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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
- Snapshots of precariousness: Mono-ha artist Kishio Suga’s “Situations” at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan – January 2017 – Japanese artist Kishio Suga’s retrospective “Situations” reflects on the notions of uncertainty and relationship through the eye of Mono-ha compositions
- The thread of relationships: Chiharu Shiota at the Melbourne Arts Festival – in pictures – October 2016 – inspired by the body and concepts of home, Chiharu Shiota transforms spaces with her intricate webs
- Myth and the imagination: Japanese artist Ryuzo Satake – artist profile – August 2016 – Japanese artist blurs the divide between mythology, imagination and reality
- Art to provoke: Japan’s irreverent artist Tadasu Takamine – artist profile – August 2016 – Art Radar profiles provocative Japanese artist Tadasu Takamine
- Art Basel Hong Kong 2016 Conversations: artists Tatsuo Miyajima and Samson Young – summary – April 2016 – as part of its ‘Conversations’, Art Basel Hong Kong invited sound artist Samson Young and new media artist Tatsuo Miyajima to find the points of similarity and difference in their practices
Subscribe to Art Radar for more on Japanese contemporary art