my current writing project called Sites of Production
M: Site of production?
E: Sites of Production, where the production is
M: Yes, ok. I know
E: For some people it’s the studio, but actually in your work it seems there are lots of sites (locational, studio/gallery, networked spaces)
M: Yes, yes, that’s true
E: There’s another element to the project Sites of Production: Asian Travelogues – so it refers to me also travelling in Asia, but the site is also of travel itself as a production site
M: I see
E: And when I watched your Field_Works documentation and I felt very strongly that this work had a link to these questions in terms of travel, but with Conquest of Perfection I thought on the other hand these works had more of a ‘studio’ feel in terms of its… it’s not about… it is about the outside world, but it’s not so much about a tangible outside world. So I wanted to ask you some questions about those works in relationship to your process and what the studio means to you or where the ‘studio’ is for you.
M: I think maybe I can go back to high school age when I was amazed with animation techniques- not anime, I mean character animation. I was not so amazed with character animation, but technically animation is amazing and incredible because it’s just a picture, frame by frame – but after we project it, the motion is realised. And then on the other hand, for example Mickey Mouse, the animator should draw the exact same character for each frame- this is totally not for humans! It’s really difficult to make the same image into a movie, its crazy! So instantly it’s easier to make a kind of metamorphosis. ‘Metamorphosis’ was a technical word coined by Norman McLaren founder of the National Film Board of Canada and after I knew about metamorphosis I really wanted to make animations, so the last animation I made was totally metamorphosis.
E: So you have the kind of mind that really engaged with how this works
M: Yes, so I did many different types of works, but maybe because I am now working on a piece that is quite strongly related to the techniques of animation I have started to talk about this! But for me animation is a kind of recording of improvisation, so at each point in time I have to decide where I will go next. This is an interesting aspect of animation; so I do not have to make any continuity before making the animation. Normally for the film industry they really need to make a scenario, continuity… and divide it into set design, motion design and so on, but in my case this is simple, I am just doing solo work and I can improvise in each frame.
E: Are you animating objects?
E: This is quite different to if you were actually drawing because then maybe you would need to know where you were going so you could divide up the frames to create the movement you wanted?
M: Sou, sou, sou . This is quite strange, many of the early works I did when I was in high school and university have had a strong effect on my activity and for this new piece I am going to project not on a screen but onto the table. The original work uses playing cards and the playing cards move autonomously, but this is not interactive. The piece is not interactive; it’s just on a loop
E: The new piece?
M: The other one is also
E: The other one is not interactive? You mean Unformed Symbols was not interactive?
M: Yes, yes! [laughs]
E: Oh! When I was watching the DVD I thought it really looked interactive- every time someone put an Ace card on the table or into the frame of projection it started doing something different
M: No, no! [laughs]
E: Ok, so that’s very clever filming then!
M: Yes, yes, in the real space there were several people who started to think the work should be interactive because “it’s Masaki’s exhibition…”
E: So it has to be?
M: Yes! So then I tried to stand in the opposite position. So I tried to make a non- interactive piece but people started to interact with the piece anyway. This is an interesting aspect to it. Actually I am going to show seven or eight different pieces at Cornerhouse, but real interactive pieces are just one, two- just two pieces are interactive, but the others are not interactive [laughs]
E: And it will be interesting to see whether people realise this or not
M: Yes, yes, yes
E: I had been thinking in a way that the audience is a very important part of the work and perhaps they are also a ‘site’ of production, because actually they produce the piece, but in some respects when the work isn’t interactive, is the audience still this site?
