“Provisional Studies”: Japanese artist Koki Tanaka at Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum

Japanese artist Koki Tanaka’s first solo exhibition in Austria uses ‘experimental setups’ to stress the importance of collective experience.

Currently on show until 28 August 2017 at Kunsthaus Graz is “Provisional Studies (Working Title)”, an exhibition by Japanese artist Koki Tanaka addressing the power and potential of collective action.

Koki Tanaka in the exhibition at Kunsthaus Graz. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Koki Tanaka in the exhibition at Kunsthaus Graz, 2017. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Through a series of text, film and photographic works, Koki Tanaka’s first solo show in Austria “Provisional Studies (Working Title)” considers what people can achieve when they work together. Curated by Barbara Steiner at Kunsthaus Graz, the explorative and dialogical nature of Tanaka’s work focuses on creating situations, or ‘experimental set-ups’, which invite ‘people to try out tasks that seem impossible’.

People may be asked by Tanaka to jointly write a protest song or compose a soundtrack on a piano by Tanaka, all of which is documented and subsequently displayed in a gallery setting. This exhibition includes new work from the artist, which centres around anti-nuclear protests, continuing Tanaka’s aim to ask difficult, provocative questions and create frameworks through which visitors and spectators engage in these social issues. The exhibition therefore stresses the importance of shared experience and collective participation, commenting on wider sociological questions bound up in strike action and demonstration.

Koki Tanaka, "Provisional Studies (working title)", 23 June - 27 August 2017, Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Koki Tanaka, “Provisional Studies (working title)”, 23 June – 27 August 2017, installation view at Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Themes of collectivity, democracy and community are crucial to Koki Tanaka’s work and inform this show, in line with his previous work. Prior exhibitions such as “Provisional studies: Action #5 Conceiving the Past, Perceiving the Present” at The Showroom in London focused on collaboration and encouraged visitors, including historians, seniors and school children, to contemplate local histories and bring along personal objects to exchange and share. Whilst his exhibition at Kunsthaus Graz does not rely so literally on the visitor, it does stress the impact that shared experience and social exchange have on collective and individual identity.

 Koki Tanaka, "Provisional Studies (working title)", 23 June - 27 August 2017, Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Koki Tanaka, “Provisional Studies (working title)”, 23 June – 27 August 2017, installation view at Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Tanaka’s practice is layered, focusing first on a particular project or event, and then displaying its documentation within a gallery setting. His work is designed to provoke and stimulate thought on a range of social and political issues, often linked to Japan but often based elsewhere; in this case, Austria. This allows him to be both an ‘outsider’ and a ‘local’ when working on different projects, and providing different perspectives. Tanaka describes himself as an “objective observer:”, organising meetings, shoots and situations which he sees as “frameworks” to let things happen, underpinned by conceptual thinking which allows “unclear things” to happen. He explains how his approach “is to set up uncertain goals or even no goal, and ask people to get lost with me”.

Provisional Studies: Action # 8 Rewriting A Song For Zwentendorf, © Koki Tanaka.

Koki Tanaka, ‘Provisional Studies: Action # 8 Rewriting A Song For Zwentendorf’. © Koki Tanaka.

One of the show’s key works is Provisional Studies: Action #8 Rewriting a Song for Zwentendorf, a film made specially for the exhibition. Focusing on a protest in the 1970s against the startup of the Zwentendorf Nuclear Power Plant in Austria, the project brings together those who were involved in the original protest with young people to rewrite the original protest song. Participants, both Austrian and Japanese, were then invited to the power station itself, which never became operational, where the new song was performed and recorded.

These events united perspectives and experiences across different generations, and the resulting film links the Austrian anti-nuclear protest in 1970 with issues surrounding the Fukushima disaster in 2011. As Tanaka states in a publication on the exhibition,

This is not about nostalgia. This is about the present. The future for which the original protesters fought is our present, and our present is someone else’s future. Over the course of rewriting the song, visiting AKW Zwentendorf and revisiting the history of protest, I hoped past, present and future would meet.

Precarious Tasks # 7: Try to Keep Conscious of a Specific Social Issue, in This Case 'Anti-Nuke' as Long as Possible While You're Wearing Yellow Color, © Koki Tanaka

Koki Tanaka, ‘Precarious Tasks # 7: Try to Keep Conscious of a Specific Social Issue, in This Case ‘Anti-Nuke’ as Long as Possible While You’re Wearing Yellow Color’. © Koki Tanaka.

Tanaka’s work also considers how to participate in protests or demonstrations without physically being there. Another key work in the exhibition, entitled Precarious Tasks #7: Try to Keep Conscious about a Specific Social Issue, in This Case ‘Anti-Nuke’ as Long as Possible while You are Wearing Yellow Color, is a photographic project that considers the weekly protests that take place every Friday outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Tokyo, in the wake of Fukushima. Takana explains:

It would be difficult to participate in every protest each Friday. We have our lives, our everyday jobs. But I wonder if there is some way for us to participate in the protests while maintaining our lives at the same time.

When Tokyo-based artist Kenjiro Okazaki suggested on Twitter that people around the world wear a yellow t-shirt on Fridays as a mark of anti-nuclear solidarity and participation, Tanaka, who is based in Los Angeles, responded by taking over a gallery space, turning off the electricity and preparing yellow cloth and scissors on a table for visitors to create their own yellow clothing to wear in protest, in a way that suited them. What interested Tanaka most was the individual reactions of visitors to the cloth, and the shared bodily response that everyone experienced: as it was a hot day of 36°C, the guests were extremely sweaty. Tanaka explains:

Divided across different positions, we nevertheless experienced the same bodily responses […] Having embarked upon a political action and reconsideration of art history, the bodily response of sweating was what remained ultimately.

The project was documented through photography and is displayed in the exhibition.

Koki Tanaka, "Provisional Studies (working title)", 23 June - 27 August 2017, Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Koki Tanaka, “Provisional Studies (working title)”, 23 June – 27 August 2017, installation view at Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Other projects include Project title: Provisional Studies: Action #6 1985 School Students Strike, which was commissioned by the Liverpool Biennial in 2016, a restaging of a Strike in Liverpool where thousands of school children marched against the Conservative government’s Youth Training Scheme. Also on show is A piano Played by Five Pianists at Once (First Attempt), a film which sees five musicians compose a “soundtrack for collective committment” and then play it on unison on one piano. Underpinning these works are ideas of exchange and community, of working together towards a common goal, even if the outcome is uncertain.

 Anna Jamieson

1764

Related topics: Japanese artists, museum showspolitical art, video art, performance

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