Starting from an installation view shot, the visual dialogue between Yotaro Niwa and Yuto Takamuro unfold in an unexpected way that led to the new publication Fictive Appearance, and a new installation at einBuch.Haus in Berlin, where the publication has been launched in January 2020, during the Vorpsiel program of the Transmediale.
Yotaro is an artist based in Berlin since many years. He assembles materials, both organic and inorganic, valuable as well as discarded, into sculptures or multifaceted objects and large installations. Yuto is a graphic designer that moved to the German capital since a couple of years.
The text that follows is the adapted version of the transcript from the encounter I had with them in March in Berlin.
Mario Margani: Which was the process that brought you to conceive and produce together the publication Fictive Appearance starting from the decision to pivot on only one picture?
Yotaro Niwa: I have known Yuto for one and a half year now. At that time, I wanted to start something with a new project after the stage of digesting the rich experiences from some Artist-in-Residence in Taiwan and Canada. We started to talk about design, books and publications. After some meetings and exchange of ideas, initially, we began to work on a monograph about all my art projects from the last twenty years. For that reason, I gave him all my photographic documentation, which was a huge data amount. And we started to think about what kind of format is suitable for making a book. But in the process of making of samples we unexpectedly thought that it might have been interesting to work together on an experimental and entirely new book, putting aside for a while the idea of the monograph and the chronologic approach. Then, he came up with his specific approach for the publication. The first input in the direction we took for Fictive Appearance came from Yuto.
Yuto Takamuro: When we decided to think about doing a new project, Yotaro told me to feel free to start something with his pictures. I decided to work with just one photograph from all his documentation and I showed him the result. He proposed then to keep working with my experimentations on that picture in the frame of a concept book. At the same time he began to develop ideas for a connected installation. Finally his installation became a stage for a further, spatial and visual dialogue between us. We had the chance to present the book and the installation together in einBuch.haus in Berlin in January and February 2020, as part of the Vorspiel Program of the Transmediale.
At first I decided to work for the book using only one photograph, which is an installation view shot from the work Fake Appearance, that Yotaro had shown 2018 in Taiwan. The photograph was just one from many kinds of photographs you usually shot in order to document an installation. That photograph doesn’t have any noticeable meaning. I selected this one in order to make my intentions less involved in this work. At the beginning, When I first met Yotaro, I have found a work in his kitchen, a fragment from an advertisement billboard, which gave me a hint about his approach and about the way I should follow with my experiments.
Yotaro Niwa: It was a work I showed as part of a solo exhibition I had 2016 in the project space “stay hungry” in Berlin.
Yuto Takamuro: This kind of works doesn’t come from a search for beauty or meaning. It is just a big fragment from a commercial, fixed on wooden board. He often uses daily objects, sometimes trash and discarded items or fragments, sometimes organic elements, but he removes the meaning from the objects. He gives them a new meaning as part of a new story he narrates within his installations. So I began to think in a similar way with that installation view photograph I have mentioned. Specifically, first of all, I disassembled the photograph by close-up, and converted it into a material that has no meaning and recognisability.
Mario Margani: Is this the first time you use this approach with different close ups of only one photograph?
Yuto Takamuro: Yes. When I have made close ups of their surfaces, I enlarged the original photograph up to ten thousand times. I was very interested in the shapes and glitches that digital and analog printed images produce. I try to disrupt the conventional visual experience of an image and to create the point of departure for an experience freed from any fixed intention. Then, the decomposed image was divided into an analog image (round dot) and a digital image (square dot). That’s because all of the artificial images we usually see are reflected in our eyes by these two. Although they have a completely different structure, they have both a rational structure that shapes the human eye illusion. Each image looks as genuine as it really is. The bookbinding presents this approach in the book by mixing the pages of the two parts, the analog and the digital images. The onlooker can accidentally create new compositions by browsing through the publication and very probably at the end they leave the pages in a different order than the original one, producing a different sequence of images for the next time somebody takes the book in their hands.
