Illuminant Surfaces: artist and designer Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn – in conversation

Exploring the techno-visual within a gallery context, Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn is exhibiting at Owen James Gallery. 

Art Radar spoke to the artist about bringing light into the Brooklyn-based gallery.  

Installation view. Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn. 'Illuminate Surfaces', Owen James Gallery. 17 November - 17 December 2017. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, “Illuminant Surfaces”, 17 November – 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn presents “Illuminant Surfaces”, an exhibition which introduces advanced environmental light design into the gallery realm, running until 17 December 2017. Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn is the also the founder of Studio 1 Thousand, a Brooklyn-based lighting design studio that specialises in complex LED installations. For this exhibition, Tsutakawa-Chinn has created a series of smaller-scale wall works that “respond to and engage the more intimate nature of a contemporary art gallery setting”.

 Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, "Illuminant Surfaces", 17 November - 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, “Illuminant Surfaces”, 17 November – 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

Gallery owner, Owen James Gal explains how Tsutakawa-Chinn’s work bridges the gap between light, colour and technology :

At the heart of Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn’s vision, is an exploration of the interactions of scalable technology, 3-dimensional geometry, and the optical effects of advanced light and color design possibilities. His varied projects to-date have incorporated a significant degree of collaboration and an intuitive understanding of the balance between materials and industrial design, as well as the relationships between space and form.

 Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, "Illuminant Surfaces", 17 November - 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, “Illuminant Surfaces”, 17 November – 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

For example, Tsutakawa-Chinn collaborated with Studio Joseph to create a site-specific light sculpture for the Museum of the City of New York, where over 5,000 light diodes were suspended from the museum’s stairwell. In this sense, an area of the museum which was previously overlooked and considered a gap in the architecture, was redefined, “claiming for itself a central role that is both ethereal and impossible to ignore”.

In “Illuminant Surfaces”, Tsutakawa-Chinn’s techno-visual world is streamlined and scaled-down to create these techno-visual experiments. He presents a series of works that can be viewed both individually and in relation to each other, utilising some of the newest technologies in computer-aided light and industrial design.
Art Radar spoke to the artist about his thinking behind this original exhibition, and the place of design-based work and products within the gallery space.

 Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, "Illuminant Surfaces", 17 November - 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, “Illuminant Surfaces”, 17 November – 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

What do you feel are the core differences between art and design?

Art, design and craft live in a Venn diagram together. People often ask how these are different, as if the answer should be in black and white, but we all know that’s not the case. Creative people slide between media or intention with ease, possibly taking the same object and reframing its vector. As with all things, our measuring stick is based on our own relativity to the object itself.

Are we looking at the subject from a reference point of use? Of beauty? Of both? What is the quantity? Does the maker and the viewer have the same frame of reference when evaluating the object? As we move into more work which has an intersectional perspective, we must ask ourselves if those labels are required for success. Obviously there are some objects which are distinctly in the realm of art or specifically design, but again, only in the current consensus of our community. E.g. one potato peeler versus millions. Is it art when scarce? One original Picasso versus thousands of posters?

 Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, "Illuminant Surfaces", 17 November - 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, “Illuminant Surfaces”, 17 November – 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

How was the process of making work for the show more challenging, or different, than your normal work?

Coming from a design background, the hardest challenge is to satisfy yourself as “the client”. When you do client-based work, you often leave unrealised creativity or greatness on the table. The client has budget or a timeline that need to be met. Or they don’t fully understand or want to pay for what you think is the best option. While budgets will affect your own creativity, it’s only up to you to make that series, a long series of micro decisions, which influence the outcome of the final piece. As a practicing artist, who has studied colour, composition, perspective, proportion, etc., that part comes relatively easily; it’s generally the variety of opportunity which makes the decisions hard.

 Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, "Illuminant Surfaces", 17 November - 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, “Illuminant Surfaces”, 17 November – 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

 Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, "Illuminant Surfaces", 17 November - 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, “Illuminant Surfaces”, 17 November – 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

Who are some artists working in light that you find inspirational?

Beyond the top levels of Flavin and Turrell, I haven’t found that many people in the lighting world that really inspire me. Audacious as it sounds, I find a lot of the work to be more described as lighting as a type of output. People like Villareal use light more as a graphic tool, rather than a lighting experience. I think that’s what precludes it from being truly magical. Turrell and Eliasson dive deeper into our perception of space based on light, or composition which requires a faith in the work, because the technical details of the work are obscured as to not distract from the light as composition itself.

 Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, "Illuminant Surfaces", 17 November - 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, “Illuminant Surfaces”, 17 November – 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

How does the “scalability” inherent in these works free you? What could they potentially become?

In a very real sense, my art practice informs my lighting business. It’s rare that a client will be interested in spending the money to develop a new technology. Studio 1 Thousand is still essentially a product fabrication company. People call us to fit our designs into their spaces. When we ask, “would you be interested in doing something a little more interesting?”, they generally say no, due to time or budget restrictions. A gallery show, while some might see it as tainted by commerce, is a place where I can develop ideas that have been roaming around in my head for many years. To execute them and show them.

These could be walls, large complex aesthetic walls, these could be other types of chandeliers or hanging structures. As we examine the difference between art and design, the art has been produced, now the work of design, of client management, of installation really comes into play. I would like to talk to yacht designers, or interior architects to see how they could use these pieces.

 Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, "Illuminant Surfaces", 17 November - 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, “Illuminant Surfaces”, 17 November – 17 December 2017, Owen James Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Owen James Gallery.

What was your aim with this exhibition?

The goal of the work is to offer a composition, which can be described as a theorem. I create this work almost as a thesis to an essay. The statement is relatively easy to describe: One colour light facing the wall, and one facing you. They change colours. The resultant effect then becomes the essay to discuss. Did this work? What did you get out of it? Do you like it? Is the effect successful? Does it keep your interest? My goal is to give you an experience, which you can remember. Because it’s light, maybe you can’t take a good photo, but the truth of the physical phenomena in a personal experience will hopefully last.

Anna Jamieson

1967

“Illuminant Surfaces” by Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn is on view from 17 November to 20 December 2017 at Owen James Gallery, 61 Greenpoint Avenue, Suite 315, Brooklyn, NY 11222.

Related topics: curatorial practiceevents in New YorkGallery shows

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