M: I am strongly trying to question what is the interactivity between the pieces and the visitor and maybe I can say ‘participant’ or ‘user’. In the last ten years people have been talking about the buzz word interactive art. This word interactive, the term interactive came from computer technology; the computer was so slow in the seventies and eighties that engineers tried to add interactivity- maybe you know the term interactive terminal? So interactive terminal meant that when you typed a word, a character would appear on the screen. This was interactive terminal! [laughs] But I should say these are actions are ‘reactive’, it’s a reaction from the computer. Most of the interactive art showing now is 99% just reactive pieces. So the term interactive has a deeper meaning and we can also use interactive for public space, for social areas, social interaction. How can we communicate, how can we talk, how can we meet is also interactive for us and of course when we see a painting or read a novel we also interact with some object inside
E: It has a changing affect. It’s not just a reaction with something or to something
M: No, no. So the real interactivity will happen inside our brains, inside our thinking
E: And is that where your work takes place? If I’m looking for a site of production, where something is produced…
M: Ok, in that case, for the exhibition in Cornerhouse [Manchester] I’m trying to question the real concept of interactivity. My understanding is that interaction can only be done yourself. Your side. Human interaction is more important then technology, so I’m blurring the border between simple reactive art and the loop. But it’s really also important to make a space and engage with the technology of installation. It’s a kind of sculpture, not only the aspect of interaction but a sculpture where people can experience a reality- “this is where I am” – “what I am doing” and “what I am going to do”. This is more important; in this case the person understanding this aspect should be controlled by the design of the space. So actually the Conquest of Imperfection which is the title of the exhibition in Cornerhouse is trying to question this type of activity on the human side. It’s not so much about technology. So now I am trying to cut off the technological side, it becomes smaller and smaller, so people should start to think about “what I’m seeing” – “how can I react to this?”
E: Yes. Which works are you showing?
M: The oldest is Beyond the Pages, it’s a typical interactive art piece people say, but the reaction is pre-defined- simply you do one thing and the same thing will happen. One of the scholars in the field of semiotics told me, “Masaki, this is interesting example for the new situation between the word and the image”. In semiotics they’re discussing a lot about words
E: And the sign?
M: Hmm, the sign and the image. But in this case I’ve added the interaction so that some people can start to accept how they affect the world of images. For example, there is an apple that when you touch it, this is a totally abnormal situation, the book pages flip and the apple is bitten by someone – actually me [big laugh]. So once people have started, the have to accept this bizarre situation and then expand from there. The apple- this is a new apple.
E: I’m interested, like you just said, in the fact that the apple was eaten by you and there is something I noticed in a lot of your works is that you are there, munching away.
M: [laughs] Interesting!
E: And in the Unformed Symbols there is also your voice in the soundtrack: “eyeoooowwwwerrrrrrr de-de-de-deeee” (sounds of cars racing around), and then obviously in Field_Works, you are often physically there…
M: Ah yes this is a problem
E: … or you make a structure that others have to follow and so this takes me back to you, and also takes me back to the physicality of the work: because the only way of making the apple like it is, is you physically biting it! I’m just wondering just how you did this… where you sat? In your studio (lab) here? … and you had the apple and you had the camera, and you had that there and you….
M: Bit it!
E: …and you bit it! But you know, that process of biting; you bit the apple, you put it down… and you ate it. That’s also a part of the work, but the invisible element of the works, but maybe when you ate the apple you also had time to think about what’s coming next? [he laughs] Is it possible to talk about where your ideas come from? Some of them as you say come from when you were young… animation is a mystery to some people, a really fascinating mystery, and I think I feel that myself. So that’s one thing that compels you to do something, but at other times, how did you decide, “ok, I’ll eat the apple”?
M: Yes, that’s really a core question. For Beyond The Pages there is an introduction of nine pages, but each time I’ve shown it, I have added new pages. The first Beyond The Pages had just four pages. After that I added more, so the lamp was there but for the last one I did the door- so each time I expanded it. I have many ideas you know…
E: So how do you edit your ideas?
M: I don’t know! [laughs]…maybe…
E: Is it that you are driving to work and you think “yes!”, or is it that you have to take a plane somewhere to do a show [m laughs and that’s where you think; or when you’re teaching your students… or when you are actually in the studio space?
M: Hmm…. I don’t know when this type of deciding will come… I am thinking almost all the time which direction I should go for…so this is the fun part of myself. Every time you know I try to… always I have to decide. I have to make more ideas, then after I have to choose one.
E: Do you make the idea and then chose? Do you animate everything and then chose?
M: Yes, sometimes it’s like that, sometimes
E: So you have other things you have ‘eaten’ or done… and then cut out?
M: Yes actually, …eeto… before… how can I say, when I have many ideas, I try to chose one and then I try to produce it. Then, something different from the original idea emerges. That’s a normal situation. Then I need another idea to straighten the former idea- or an alternative idea. This is a kind of process of producing it. In a way I can also say this is a kind of improvisational process – this is really fun. Always talking with myself.
E: I’m wondering, you have drawings here (a white board with several drawings of camera positions), do you draw to remember? [He laughs] I mean do you keep all the ideas in your head or do you have on your computer lots of files with ideas… or do you draw?
M: Normally I have a notebook. Very rough, very rude note book
E: For the ideas?
