“Figures in a Landscape”: British-Japanese artist Simon Fujiwara at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf

Simon Fujiwara explores happiness and fragility across the global media.

British-Japanese artist Simon Fujiwara turn his anthropological gaze to the languages of social media, marketing and advertising in his latest solo exhibition entitled “Figures in a Landscape”, on display at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf until 5 March 2017.

(Left) Simon Fujiwara, 'Joanne', 2016 and (Right) Simon Fujiwara, 'Masks (Merkel), 2016. Installation view: "Simon Fujiwara. Figures in a Landscape" at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf 2017. Photo: Achim Kukulies. Image courtesy Kunsthalle Düsseldorf.

Simon Fujiwara, ‘Joanne’, 2016 (left); ‘Masks (Merkel), 2016 (right). Photo: Achim Kukulies. Image courtesy Kunsthalle Düsseldorf.

After graduating in Architecture from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and Fine Art in Germany, British-Japanese artist Simon Fujiwara made a name for himself with his 2007 project the Museum of Incest. The touring installation and performance lecture riffs on anthropological and archaeological tropes of human origin stories in an exploration of themes such as sexuality and fraught family relationships. The project was included in various seminal solo and group exhibitions, including “The Museum’s Show” at the Arnolfini Museum in Bristol in 2012, which collected a number of projects that appropriate the language and authority of museum curating and collecting. Since then Fujiwara has been based in Berlin, where he has continued to weave fiction and documentary, ethnography and parody in installations, performance, video and sculpture works.

Simon Fujiwara, 'Ich', 2015. Installation view: "Simon Fujiwara. Figures in a Landscape" at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf 2017. Photo: Achim Kukulies. Image courtesy Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. Photo credit: Achim Kukukulies. Image courtesy Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City © The Artist.

Simon Fujiwara, ‘Ich’, 2015. Photo: Achim Kukulies. Image courtesy Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, proyectos Monclova, Mexico City. © The Artist.

Figures in a Landscape

The exhibition “Figures in a Landscape” at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf – Fujuwara’s first major solo show at a museum in Germany – sees Fujiwara continuing to explore how systems seemingly divergent as the historical, the archaeological, the biological and the industrial work to structure the personal. This time he directs his anthropological gaze towards the construction of identity in a technologically and advertising mediated world, exploring the strategies of self production across a series of “characters” whose happiness and fragility Fujiwara studies.

Simon Fujiwara 'Hello', 2015. Film Still Courtesy of the artist © The Artist, 2015.

Simon Fujiwara, ‘Hello’, 2015, film still. Image courtesy the artist. © The Artist, 2015.

Hello and happiness

The video work Hello (2015) explores changes in the working lives of two people: Maria, a Mexican trash picker who separates and collects recyclable materials from landfills to sell by the kilo, and Max, a German freelance computer-animation designer working for the advertising industry in Berlin. The double interview is controlled and manipulated by a computer-generated severed hand that Maria describes as an object once discovered in the trash while working in the violent northern town of Mexicali. This CGI hand was in turn produced by Max who was born with no arms and sought refuge in computer imaging as a means to operate and manipulate a digital reality.

Installation view of "The Happy Museum", 2016, at Berlin Bienniale, 2016. Photo credit: Timo Ohler. Image courtesy the artist and Berlin Bienniale.

Simon Fujiwara, ‘The Happy Museum’, 2016, installation view at Berlin Biennale, 2016. Photo: Timo Ohler. Image courtesy the artist and Berlin Biennale.

The video work forms part of a wider installation project that has not been included in the current exhibition. Entitled The Happy Museum, the installation is a collection of artworks, everyday objects, advertising, clothing, performances and videos (of which Hello is one) that explore Germany’s material expressions of happiness in the 21st century. The Happy Museum was developed for the 2016 edition of the Berlin Biennale and produced by Fujiwara in consultation with his brother Daniel, an economist working in the field of “happiness economics”.

Part scientific laboratory, part archaeological display, the selection of objects on display is an attempt to materialise “econometric” data ostensibly gathered by the Fujiwara brothers on the well-being of Berliners. The work creates an uneasy snapshot of the capital city of a new Germany – a country reimagined and apparently “at ease with itself” yet clearly marred by political crisis. The idiosyncratic collection presents the mask of a nation that, at least on the surface, appears to have never been happier.

Simon Fujiwara Masks, 2016 Make-up on canvas, Dimensions variable. Installation view: "Simon Fujiwara. Figures in a Landscape" at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf 2017. Photo credit: Achim Kukulies. Image courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman, Paris.

Simon Fujiwara, ‘Masks’, 2016, make-up on canvas, dimensions variable. Photo: Achim Kukulies. Image courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman, Paris.

