Berlin, July 2012: There is a scene in the Ridley Scott’s movie Alien (1979) where Executive Officer Kane (played by John Hurt) is lowered into a derelict ship and discoverers a chamber filled with hundreds of alien eggs lined up in neat little rows, laid and waiting to hatch. This is the vision Takashi Murakami took as his inspirations for the Chamber — a little room at the Kaikai Kiki studio where Murakami stores and nurtures a batch of young talent until, presumably, with enough TLC, they hatch into a whole new set of successful emerging artists.
The concept for the Chamber as an ongoing program, in which young artists are provided studio space and personal guidance from Murakami, was initiated almost immediately after the earthquake in 2011. The Superflat artist and his studio were preparing for the GEISAI art fair two days before the disaster hit. The building, inescapably damaged by the earthquake forced the cancelation of the art fair. Although he briefly considered scrapping the current project and shutting down or even moving the studio altogether, Murakami saw an opportunity. With so many people in Japan losing hope and giving up he felt it crucial to stay, if only to send a clear message to Japan that in the midst of all the chaos, that was not the time to sit back, let go — it was the time to move forward.
Of the big push for young artists that entered the studio immediately following, three remain today— ob (20), JNTHED (32), and Haruka Makita (23). Today, there is an impetus within the studio to exhibit internationally, to nurture that emerging talent and prepare them for an international platform. Hidari Zingaro Berlin is the first Kaikai Kiki gallery outside Asia and a major step in creating that international platform envisioned by Murakami.
On June 22nd, I sat down with ob to talk about her current exhibition at Hidari Zingaro Berlin and chat about her experiences working within the Chamber. We sat on brand new pristine white swivel chairs in a bubblegum pink office at the back of the gallery on the evening of the inaugural vernissage. ob affectionately recalls when Murakami first proposed the idea of her joining the studio and explained his concept behind the emerging artist space...
ARTslant's Nicole Rodriguez with ob and Hidari Zingaro Berlin translator Linda Havenstein 2012; © ob/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved / Photo by Olle Holmberg.
ob: It has to do with Japanese phonetics. But when Takashi first told me about his idea for the chamber and related it back to the Alien scene with all the eggs waiting to hatch, I asked him to clarify. “Chamba?” I asked. He thought this was amusing. A cute pronunciation for something that maybe wasn’t so “cute.” Takashi responded to that and it stuck.
Nicole Rodriguez: What landed you at the Kaikai Kiki studio to begin with?
ob: Well I graduated from art high school. Since then I have been involved in the arts and had an interest in painting. I joined an art club with people with similar interests and gathered people from the group and we began selling our artwork at the Kyoto Tower. We also did a few exhibitions together under the name 0000. It was during one of these group exhibitions that Takashi Murakami came and purchased one of my paintings. After this I was asked to exhibit at his gallery Kaikai Kiki Gallery Taipei in a group exhibition called The World Next Door. From then on I have been working with Kaikai Kiki.
NR: You’ve also curated shows since high school.
ob: Yes, I’ve been curating since high school. There were a few people around me that painted like I did. There was a festival in town so we had the possibility to gather people together and make an exhibition. For me personally it was very powerful in some way. Because I am from Kyoto and I felt as though there was not a lot of art happening or opportunities for local artists I wanted to kind of build up a scene so people could see.
NR: What is it like to work in the Chamber at Kaikai Kiki? How has your process as an artist been affected by creating in this type of collective environment?
ob: I have a very personal connection with Murakami. There is a constant mail exchange, constant feedback. He’s always asking how everything is going with me personally and he’s concerned about my wellbeing. He’s a teacher and mentor. For me, being able to work at Kaikai Kiki exhibiting in that kind of environment is good. But more than just the possibility to exhibit, I have learned from Murakami and have been taught by him how to be aware of the viewer and the people I am painting for and who see my work.
ob, Fragments Of Snow, 2011, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 400 mm in tondo; ©2011 ob/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
NR: Have you been treating similar themes from the outset?
ob: My ideas and themes have always been like this. I’ve had the same style since high school. Perhaps in school they were more private, a bit more personal.
NR: You mentioned Murakami’s critique is constant, but is everyone experiencing this type of feedback?
ob: Everyone in this show is getting this kind of feedback. We three are the big three that are working in the Chamber — the three Kaikai Kiki is most proud of.
NR: Is the treatment any different for you three in particular?
ob: Takashi looks for the buttons he should push for each person. He treats each person differently in the sense that he realizes that they are different and you can’t work the same way with everyone.
NR: How many artists are in the Chamber at once?
ob: Right now, only us three. There were a lot more people in there before.
ob, Before Dawn, 2012, Oil on canvas, 1940 x 2590 mm; ©2012 ob/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
NR: You mentioned you are challenged to see your work from your viewer’s perspective. What is your personal perspective, particularly on the pieces included in this Hidari Zingaro Berlin group show?
ob: I like and have always liked Western style painting, as opposed to the traditional Japanese work. I believe that the inspiration for my colors, in particular, comes from this type of Westernized style. When I paint I am not particularly focused on the paint itself but how it can provide a feeling of comfort when looking at it as a viewer. However, the concepts for the paintings themselves are not really comforting in theme. They are personal and somewhat dark. People are usually surprised once they see them and learn the concepts and thoughts behind them. With this work I am aiming at some type of transcendence and my wish would be that people could find, through them, some type of release. Maybe people will view the paintings and they too can be freed from their darker feelings if they share similar thoughts. What I am painting is, yes, dark, but making people sad is not my intention.
NR: What are the dark feelings you are addressing?
ob: My work addresses all those bad things that happen in life, stemming from environmental pressures and events. For a lot of people my age in Japan there are a lot of societal pressures and I often don’t know how to respond in and to this type of environment. A lot of work in this show in Berlin ended up being heavily related to the earthquake that happened in Japan [referring to the series of devastating disasters on March 11, 2011]. I didn’t intend on painting something on the earthquake, but I feel as if has probably influenced my thinking somewhat.
NR: What kind of awareness or reception are you hoping from this first group show?
ob: It’s my first time in Berlin. Before coming I looked it up on the web and got some information, so I know this area [Dieffenbachstrasse] there are a lot of young people — young artists. Of course I would like to know what people think about my work, especially in Berlin, in a place where people may not be used to seeing art from Asia.
Artslant would like to thank ob for her assistance in making this interview possible. Special thanks to Linda Havenstein of Hidari Zingaro Berlin, and Bradley Plumb and Natsuyo Kawaoka of Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. for translating assistance.