E: So if I asked you “do you really need a space to produce work” or ‘”what is the minimum you need to make work?’, is it just the notebook?
M: Hmmm, I think so. I must say I learned a lot about the technical side, not only programming, but also carpentry work and so on. So now I order things from professional people. So actually Field_Works and other networked projects need very highly skilled programming. I believe I can do the programming, but maybe I will take ten or twenty times longer. I cannot offer such kind of long time to programming, so I have a very nice collaborator. He is my former student.
M: Mmm, Takeshi Kawashima.
E: Do you always work with him?
M: We are always discussing programming together
E: Is there also collaborative dialogue that alters the way you make work? Is that also another ‘site’ of where production really starts happening?
M: It’s really like a band. So he’s a kind of bassist… [laughs]
E: What sort of band? Rock band?… [laughs] we saw you really like music from your really nice stereo (points to valve amp)
M: Umm err! That’s another hobby!
M: Sound! Sound is mysterious, really really mysterious actually. I need maybe two hours to explain! Maybe because our ear can be changed according to the acoustics. Actually most people just talk about speakers, amps and so on, just the technology itself, but you know, room acoustics and our ear can be adjusted like a filtering…yes this is another aspect.
E: When there’s on one else here do you put a lot of music on? Do you put the music up loud… and listen?
M: Now a days not so much. The last tree years my hobby was so deep, that now I’m trying to forget about that!
E: Is it a form of addiction maybe?!
M: Not an addiction – it’s a kind of exploration, a technical exploration! I was finally able to make a vacuum like amp and all the speakers
E: You made it?
M: Yes. So that was really fun.
E: So this hobby that you call a hobby is also a sort of exploration. I read something about you also being a bit of an inventor [he laughs], it brings to mind an image of a kind of scientific inventor or I was going to say ‘mad professor’!
M: Umm, yes, another improvisational aspect of my process of producing work is kind of a bricolage of technical equipment, where I am trying to find out another useless possibilities…
E: Useless possibilities? Is it important to be useless?
M: Yes because most of the equipment already sold on the market should be useful, because we don’t need uselessness. I really have a curiosity about exploring other possibilities the technology itself has.
E: Do you have another space them? Because when I look around I cant ‘see’… in some artists studios, when you go to their studios you can see signs of their activity. When you say ‘exploring the technology’, in my mind I envisage you having lots of cables, things, gadgets… [laughs] and you’d be plugging lots of things into each other… Is there another place where there is this kind of ‘mess’?
E: Virtually? Or you don’t need that kind of mess to produce?
M: About 20 years ago I could have answered you like you thought, but now I don’t have any such kind of studio. Takashi is a programmer so he’s not so much good at cabling and other things! And most of the time I am ordering someone else to do it.
E: Perhaps it’s also that everything is less about cables now that everything is going more wire-less…
M: Sorry, maybe I’ve given you the wrong impression. Umm… dakara… I need less, how can I say… sometimes my English…
A: Your practice has developed to become more of a … You’re much more…
M: Just concepts…
A: Exactly, yes… and you have assistance
M: Yes. And then after I order specific cables and specific equipment
E: So you don’t need to do the physical stuff of plugging now that you know what you want?
M: I think I already know everything about the engineering side… when I was younger I played a lot, a kind of psychic… [laughs]
E: And more conceptual and almost theoretical? The focus of exploration has changed. I find your works are still very explorative, but no longer perhaps the questions of “what happens when you add this to that”, but the focus is on human perception and the idea of interactivity.
M: Yes, yes. Technology is actually quite simple in comparison to our mental structure
E: So you’ve shifted your interest from technology to mental structure- or was it always about mental structure in a way?
M: In a way you can say I shifted, but also maybe I can say that even when I was playing with different kinds of gadgets, junk, electronics, there was also kind of interest in an aspect of humans…
E: Is that because humans created them [i.e. the gadgets etc]?
M: Maybe. I suggest you visit Akihabara; it’s a kind of city…
E: Is that an important place for you in your work?