Yotaro Niwa: I printed A0 format poster with a close up from the picture that Yuto chose for the book. In the exhibition I spread the posters all over the floor at einBuch.haus. In order to print out this kind of quality Yuto needed to work on the picture again, since it is actually a digital print. He produced very heavy data and all the process seems almost absurd, but it is very interesting.
Yuto Takamuro: Originally, in order to newly reproduce the analog image starting from a digital one I applied a little special processing using the software of the personal computer. It is easy to enlarge the digital image on a personal computer. But what is printed is a real substance, so you need a microscope to expose the actual structure. I made it possible to simulate by reproducing it digitally in a more realistic manner.
Mario Margani: The installation in the space of einBuch.haus came as a response to the publication. In which way have you interacted with it?
Yotaro Niwa: When I saw the image Yuto chose and his production process, I was willing again to work on that, developing something new and separated from the original story. The publication he was working at had a very radical approach and all these close-ups were creating a totally new universe of pictures. It is fascinating to see how the image format we should be familiar with is reproduced and what those images actually are. I decided to follow him breaking the narrativity of my former work. But I kept working with the visual language of the former work “fake appearance”, where I had combined mass-produced images together with found objects. I had different inputs thanks to Yuto’s way of digesting that photograph, so that I could develop the work adding fresh materials in Berlin too. The publication title “Fictive Appearance” has become also the title of the new installation.
Mario Margani: Entering the space of one of your installations means often an immersion in a scattered environment of objects and pictures, without a straight meaning or message. On one side, as a visitor, I can find my own connections and delve into accidental narrations that are probably different then yours. On the other side I start to reflect about the process in itself: layering and accumulating digital and analog images, valuable objects and materials, as well as discarded items and fragments. I spent some time in your new installation Fictive Appearance and I remember well that part of the room with a world globe and all the oysters’ shells you pasted on its surface and all around it. In itself the globe is a fictive representation of the world, an abstraction beyond our physical perception. The discrepancies and incongruities are erased in order construct a system that conveys a meaning. This part of the installation was connecting with the floors, where you had large print outs of details from the close ups you used for the publication and it connected also with other objects in the proximity. Many different objects are juxtaposed, superimposed, and in some cases they are covered with layers of transparent vinyl sheets. It doesn’t matter the origin, each element is treated as an object in the room. Even the different pictures in the installation interact with the visitors on a sculptural level. They never become windows for other worlds, but they work together in shaping a fragmentary narration in the room. They don’t fake any representation and retain their nature as fragments. Sometimes in your installation fragments of printed pictures collected from billboards, books, or from any other possible source, hang and spin around or are re-used to cover facets of other sculptures. Images are always primarily objects in your works, concurring in producing a sculptural composition without a fixed centre.
Yotaro Niwa: In the publication you can see the surface for print format and you also look at the surface for display format for devices. They have their own visual effects and glitches, but at the end they are both real phenomena and are put on the same level. As my reaction to the publication you could find something similar happening in the gallery space, at einBuch.haus. The analog and the digital format are two realities. The close ups produce a different reality level too. You have material layers, transparency layers, and image layers, but also layers of meaning. In mixing them I also experiment and I try to have a look at what is that relationship. It is also a matter of curiosity in questioning and playing with different visual languages, values and materials. I’m absorbing all these various languages that contain different levels, such as aspects of denotation or connotation. I produce a constellation of elements unconsciously, wherein I want people to immerse and walk around. As you are saying, the visitors are free to make their associations between images and materials, allowing the imagination full play. In my installations it looks like there is no centrality. It is probably my way of making. I do think that a natural situation happens in a miscellaneous and diffused state without a centre. In a sense, I don’t control anything and I don’t have any intention. I rather try to break this kind of fixed definitions, way of thinking, and classifications that structures our common way of perceiving reality. The phenomenon you have seen is intricately connected to what physicality is and what meaning of an image is. I am just trying to show those complexities beyond control and intention in various ways.