Simon Fujiwara Masks, 2016 Make-up on canvas, Dimensions variable. Installation view: "Simon Fujiwara. Figures in a Landscape" at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf 2017. Photo credit: Achim Kukulies. Image courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman, Paris.

Simon Fujiwara, ‘Masks’, 2016, make-up on canvas, dimensions variable.
Photo: Achim Kukulies. Image courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman, Paris.

The mask of Germany

Fujiwara further probes the notion of “the mask of Germany” in his video work Masks (Merkel) (2016). The work departs from a seemingly banal fact relating to Germany’s present leader Angela Merkel: every day the chancellor’s makeup artist applies a special makeup developed for HD cameras – an “invisible mask”. Simon Fujiwara scanned a picture of Angela Merkel’s makeup applied to a piece of paper by her makeup artist, enlarged it by a factor of 1000, and divided it into grid segments. The resulting “makeup paintings” are high-resolution close-up views of the omnipresent image of “the most powerful woman in the world”, and yet they leave us disoriented and wondering what we are seeing or believe we are seeing. Is it a portrait or a fragment? A document or an artifact? An image or an object?

Simon Fujiwara, 'Joanne', 2016. Mixed Media Installation (HD Video 13:34), Film Still Commissioned by FVU, The Photographers’ Gallery and Ishikawa Foundation Supported by Arts Council England. Installation view: "Simon Fujiwara. Figures in a Landscape" at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf 2017. Photo credit: Achim Kukulies. Image courtesy the artist.

Simon Fujiwara, ‘Joanne’, 2016, mixed media installation, HD video, 13:34 min, film still. Commissioned by FVU, The Photographers’ Gallery and Ishikawa Foundation. Supported by Arts Council England. Photo: Achim Kukulies. Image courtesy the artist.

Joanne

Joanne (2016) is the third video work in the exhibition. The work departs from the life of friend and former teacher of Fujiwara’s Joanne Selley. Selley was pushed into the limelight while working as an art teacher at exclusive London school for rich boys Harrow when students found and distributed nude pictures of the former model. The video work was made as a collaboration between Selley and Fujiwara and tracks the process of recomposing her public image after the event. The video is composed of fragments of interviews with the former model, boxer, art teacher, actress and designer as she gradually takes control of the way the viewer views her. Fujiwara’s documentary style video seeks to propose a sensitive and captivating frame through which to approach the character of Joanne Selley, while simultaneously complicit in the process of producing Joanne as a public character.

Simon Fujiwara Joanne, 2016 Mixed Media Installation (HD Video 13:34), Film Still Commissioned by FVU, The Photographers’ Gallery and Ishikawa Foundation Supported by Arts Council England © The Artist

Simon Fujiwara, ‘Joanne’, 2016, mixed media installation, HD video, 13:34 min, film still. Commissioned by FVU, The Photographers’ Gallery and Ishikawa Foundation. Supported by Arts Council England. © The Artist.

With an eye to the role of social media in transforming humans stories into consumable products and humans into brands, Joanne Selley (as with Masks (Merkel)) requires that the spectator ask a series of identifying questions in regards to what they are seeing, Joanne similarly inspires such questions as: is she real of fictitious? Is she a TV personality or an artist? Is she a figure of Fujiwara’s imagination or is she a subject in her own right?

Simon Fujiwara, 'Joanne', 2016. Mixed Media Installation (HD Video 13:34), Film Still Commissioned by FVU, The Photographers’ Gallery and Ishikawa Foundation Supported by Arts Council England. Installation view: "Simon Fujiwara. Figures in a Landscape" at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf 2017. Photo credit: Achim Kukulies. Image courtesy the artist.

Simon Fujiwara, ‘Joanne’, 2016, mixed media installation, HD video, 13:34 min, film still. Commissioned by FVU, The Photographers’ Gallery and Ishikawa Foundation. Supported by Arts Council England. Photo: Achim Kukulies. Image courtesy the artist.

Figures in a Landscape: storytelling and the media

The question of the construction and representation of identity and stories is a central element in Fujiwara’s oeuvre. The artist is skilled at appropriating a whole apparatus of display and inverting expectations through blurring the lines between fact and fiction. With his fictitious and iconoclastic museum projects it is the language of the traditions that constitute the neo-colonial period (1880s-1919): ethnography, anthropology, paleontology, botany, mineralogy and anthropometry. In “Figures in a Landscape” Fujiwara turns on the dominant pictorial conventions and aesthetics from areas such as marketing and advertising, pop culture, and social media, only to undermine them from the inside or reveal the ambivalences inherent in them through subtle alterations. Fujiwara is distinguished in his attention to the blind spots of popular culture in projects that seek a shift in perception around modes of production, affect and the creation of systems of meaning in the global media.

Rebecca Close

1531

Related topics: Japanese artistsnew media artinstallationpoliticalmuseum shows, events in Germany

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