M: I think so. For the Japanese cultural situation it’s quite a speciality because [pauses] as you know Tokyo [National] University is over there [gestures to a location not far from his studio]. The main faculty of Tokyo University is engineering. The philosophy was that the most important department was engineering in the university, this is quite a strange history maybe when you see it from the European perspective because unlike European universities which are rooted in Philosophy as the base of all departments, here they put importance not on Philosophy but on Engineering. So engineering was not just seen as technology to integrate, or to make physically functionable. There are several reasons for Tokyo University’s a huge engineering faculty; right after the Meiji period and after the war we needed practical engineering for economic reasons, for fighting, for winning… then Akihabara was a kind of city selling fragments or the ingredients of consumer products and professional tools. So people could play with these junk objects and make something…
E: They could get the components and make things
M: Umm, such kind of city is very very rare all over the world. One of my greatest curiosities I have now is why Akihabara transformed from a city of engineering to Japanimation. I believe there is a strong connection between these two ‘addictions’, two different types of… it looks like different types of addictions, but I believe these addictions have a certain similarity. Someone should do more in-depth research into this…
E: But not you?
M: No, no
E: Did your own interest start by going to Akihabara and buying components?
M: Yes. My father brought me to Akihabara to buy electronic equipment
E: So he was also interested in electronics?
M: He was an engineer…
E: So you’ve got a good background for it?
M: He should have been an engineer… but he took economics when he was at university. So that wash is mistake. I believe he had a good talent to be an engineer. So several times he brought me to Akihabara and told me how to use these electronic parts and how to integrate them
E: Sounds good! [we all laugh]
M: Sorry I have talked a lot of time
E: No! Maybe because I know your time is short can Anthony take some photos of the studio?
Part Two: tracking and tracing
Masaki takes us to the part of his studio where he is currently filming his new work. A rostrum camera and lights is set up, scattered around on the rostrum table and floor and several white cards with small black fingerprints at the edges of one side:
E: Is this the improvisation?
M: Yes, I did this last night
E: So you’re working with a stills camera to make your work?
M: Yes, it’s really animation, so I can place a card over there, and another one and another… something like that so the content can be animated, but also the position is animated.
E: So this really is going back to basics?
M: Yes, very basic, very basic. Actually this kind of production can be made with a computer, like after-effects, but this is more interesting…
E: Ok [we take some photos]
M: I can show you the example [takes us to his computer in another room and opens a programme]
E: Is that what you did last night?
M: Sou, sou, sou … I have to put several pauses in here, so in this case this is not finished. Like here, I have to make a stop, then start another motion… here I need to make a pause, then another…
E: and then they all need to move over …
M: So I try to make certain order [we all watch the animated cards]
E: And the thumbprints, are you keeping them? Are they there as part of the work or are they markers?
E: The finger prints- is that a technique or is it an image?
M: An image, yes.
E: Is it the other side of the card? [referring to the cards in Unformed Symbols]
M: Sou, sou, sou … dakara… the piece on the other side of the room Unformed Symbols is about motion, animated motion of playing cards. So this is a kind of view from another side.
E: It’s the manipulation, it’s the hand touch, it’s…
M: Yes, yes.
E: Are you also going to do sound effects?!
M: Of course, of course!
E: And where do you do the sound effects? [all laugh] Do you just sit at night when everyone has gone home and go ‘urrrrghhherrrrrrmmmmm’? [M laughs] Ok! I think if it were me I’d want nobody to be here!
E: So that’s almost finished?
M: I have to alternate the ending part. I’m planning to record it tonight or tomorrow night. Then after that I need to edit every tiny frame, you know, frame by frame. Adjusting…then at the end I have to add some… maybe I need 3 or 4 days more
E: To do sound?
M: Umm [we watch the work again]
E: It looks great! When I watched Unformed Symbols on your DVD I certainly didn’t think it was real animation, I thought it must be computer generated.
M: Yes, but you know this kind of irregularity [he shows the video again], it looks smooth but this is not smooth, because the position was defined by myself physically, so this is more interesting. The motion is more live.
E: What would you say… because there is something that comes to mind with the fingerprints, something I remember from a long time ago somebody saying something about Japanese pottery, ceramics, especially that the… is it Japanese or Chinese now…[Laughs embarrassedly] sorry!
E: It’s the fingerprints that are left behind, so that whilst the ceramic has the sense of perfection, the ‘imperfection’ of the fingerprint [he laughs] also gives away the human touch, the human trace
M: Interesting, interesting. In this case, umm, the finger print is one of the famous ‘signs’, so in the field of semiotics there are three different types of signs – so the finger print can be categorised as an ‘index’, it’s a recorded shape. But sometimes the fingerprint can be used for identifying the human. Still now I cannot say clearly… [laughs] … perhaps people will start thinking about the existence of the person who made the motion… but it’s fake you know!?