Mario Margani: The connections come up only in the eye and mind of the onlookers, but it is not just served ready on a plate to be quickly understood and consumed. It is more about activating a process of imagination, where you give some hints, but the way it could develop is not univocal and it needs an effort. Do you agree?
Yotaro Niwa: Yes. Awakening the interest and thinking actively are important point. Ideally, such hints should be attractive and suggestive, and related each other elaborately. But it doesn´t mean that the connection leads you to a certain goal. Or rather, it is like an instrument for free associations and you can use it freely. It stimulates the viewer’s perception. The movie “Blow up” by Michelangelo Antonioni has been in my mind during the process of this collaboration. And I imagined how would he see the modern society, if he were alive now. Many of his works taught me that the relationship between seeing and understanding is not simple. Now it is getting more difficult to say what each one of us sees, because it also depends on technology sphere and social networks. I also recently saw another article about how many videos and images are we sharing each day. It changed very rapidly in the last decades. For me it is a big topic because I’m making something in the physical world, a sort of sculpture, where you can experience different relationships to the materials and the surroundings. It is not only visual. But then people take a photo, share and consume it in one second. This is a big paradox I’m stuck into. This is a big struggle I want to address and solve, at least for me. I want to keep working with the physical experience, but I’m conscious that everything I make is going to be shown as an image, mostly a digital one. I want to bring people in front of my work, walking through it, and take time to perceive and think about what they perceive, the reason why, and what they associate. But already in the process I try to reflect on the role of photographic reproductions documenting the installations. This collaboration with Yuto for the book is interesting because he started to work with all images of my past installations and it stimulated me to work and reflect more on that issue: the installation in installation, or if you prefer the picture in picture, but all mixed together in a three-dimensional sphere.
Mario Margani: Your words make me think about Anna Oppermann Ensembles, where she in diverse manners developed her own method, made out of a sedimentary process, interdependences between several objects, complex environment, and the use of photographs from past installations or past versions of the same installation. Does her approach have any influence in your way of working in the space with installations?
Yotaro Niwa: I haven’t looked into her artworks in detail well, but I feel close to her method of association between things in the work. You can say that her approach, which you point out, have had some influence on my production, even if it is not directly. Or rather, at some point I feel that the method itself seems to be becoming a kind of common condition for understanding the complexity of the world. There would have been the sign and trigger in her era because of increasing information, and now the Internet world embodies it in a sense. It seems that too much information through digitization has influenced my production method. And the visual experiences in the Internet world trigged me to use multiple layers of objects, and afterwards I found her practices again. It looks very interesting for me to see more how she specifically grasped the world from those around her at that time, in that sense, I feel close to her way. At the same time, it seems that I am currently facing another challenge in the next phase in the communication through information now.
Mario Margani: With your publication you prove that it is possible to work with just one photograph, structuring a whole project around it. It is a statement in itself if we think about the amount of images we are flooded with daily. The choice of a radical concept generates a strong aesthetic experience of your publication, where the pleasure of seeing play a central role. On one side you do try to disrupt the visual experience, but on the other side you create other visual perspectives comparable to glitch-fetishism aesthetics. Was it for you a visual pleasure to lose yourself into the close ups of that photograph and now to leaf through your publication, or did you focus mainly on the concept and process you wanted to follow?
Yuto Takamuro: Both. When I engage deeply in a certain work an unconscious habit often comes out into the work, and the work itself becomes a familiar object in the process. For this book I wanted to let viewers experience the same uncertainty of the image we experienced during the process. But in this specific case it would have been to extreme to leave everything to the viewer, so I created a simple guide. It’s similar to a CD album. The first song has often a role as an intro to the whole, and while in the first half I used more dynamic and inflected images, in the second half I arranged calm images to give a bird’s eye view of the whole. But this experience is only once at the beginning. After that we left a large margin so that the viewer could change the order of the pages as they please. On the right side you find the digital version, while on the left side you have similar close-up in the print version. You can navigate through the publication in this way, or you can mix up and change the order of the pages, so that different shapes, colours and composition come to life temporary. It is like a direction I give to orientate yourself, but then you can lose this path and do whatever you want, create your own compositions and sequence, or just destroy the original one. But any destruction is also a creation.
