6. Fotofestival MA HD LU | Interview with HIROKO KOMATSU

This fall, the sixth edition of the internationally renowned “Fotofestival”, curated by Urs Stahel, is taking up the cultural scene in the Rhine Neckar delta again: [7] Places [7] Precarious Fields. For nine weeks, seven art venues in Mannheim, Heidelberg and Ludwigshafen are showing works by 50 international photo artists – and deconarch.com is an exclusive media partner. We are focusing on one place and one of the seven precarious field themes – [7.2] Urbanism & Real Estate, hosted at ZEPHYR Mannheim, where seven artistic positions are presented: Ai Weiwei, Frank van der Salm, Hiroko Komatsu, Laurence Bonvin, Nick Waplington, Sylvain Couzinet Jacques, Taysir Batniji. Follow deconarch.com’s interview series to get insight in some of these artists’ works.  

Hiroko Komatsu‘s (*1969) spatial installations arrange countless black and white photographs, printed on stretches of paper of up to 30 m length. The photos are mostly taken on construction sites, factories or large storage areas in Japanese or Korean cities. Komatsu is interested in the uniformity and the atmosphere of such locations, which can be found everywhere. Using her photographs, she recreates walk-in spaces out of numerous images symbolizing these places.

At the Fotofestival, her first presentation outside of Japan, the artist built the stunning installation Sanitary Bio-Preservation.



You are personally arranging a large photo installation for the Fotofestival – Sanitary Bio-Preservation. How did it come about?

Sanitary Bio-Preservation, 2015

Sanitary Bio-Preservation, 2015

The installation at ZEPHYR consists of more than 2,000 photographs taken in the last two years. The entire floor and walls will be covered with a large number of prints, so I hope the visitors will walk around on these prints without hesitation, and look around the images and feel the space.

Instead of arranging the framed photographs in rows on the walls in order, I’ve always been interested in presenting unframed photographs and filling the given space with them. This became my style since I started as a photographer, and is still going on now.

All the prints you’ll see in my installation are black and white prints from negative films. They are on baryta paper which I am always using. I made the prints by myself in a dark room, so they are completely analog, not computer-mediated. I like very much the quality and materiality that baryta paper has. It is quite thick, but not so flat, and depending on the humidity of the exhibition space, they curl and lose flatness. I like this instability very much. For me, materiality and texture are important.

What is the installation about?

Sanitary Bio-Preservation, 2015

Sanitary Bio-Preservation, 2015

Most of the subjects of my photographs are construction or waste materials: pipes, tubes, ropes, poles, plates, various different-shaped tools and supplies. There is also a wide range of variations in materials: aluminum, plastic, steal, concrete, paper, etc. The shooting locations are the storage areas of construction sites or factories, in Tokyo as well as in local cities in Japan. These “things” are very attractive for me. When I watch them closely, it seems that they have their own rules and patterns and even speak to each other. They are parts, but I don’t know what the whole would be, yet I feel like the parts themselves have their own realm between construction and destruction.

How does the selection of the photographs for your installation happen, is there a concept on which image goes where?

I don’t have any clear idea that I would like to convey nor is my presentation telling a verbalized concept. But I hope I can share something with the viewers.

The installation is not so friendly when a viewer tries to see each single picture. There are many and quite similar images right in front of your eyes, so it would probably be very difficult to see them one by one. It is not a good environment to look at the well-selected photographs, but, let’s say, it is the space to experience the overflow of images. I would like to induce a fluid, multiplex gaze, not directionally-controlled. I’m happy if I could offer a way of seeing which is not static, from moving view points. Thus the selection of photographs is not so important for me.

Tell us about your work in general – what is the core subject, focus of your work?

Sanitary Bio-Preservation, 2015

Sanitary Bio-Preservation, 2015

I would like to make the installation space “being alive”. For this reason, a closed space is ideal for me. Our body is covered by skin, and our soft skin is the border between inside and outside. A gallery space at a museum is walled with solid materials, but by filling a room with a large amount of soft photographic papers on floor and walls these photographic papers can be like a membrane that covers the inside. Inside of the installation, the photographs are interfering each other as there are too many of them. And moreover, when the visitors are inside the space, the images and the visitors’ memories, feelings, and thoughts interfere with each other as well. I hope the space can become something variable, like living matter.

Why are you working with photography? What kind of possibilities does it offer for your?

It might sound a little strange, but I like the passivity in photography. For example, a painter tries to express the image that was in his/her mind in general, so to “make a picture” on canvas or on paper is an intentional act. The circumstances for a photographer seem different. I just accept the subjects in front of me, at that moment, at that place.

In the process of making prints, too. Chemicals and light are used in a dark room, and temperature and other delicate matters affect the result of the prints. But I have no desire for perfection or accomplishment, I try to do my best but I’m comfortable when various unintentional or unexpected aspects appear in an image. So for me, the passive quality of photography offers more possibilities than its active quality.

Are there role models, influences, which inspire your work?

Sanitary Bio-Preservation, 2015

Sanitary Bio-Preservation, 2015

I’m inspired by music or film or many other things consciously and unconsciously, but probably non-straightforward way. The title of my work for this Festival is Sanitary Bio-Preservation. When I thought about this title, La Paloma, a strange film, directed by Daniel Schmid, was in my mind. The story is related to self-embalming by slow poisoning. A character in the film is thinking about her own dead body during her lifetime, this is so weird.

Nowadays, the food we eat contains so many additives, the dead bodies of contemporary humans might not be rotten in the near future.

Urbanism & Real Estate: What is, in your personal opinion, precarious in this field?

I have a feeling that not only animals and plants, but all artificial man-made objects, buildings, houses, machines, and other various things surrounding us in our everyday life, are destined to die from the moment of their birth. Immediately after they are born, the natural power would gradually take them back to the ground. If so, there is no difference between natural and artificial, no clear division between construction and destruction. Death must be something close to us.

Urbanism gets rid of death, it makes us forget about the dead. In the face of various precarious situations of our time, I would like to respect the dead and go into mourning. I think of the dead, and I won’t kill to live. This is my feeling that I have recently but the work can be interpreted by each viewer freely and I don’t have any specific idea that I would like to convey through my work, I mean, my work is not for telling a verbalized concept. But still, I do hope I can share something with the viewers through my work in this festival with a thought-provoking curation.

Hiroko Komatsu, thank you very much for sharing your work with us.

illus. (c) SK


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