Japan’s Koki Tanaka named Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year 2015

The world takes notice as a young Japanese artist orchestrates everyday experiences to new levels of transcendence. 

Deutsche Bank announced its sixth “Artist of the Year” on 4 July 2014. Japanese-born, Los Angeles-based Koki Tanaka is the latest to be honoured with the annual award.

Koki Tanaka, 'Precarious Tasks #9, 24hrs Gathering', 2014, performance, collective acts. Commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. Image courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou and Aoyama Meguro, Tokyo.

Koki Tanaka, ‘Precarious Tasks #9, 24hrs Gathering’, 2014, performance, collective acts. Commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. Image courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou and Aoyama Meguro, Tokyo.

Deutsche Bank’s 2015 Artist of the Year Koki Tanaka (b. 1975, Tochigi, Japan) was chosen on the recommendation of the Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council, consisting of renowned curators Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann and Victoria Noorthoorn. The award is at its sixth edition, and Tanaka is the second artist from Asia to be thus honoured. Past winners include:

Performing the ordinary

Born and educated in Japan, Tanaka’s early performance work explored the phenomena of everyday objects. In Everything is Everything (2006), first exhibited at the 2006 Taipei Biennale, the artist and two assistants recorded their interactions and experiments with numerous household items including hangers, towels and toilet paper.

Koki Tanaka, 'Process of Blowing Flour' (still), 2010, four-part series, performance, photography. Image courtesy the artist, photographer Tomo Saito, Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou and Aoyama Meguro, Tokyo.

Koki Tanaka, ‘Process of Blowing Flour’ (still), 2010, four-part series, performance, photography. Image courtesy the artist, photographer Tomo Saito, Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou and Aoyama Meguro, Tokyo.

Over the course of eight days, their exploits were compiled into eight video loops. These were displayed on eight monitors placed on the floor, which was also strewn with the household items featured in the videos. In a 2006 interview with curator Akiko Miki, Tanaka remarked:

It is simply a matter of making people slightly conscious of what is noticed unconsciously in everyday life.

From performer to anthropologist

In 2009, Tanaka moved to Los Angeles on a grant from the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs. Leaving Japan proved to be an important milestone in Tanaka’s career. His work became increasingly collaborative and conceptual: instead of performing actions himself, his new works focused on documenting experimental work processes that involved multiple participants.

Koki Tanaka, 'A Poem Written by Five Poets at Once (First Attempt)', 2013. HD video, 68m:30s, four-framed papers written by participating poets. Image courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou and Aoyama Meguro, Tokyo.

Koki Tanaka, ‘A Poem Written by Five Poets at Once (First Attempt)’, 2013. HD video, 68m:30s, four-framed papers written by participating poets. Image courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou and Aoyama Meguro, Tokyo.

Examples include A Haircut by Nine Hairdressers at Once (Second Attempt) (2010) and A Poem Written by Five Poets At Once (First Attempt) (2013). In an interview with Art iT, Tanaka explained the philosophy of these open-ended works:

I put myself in the position of observing a kind of experiment. After creating the special situation, I left everything to the participants. Even the decisions over when to take a break, or even the possibility of stopping the filming midway, I left up to them. I was willing to accept whatever happened there.

Hou Hanru, member of the Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council and Artistic Director of the MAXXI in Rome, said that Tanaka:

always manages to magically transform [matters of the everyday] into fantastic events with a sense of humour, offering open but pungent implications that reveal the uncanniness of existence […] also a savvy mobilizer of collective actions […] encourages sharing among participants to produce a common sense of cooperation and creativity. His work represents an inventive approach toward exploring the question of community building.

Mobiliser of collective actions

Gradually, Tanaka began transforming these collective experiments into peaceful, clever forms of political protest. In Painting to the Public (Open-air) (2012), Tanaka invited artists and other participants to march with paintings in their hands or mounted on wooden boards like picket signs, such that the group resembled a political protest. As Art Asia Pacific reports:

Tanaka reimagines the act of presenting painting directly to the public – without the aid of electricity or artificial light – as a form of protest against the Japanese government’s sponsorship and continued use of nuclear power.

Koki Tanaka, 'A Behavioral Statement (or an Unconscious Protest), 2013, collective acts, HD video, 08m:00s. Photo by Takashi Fujikawa. Image courtesy the artist , Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou and Aoyama Meguro, Tokyo.

Koki Tanaka, ‘A Behavioral Statement (or an Unconscious Protest), 2013, collective acts, HD video, 08m:00s. Photo by Takashi Fujikawa. Image courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou and Aoyama Meguro, Tokyo.

The March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and ensuing Fukushima nuclear disaster are central to Tanaka’s work. He reflects that after the disasters, everyday decisions and actions in Japan take on increased political significance. For example, the choreographed video A Behavioral Statement (or an Unconscious Protest) (2013), exhibited in the Japanese Pavilion of the 55th Venice Biennale, posits the daily routine of an emergency drill as a shrewd political statement.

Koki Tanaka, 'Precarious Tasks #4, Sharing dreams w ith others, and then making a collective story', 2013, collective acts. Image courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou nad Aoyama Meguro, Tokyo.

Koki Tanaka, ‘Precarious Tasks #4, Sharing dreams w ith others, and then making a collective story’, 2013, collective acts. Image courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou nad Aoyama Meguro, Tokyo.

Tanaka’s art is a reminder that there are endless ways of empowerment. By creative collaboration and activation of everyday events and objects, Tanaka proves that even the most mundane situations can give rise to direct action. Stefan Krause, Chairman of Deutsche Bank’s Global Art Advisory Council, said:

Koki Tanaka forces us to see everyday things with new eyes. He represents a new generation of artists who connect their aesthetic concerns to social issues.

The Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year

The award aims to acquaint the public with new and exciting artists and works. Each year, Deutsche Bank honours a young artist who has already built up a substantial oeuvre with distinct and novel artistic visions.

The highlight of the program is a solo show in the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin, to be accompanied by an extensive catalogue. Scheduled for the spring of 2015, the exhibition will be Tanaka’s first solo show in Europe. Currently, his works can be seen in group exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London and the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Japanese artists, prizes, awards ceremonies, performance art, collective actions, found objects

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Japan’s Koki Tanaka named Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year 2015 — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Caline Aoun: Deutsche Bank's "Artist of the Year" 2018 | Tatinis

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