Mario Margani: It is a subtle approach and it is very easy to destroy the sequence and create a new one, even without really wanting it.
Yotaro Niwa: At the beginning when Yuto started the process, I felt his idea resembled that of a conceptual collage to me, but in the end, I found a very strong aesthetic value in it too. He wanted to produce a harmony at the end, and trying to find it in the randomness. Randomness and control needs a balance in order to produce harmony. He actually has very strict aesthetic criteria that allow randomness to play an important role in the process.
Mario Margani: The exhibition in einBuch.haus, which run simultaneously to the presentation of the publication, developed through four weeks. You had a program of interventions that expanded in the space the dialogue between you both. After the opening your dialogue developed in two steps with visual and sculptural interventions inside the installation. At the end Yotaro destroyed part of it.
Yotaro Niwa: The first intervention was video projection conceived by Yuto on different elements of the installation. He created four different moving images from the book, and projected them everywhere around the space, like pointing to the objects directly, or to the Plexiglas wall precisely, or on the floor widely. From that moment the appearance of the physical objects and large prints – that are the part of the installation – started to change by the projection. It was a dramatic change. The reason why you are attracted to that situation is related not only to the captivating change in appearance, but also to the awareness of the change in the act of seeing. Now you are also looking at a dazzling structure of “seeing”, that is to say, it is about looking at the same things, but created through different rules.
And for the final intervention I also changed the installation dramatically. You say that I have destroyed it, but I like to say that I have created something different. I spread the countless fragments of Plexiglas into the space. All the projectors were repositioned toward the floor and the moving images have been projected on the splinters on the floor. Most of the elements were lying on the floor, except a hanging small sculpture. In front of the gallery there is a window from which you could see the whole situation without entering the space. With the hanging wall disappearing the situation changed and the visitor could now see everything that was there at once. I also decided to put a rope in order to avoid people entering the space.
After the exhibition I have gathered all the fragments and I might use them in the future.
Yuto Takamuro: For the video projection I started working with the close-ups I developed for the publication and I thought about them in relation to Yotaro’s new installation. I wanted to change the surface of some objects like Yotaro’s plaster sculpture on the floor and the hanging wall. I tried to express the gap between the real and the image by overlaying artificial image layers on the real substance from above. Although they are definitely real materials, the image projected on the surface is a fragment of an artificial image magnified up to 10,000 times. By causing halation between the two, the gap between reality and image was revealed. But in the final step the installation changed in another direction. Furthermore, Yotaro made a work that was beyond my imagination. It has evolved unpredictably, from a single topic, like our book.
Mario Margani: Yotaro’s approach resembles a bulimic process. You both fed yourself with many photographs and materials and then you give them back almost totally changed, from the figurative to something more abstract from its context. The result frees itself from any reference and shapes a concrete freestanding ensemble. Representation still plays a role, so that the connections to fashion industry, to billboards, to science, and to image consumption are still present. The references to the social and commercial milieus all these elements are coming from became looser once Yuto worked with close ups of that photograph. If I think about other past installations from Yotaro, I remember very mixed elements, spaces loaded with all sorts of stuff, and still some relation to figuration. Now, after Yuto’s re-elaboration, it seems you are moving more into lighter installations and into abstraction.
Yotaro Niwa: I tried to react to Yuto’s actions and later with the installation I wanted to find another way to develop my vision in a solo work. What is an image? Even if I make a sculpture installation and work in the surroundings, I have always in mind the question about the essence of an image. After the collaboration I feel that image is not a concept that is opposed to reality, but it is a form of reality. Even the definitions of physicality, materiality or substance are not stable. Each time I give one possible answer, but I need some distance and then I can start again. Probably with the installation and through all this dialectical process we have more or less consciously summarized and translated into the space our conceptual collaboration as well as aesthetic interaction.