E: Now you say it’s fake! [all laugh]
M: Sou, it’s impossible. If I made a finger print here I cannot make a move of the card.
E: So it ‘looks’ like you’ve done this [acts motion out] but the reality is that you haven’t
M: Sou, sou, sou
E: Actually I wondered if you’d filmed it from underneath when I saw the other piece I thought maybe you’d filmed it from underneath and somebody was pushing it around…[all laugh]
M: This is interesting
E: Also it looks like each card has an identity of its own, the way it’s standing…
M: Sou, sou, sou [plays it again]
E: And this you can’t get if you did it with a computer?
M: [watching clip] Oh, this is a mistake I forgot about! This is also one…I took off… [all laugh]
E: Do you have to have some imperfections? [all laugh]
M: I try to cut off the imperfections
E: So now we’re already learning a secret by coming to the studio. [all laugh] That’s why it’s very important the studio…
M: Make things perfect
E: How important is the space in a gallery for you?
M: Yes, that’s a very interesting question, so maybe it’s a bit similar attitude to you…I don’t know whether the gallery space is the best place for showing, but its about trying to suit, trying to design for suiting the typical gallery space
M: Yes, but I have very big problem about showing the Field_Works. I still can’t agree about the way of showing them
E: It seems that Field_Works each time it’s done for a specific site, that… that it’s a form of approach to locations that change.
M: Yes, it’s locational
E: And because its locational work it becomes difficult to show anywhere else? Except maybe the ‘tools’ you use?
M: At the end you know I only have digital data, a video database, and this video database can be shown many different types of format. If I make a database, I can make many different types of interface. Normally I’m using screens with stereoscopic projections and stereoscopic glasses, this will make a visual impact, but the most successful way to show the work is to use the CAVE system [Cave Automatic Virtual Environment]. That means one, two, three, four… four screens – that’s really expensive, almost impossible to use CAVE. I don’t know whether you know or not, but all over the world there are maybe only three or four or five active CAVE systems.
E: No I don’t know, is it a unit of some kind?
M: Sou, one, two, three screens and one floor projection. So I.C.C [Tokyo] has and this is for the public and also ARS Electronica in Linz also has one, I believe these two are the only two CAVE systems for the public
E: So you’re stuck with just working in these places if you want the CAVE system
M: Hmm, so this is the perfect system
E: Is it also another difficulty with that work because it’s so site specific that relocating the work to a gallery space outside of the site is also a problem for you?
M: Yes. Also another type of problem with some of the projects like Mersey Circle which is a project I realised in Mersey Island [UK]. Here the original concept was to use public participation, or I coined the word ‘virtual collective memory’. Sou…dakada…eeto… it was not only to make a video database but also the process of participation was important. The problem was I needed quite a long time to organise all the video into the computer, so in this case our recording event happened in the summer time but the show was in November. So I needed two or three months to organise it.
E: And is ‘organising’ also ‘editing’?
M: Yes, yes
E: And you chose specific pieces that you find tell you more? Or how do you decide that editing process?
M: Simply, most of the sequence is useless! [laughs]
E: Ok! It’s got too much movement?
M: Yes and also hmm, I try to find out interesting topics
E: So it means you had to view all the data that everyone went filmed. So you’re the mastermind…
M: So that’s a problem, the editing should be done by each person that did the recording. That is more interesting
E: Yes, so what they select is the edit. I suppose so
M: Technical skills is an obstacle and technically we need a special programme for easy editing
E: iMovie? No? Easy: chop, chop?!
M: Yes! [laughs] Ok, I tell you the difficulty for the editing is that I need a specific time stamp, it’s not about time code. I’m using a time stamp for adjusting the position of the GPS data
E: Can you explain one thing for me?
E: Why is the angle so important?
M: So the GPS data is quite useful when you are moving, once you stop, even if you’re not moving, the data is moving. For example when the movement is in this direction and you’re looking forward, the recorded image is correct, but when you stop, when you are recording this, the data is moving like this and the screen moves rapidly- this is very very bad…while you have stopped the screen is moving randomly. So I have to stop these errata
E: Right, it’s an erratum!?
