Japanese artist Shingo Yoshida explores the relationship between human and environment through the lens of story telling.
Albania-based Gallery on the Move presents three Shingo Yoshida film works, drawing inspiration from diverse sources, from Jules Verne to folklore raven tales. The exhibition is open until 1 April 2017.
Nature and human: a protagonist in his own movie
Shingo Yoshida is a Japanese photographer and video artist whose work often departs from his research into local myth and folklore and traditions of human and nature interactions. His work The End of Day and Beginning of the World (2015) – one of the three films displayed in Gallery on the Move’s exhibition – is a 20-minute homage to the expansive and stark Siberian regions of Chukota and Beringa. Speaking in a recent interview about what drew his attention to the region, Yoshida explained:
Whenever I fly back to Japan, I mostly take the route via Russia and each time I am still astonished by the vast size of this country that owns such a cultural diversity. It even owns the date line at the 180th meridian and separates two calendar days. Since my stay in the Amazonian jungle I have been into the idea of going to the South Pole as another place of extreme conditions.
Yoshida refers to a period he spent in the Amazon jungle, researching and filming for his video I Prepared the Perfect Answer for What you Wanted (2010). In the work we find the artist alone in the middle of the Amazonian jungle. He tries in vain to find his place and utility, confronted by a nature in which every element participates in the formation of a vital ecosystem, a meaningful ensemble. Contrary to the distance that Romanticism creates between human and environment in an aestheticising project that pits nature as a cure for human suffering, Yoshida approaches nature as an extension of the human body and experience. As the protagonist of his own movie, Yoshida is seen trying to balance the practical need for survival and existential questions of meaning and relevancy.
In The End of Day and Beginning of the World Shingo Yoshida returns to the landscape of the Russian far East – as terrifying as it is beautiful – and documents his own dialogue with the environment through the lens of local raven folk tales. Raven spirits are traditionally revered in various forms by various indigenous peoples of the zone studied by Yoshida. Kutkh appears in many legends as a key figure in creation – a fertile ancestor of mankind, as a mighty shaman and as a trickster. He is a popular subject of the animist stories of the Chukchi people and plays a central role in the mythology of the Koryaks and Itelmens of Kamchatka.
Many of the stories regarding Kutkh are similar to those of the Raven among the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, suggesting a long history of indirect cultural contact between Asian and North American peoples. In a statement about the work, Shingo Yoshida described the production process:
The “Chukchi” people showed us “Yaranga”, their tents out of the cities. On our way we saw Eskimos ancient housing made of whale bones. To the North pole and Arctic regions we took meat and bread as sacrificial offerings to nature and the ravens to thank them for their protection during the trip. There is a junction where the Arctic Circle crosses the 180th meridian. The latter runs vertically to set the basis for the International Date Line, which separates two consecutive calendar days.
Talking in the aforementioned interview about his reaseach process, Yoshida highlights his interest in starting from an enquiry into local myth, stating:
The research I like the most is about folklore when I get to talk to local people who tell me their stories during my journeys. Folklore plays a crucial part of documenting our own culture and at the same time there is always an amount of it being fiction, which you can hardly know. I like this tension.
The meaning of life
Shingo Yoshida’s work raises the question of one’s origin, roots and identification, and stresses the notion of psychological and geographical territories. In the video SOS Morse code-Fernsehturm (2010), the artist stages himself at the top of the Fernsehturm, sending out a Morse code SOS to a city that remains unconcerned. With proximity to theatre of the absurd, Yoshida questions the meaning of existence without finding pertinent answers.
Also included in the exhibition are Yoshida’s works Error (2013) and Voyage Au Centre de la Terre (2014). Error focuses on a glitch in a street lamp at Berlin Alexanderplatz, the rhythmic flickering appears almost to be staged. This malfunction, those moments when the lights turn off, mark its presence. It paradoxically shows itself only as it suddenly disappears. Yoshida relates this curious public incident, that occurs night after night just outside his studio, to a silent personal reflection of one’s own alienated presence amidst an urban setting, where an overwhelming network of functionality attempts to guide us so that we do not have to grope in the dark. A clip of the video can be seen here.
Voyage Au Centre de la Terre is a personal hommage to Jules Verne’s book of the same title. For the work, the artist travelled to the site in Iceland described by the book, stating in a description of the work that he then proceeded to make a representation of the text “in his own way”. The videos by Shingo Yoshida constitute an investigation of the individual and his or her place and relevance in today’s reality. They reveal the difficulty for contemporary human beings to integrate themselves into a constantly changing environment, to find an identity and function within globalized realities, mutating and confused cultures and intensified migrations.
On his website, the artist states:
Our being as a single human is a humble existence. Still, while feeling meaningless there is the perception of surprise due to devastating magnificence. My primary intention is by all means to restate my memory of such a magnificent experience. Due to the fact that I become aware of the little existence I am, I can face myself. The result is similar to a comparison: As method to reconfirm myself, I try to find legends and myths, states of society that are hidden somewhere in the world and almost forgotten or lost. Finally this is the reason why I continue traveling.
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