by Shraddha NairNov 04, 2020
In a recent curatorial exploration, Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, Japan, presents an exhibition featuring iconic female artists from across the world. Mori brings together 16 artists from 14 countries, each of whom have led significant careers in the world of art for over 50 years each. These women, aged from 70 to a 105, present work at Another Energy curated by museum director Kataoka Mami and guest curator, Martin Germann.
Germann takes us through the process of developing the conceptual premise and selecting this body of works. He tells STIR, “With the starting point being our mutual fascination for the work of Lili Dujourie, a Belgian artist born in 1941 and participant of Another Energy, Mori Art Museum Director, Mami Kataoka, and I, as a western counterpart of hers, were researching active women artists from around the world who started practicing during the post war years (1950s-70s). In particular, we were looking for senior artists who only received broader global attention in recent years - with some exceptions, such as Carmen Herrera, who is a 105-years-old now and has already become part of a renewed canon. During our research, we realised that the aspect of ongoing challenge and continuity in artists’ work was at the core of our interest: to look at their life trajectories these artists' work had led throughout the time, within often varying socio-political and private contexts. It was also important that their practices reach beyond today’s rather urgent questions of gender equality and identity politics as well as of defining isms - and nevertheless are indirectly or directly socially-engaged on coexistence from various geographical angles and positions. We have also discovered many common denominators such as ephemerality, and that most artists have a personal quest on abstraction; there is a site-responsiveness we observed - but above all, the artists seem to share a certain ethical wisdom, for example, in not understanding nature and culture as two opposing elements”.
Germann discusses some installations which caught our eye, like UK artist Phyllida Barlow. He says, “Initially, we planned a bold, monumental, almost anti-architectural installation by Barlow to be in the prominent entrance hall of the Mori Art Museum, which however became impossible to realise due to the global pandemic. However, this situation led us to create a space for her new production: For Undercover 2, around 80 baubles and 30 monochromatic canvasses were meshed over and into a standing, wooden grid architecture. By looking at the components of this overwhelming installation, we can identify some motivations: Barlow uses core ‘ingredients’ from 20th century art history – the monochrome, the grid, a basic volume, paintings and sculpture – squeezing them into one another to produce a delicate and ephemeral architectural installation which touches static breakpoints. The significance of Barlow’s work is never one-dimensional; the elements altogether are quirky, humorous, physically over-the-top, and they provide pleasures as well as questions: does the ‘Modernist idea of endless progress finally reach its limits? How far can we go? Is this art? At some point during the installation, which we conducted via Zoom – an experiment as such – Barlow claimed that she wants that sculpture looking like lava floating down – a notion I liked very much”.
Another arresting work of art on display is the long tapestry by Robin White and Ruha Fifta. Germann tell us more, “Robin White, a New Zealander artist of Maori and European descendent, started initially as a painter in the 1970s. Living on the atoll of Tarawa in Kiribati between 1982 and 1999 – the experience of living with the tidal realities of the ocean – turned her artistic practice upside-down. She started to produce tapa, long sheets made from the inner skin of the paper mulberry tree, usually by group of women who pound it into paper-like sheets together. In Seen along the Avenue, a work we present in Another Energy, Robin collaborated with her friend Ruha Fifita. Tapa sheets essentially have very diverse functions, from enshrouding the dead or protecting the newborn. They indeed memorise useful information, from genealogical records to beliefs – what this work also does. The tapas fill the gap between indigenous and the colonial cultures by integrating elements from all sides, in a reduced sign-language like heraldry. But the purpose is not just to be sacredly put up on the wall, Tapas furl in the room as it fits, theoretically even meetings can take place on one! The principle of tapa overpowers the notion of ‘fine art’ by intruding deeply in the everyday and creating a common space for people”.
Unfortunately, the ongoing pandemic has disrupted the exhibition, owing to the temporary closing of the museum. Germann discusses his hopes for the viewer, when the showcase is reopened eventually. The co-curator says, “We wish that the Japanese - but hopefully soon also the international audience – experience a bold presentation of contemporary art in its broadest sense, with current and urgent artistic work in all kinds of medium imaginable, from painting to sculpture, from drawing to film, to performance. All artists started at a moment in time where traditional ideas of media dissolved, and this is something we can clearly see in the show. Then, there is of course an ethical dimension, because we feel that Another Energy provides a new chapter in stripping the lessons from understanding that we are faced with multiple modernities, down to the individual figure of the artist, the artist as a living person with different contexts and life trajectories. Furthermore, in this exhibition the old becomes the new! We’d like the visitors to experience, on eye-level, what it means to be an artist, what it means to be an artist and a woman - but most of all, what it means to live one’s own life amongst, and with others. The exhibition looks to the past and the present, but is to reach for the future”.
Another Energy is on display at Mori Art Museum from April 22-September 26, 2021. These dates are subject to change owing to the continuing coronavirus crisis.