M: Then I put another sensor for detecting which direction you are recording, but this experiment produced some interesting aspects. I found interesting aspects because if the timing is so accurate, each frame will move in this direction or that, but the horizontal line is not moving and in the end the frame becomes a window frame. Just we are stopping here, and just the window is moving round. This is very interesting normally this is…how can I say [laughs]
E: Your work… to me, is more then 3 dimensional. You know I think some people have the capacity to take on these extra dimensions, but while I was watching it, [laughs] I felt very disorientated. It made me question: ‘am I this side or am I that side?’ and then what’s interesting is that when you document you lose immediately, you lose the ability… or what you gain is that when you are documenting you can also choose who to focus on and I think in some of your documentation you chose to focus on other people- like when you’re using the panoramic camera, you chose the sections where you’re not there…
M: Sou, sou, sou [laughs loud]
E: And then you realise that there is another side, and you start to question where this other side is. That’s what I was asking myself when I watched it. Afterwards I wondered if you had filmed the documentation or someone else filmed it, but I found this point interesting. Yes… maybe worlds inside worlds inside worlds. That brings me to the question about the works Field_Works. It has a reference to anthropology for me …
Part Three: mediating mirrors
E: In anthropology you do ‘fieldwork’, it’s supposedly just about gathering information and then afterwards you go home and you do the ‘anthropology’ but obviously what ever you recorded is already informed by your concept of anthropology and in anthropology it becomes very important in how you define your ‘field’, where is your focus. The word ‘field’ in English is a field that you plough. It has four corners, so I wondered what is that field for you?
E: Or is it sometimes perhaps something you don’t define but is defined by the participants?
M: Hmm … eeto… maybe I try to do a role of catalyst
M: If I would not go there, nothing would happen [laughs]. So I try to make some stimulation [laughs]
E: sounds very scientific! Well not scientific- but ‘prodding’ like at the zoo, poking the animals [all laugh]… but you need to go there and you need to travel to go there and you need to be an outsider to go there
M: Yes, sou, sou
E: Quite interesting
M: Yes, maybe the last project I did in Geneva is the most interesting [refers to Landing Home in Geneva part of the Field_Works series]
M: Because the panoramic camera makes you crazy, because it makes me crazy, because I am included! So I knew such a function but I couldn’t make any solution
E: [laughs] You mean you didn’t want to be there, you wanted to use the non-reflective mirror! [refers to Unreflective Mirror] [all laugh]
M: Sou, dakara
E: Too much technology there. Yes, so you had to include yourself, but then in a way that work and it’s use of the panoramic camera for me makes a link back to the Conquest Of Imperfection because it seems to me that you’re included in so much of the work anyway. You are… as well it’s when you’re doing the piece in Geneva it becomes the border, like you’re looking at the translator, but you cant have the translator working alone, the translator only does the function when they have somebody else- the other self. So they only become the border if you have two other sides
M: Yes, yes
E: You’re one side and people you encounter are the other. But its also interesting in anthropology you often have when an anthropologist goes somewhere they get an ‘informer’- a different word, informer not translator, who brings information, kind of similar, but maybe slightly different roles and with different connotations…
M: Maybe I can say, I don’t know if it’s correct or not, but I, you know the medium can be understood as a mirror, so the medium can reflect yourself. So even you write or draw some picture, after you saw the drawing you can understand your condition. So when you make a beautiful colour or good shape you know, you’re conditions nice. If your conditions is not so nice maybe you can not chose a beautiful colour or shape like… also like a singer, they have to take care of their condition for making a nice voice… yes! That’s a different thing!
E: Do you think it’s important that you are an outsider in the work?
M: I don’t know
E: Or that you had to travel, because all the works seem to be about ‘journeys’ and obviously mapping, but all the works also involve the viewer going on the journey that other people went on, but also everyone of them seems to be you had to go somewhere to do the work, you couldn’t stay in your studio and do it, you had to go somewhere else. It seems like a really strong theme
M: Hmm… another important aspect for the medium is the recording function…eeto… maybe you know Regis Debray? He’s a person who coined the term ‘mediologie’, he’s a French thinker and he said medium has 3 different aspects one is about communication. I mean distribution or communication horizontally in the same time. But another aspect is recording and archiving, like a library and museums, so even if no one has ay interest in my work, but when I keep recording… I don’t know, maybe 1000 years later ‘who is this man?!” [laughs]… it’s a kind of aspect. And the third function Regis is talking about is a tool that makes something real. So there are 3 different aspects, maybe my piece Field_Works is strongly related to all 3 things. So this project can be used as a mirror for the participants/interviewee, to use this as a reflection from Masaki! And also, this is a recording project, an archive project for making a database and also I can say it’s a drawing on the ground and I am using this project as a tool to know what I am.
E: I was in my notes saying it was a recording and a re-coding, because you’re catalogueing and coding this material and you’re editing it giving it a code as well as a sort of physical coding…
M: Yes, sorry, I am not a theoretician, but simply I can say when I find out some interesting aspect of a medium, why not, I have to develop it and after I realise it I can understand what was my curiosity. It is very basic attitude to me.
E: That’s the fundamental? Its to have the curiosity to explore and then realise what you’re curiosity was
M: Yes, if I knew the result I would not have to do it
E: Do you know when you get to the end?
M: Then, most cases, I find out another interesting aspect from that! [laughs]
E: Your work, your history of your work does have for me many different trajectories
E: Not separate, but…
M: Roughly its three different types of curiosity
E: Ok, so is one Field_Works?
E: Two is the..
E: Oh installation? Is that Conquest of Imperfection?
M: Yes maybe. Yes it’s a kind of struggle with the historical cultural code of galleries, gallery space. And the third one is networks. I almost concluded with network piece Off Sense, this is a work which started from a network communication project, but I am quite bored with the kind of avatar, cyberspace..
E: It is quite interesting coming to the work from my own question because it seems like some of the work from Conquest of Imperfection is still, has this outside influence, and when it gets to Off Sense, it like it becomes a world of its own, really crazy world…
M: [laughs] Sou, sou, sou
E: And I was thinking of this word ‘hermetically sealed’ but it is not really because there is stuff coming in, but its just a world that just seems like its in its own system like looking at the plants in Orchisoid which had their own bio system, they were not part of my system… not part of the world we live in. It felt like you were just setting up a space for this to happen and it was doing its own thing. Obviously you’ve programmed it all to happen but it really gave me a strong impression that it was another world that existed without our influence or input
M: Yes, that’s really a quality understanding. I can show you a very interesting aspect of cyber space, its really difficult to understand by words- very abstract, and after I played a bit with cyberspace our world that we’re believing this is kind of reality, this reality was made our brain. So this idea came from playing with cyberspace
E: So cyberspace has made our brain? Or,
M: No, no, no. By realising a cyberspace
E: Oh, ok..
M: By programming it, I found difficult aspects for make the cyberspace stable. It’s really easy to corrupt. The most difficult part is timing. For example, if there are two characters, two avatars trying to share the same word, but this avatar spreads out the information about where he is and the other avatar is also spreading, distributing his position data to other people. So each time each avatar looks at the information and tries to reconstruct the world in each second, no actually maybe nana second [laughs], but sometimes this information is corrupted by some reason, the delay of the cable… then you know something happens! All the time each avatar should wait to collect certain information otherwise…
E: Is that an erratum? Or is it life?
M: My understanding, yes, its reality, it’s a truth. I believe this world is also similar problem, but we don’t know our brain is very nicely programmed for erasing this kind of errata. So you know sometimes its usual for people to say ‘oh such an occult’. Occultic situation is kind of errata.
E: Yes, everything that’s problematic is an ‘errata’, but actually its very much part and parcel of life
M: So for example, according to my description of the avatars, if one avatar sends the data of his position, but some data goes to somewhere else, for example one second before the position of the one second before was distributed, but by some reason the data was stuck to somewhere and the data came to the avatar a bit delayed and instead he received two pieces of data… that moment the avatars will appear in his view. This kind of situation can happen.
E: When you see that happening, did you understand what was happening when you saw it? Can you spot the errata?
M: Umm, yes. For realising the cyberspace we tried the erase the errors, so its really easy to find out the errata each time we face the errata we try to understand the happenings behind, then try to erase it. So most of the case the errata is more interesting then the normal situation.
E: But for the viewer we don’t understand that process of delimitating, or getting rid of all the errata
M: No. It’s a pity
E: It’s a shame in a way
M: Ok it’s a bit difficult for me to explain in English but the most interesting aspect we found is when we made a special function. When 2 avatars meet together then a new space emerged. Inside this space only two avatars are inside and instantly the two avatars start a discussion. This is my whole idea, kind of a special function of my cyberspace. A kind of happenings because of my programmers ‘easiness’ even inside this sphere when two avatars meet together, then the next sphere can emerge. So he didn’t think about such situation because he just made a function to make a sphere and this function was copied into the same sphere, then we can make a small world and inside this another small world and so on.
E: To infinity?
E: Oh Masaki, that’s very complicated to visualise!
M: Sou! Actually this kind of situation can be made by programming, but this will come to an end because of the memory of the system. Each time the program creates a new space, the program needs additional memory. So its really biting into the last bits of memory in the store.
E: So there is a limit somewhere, which is why you need to get rid of the errata otherwise the whole thing, structure collapses
M: It’s like a matrix
E: It becomes a metaphor for life… and organisational dis-topia
M: Yes, it’s really a metaphor
E: Dis-topia and fears of… I mean Off Sense is if you want to read it this way is pessimistic… that’s what its all going to become…!
M: If I have a kind of background in filmmaking maybe I could maybe make a movie like Matrix [we all laugh]. Its really really strange abstract world behind
E: I’m fascinated! [we laugh]
M: I’m sorry!
E: No, no! Its like it makes your mind vibrate! [laugh] I should probably let you get back to work… after you’ve taken me to the edge of the universe! It feels a little like that!
M: That’s why I told you we have similar attitude for the field of art because my curiosity is bigger then the kind of art field, especially for the art market. It’s very small world. So ere are more and more interesting and strange aspects in the technological field but most of the people just use technology as a rational tool, communication devices, or kind of production tool, but behind these new technology there are many interesting philosophically aspects.
E: Definitely, and also it is people what have made this technology, so is there not something about the fact that it is created by ‘us’ that means it should be actually quite complicated too?
M: Yes, I’ve been thinking about in the last twenty years why humans invented computers. This was invented in the middle of the twentieth century. So it’s already fifty or sixty years past. And people are spending a lot of energy, money and so on. Each company spend a lot of money that they lose
E: There’s a lot of waste and loss involved in this whole thing
M: Unbelievable spending!
E: Have you got any answers? [laughs] is it maybe a ‘hobby’, the fascination…
M: Yes, quite similar fascination. I don’t think it is a hobby, but a kind of fascination. They want to know what is the computer, what is the information technology that they art using, that they are making. So maybe the artist’s role is to explore and to physically and practically realise something which is pointing out interesting aspects of these technologies, mediums, media-technologies. Normally they just use technology as a rational purpose, maybe some of the interesting engineers also found something interesting aspects, but in that case that is just a hobby. There is no way to capture.
E: Do you have a lot of contact with the engineering side of the world? You collaborate with people and sometimes you collaborate with scientists and also they open your eyes…
M: Yes, that’s true. One of the… not so many scientists who are interesting, but interesting scientists make my eyes open, so they also want to know why humans, why we are living. Very fundamental questions…
E: Yes, its quite interesting when you get to very pure science, some of the questions may not be so distant or dissimilar
M: Yes. For example one of my friends he is a scientist and he has been making robots, but his purpose for developing robots is to know how humans grow. So trying to mimic the same process. But now he left robotics and is now researching cells and DNA biology.
E: Maybe the robot was limited?! It’s easier to start tampering with cells…
M: Yes, then to make a robot
M: Bio… synthetics…
E: All right! Masaki thank you! Really thank you it’s been great to hear more and it feels like the right time to…
M: Yes… and also I wanted to ask you [laughs] about practical methodology of anthropology…
The conversation continued, discussions around anthropology, filming, and the work of other artists.
I would like to thank Masaki Fujihata for his generosity in giving up his time for the interview and his openness to the discussions. To Ma Jung Yeon for re-reading the texts and her contributions towards getting the detail right, and to Anthony Lam for taking the photographs. I would also like to thanks Kathy Rae Hoffman and Chris Clarke for making this text/interview/publication possible.
An edited version of this interview has now been published by Manchester CornerHouse under the title of Masaki Fujihata- The Conquest of Imperfection, 2008. It includes full colour images of the work shown in his exhibition.
This interview is based around the viewing of documentation of the works: Field_Works and Conquest of Imperfection.
Within each series of works there are further titles, the list follows:
Field_Works 1992 – 2005
Impressing Velocity Mt.Fuji 1992-94
Impressing Velocity ZKM 1999
Field_works@Lake_Shinji video document
Mersea Circles 2003
Landing Home in Geneva 2005
Conquest of Imperfection 1995 – 2006
Beyond Pages 1995-97
Unreflective Mirror 2005
Unreflective Mirror 2006
Morel’s Panorama 2003
Unformed Symbols 2005
Portray the Silhouette 2006
Pixel and Eyes 2006
Off Sense 2006
Ruska’s Room 2004