In the music video ”Pass This On”1) by the Swedish pop duo The Knife, a transvestite is seen singing in a typical suburban community club somewhere in Sweden. A number of people, mixed of age and ethnic background, are sitting scattered in the room. They don’t respond to the music and are frozen to the spot, sceptic towards the transvestite, yet they stay and are somehow intrigued by the situation. The music is suggestive and has a particular flow to it. Two guys stand at the back, looking at once like regular blokes, hip hopers and skinheads.
Of all the people in the club they seem to be the most curious yet at the same time they display the strongest resentment. One of the guys and the transvestite make eye contact. The transvestite directs his song to him and there is a meeting of gazes. Not being able to resist the transvestite and the music, he starts to dance, and then walks over to the transvestite and starts dancing with her. His friend also starts to dance. People rise from their seats and they dance. Everyone is carried away by the electricity between the guy and the transvestite. Here, vision, the gaze, plays a large part, the way eyes meet, which is essential for a meeting to come about. But after the gaze comes the physical movement, and this is where there is a sense of total recognition – in the dance. There is a meeting between everyone in the room beyond the limits of their defence mechanisms. Their opposition loses its hold. The innate resistance, or detachment, is explained by the way the transvestite’s appearance transcends gender. She is irresistible, but she is a man. She is forbidden and thus even more exciting. People’s subjective images of their own identities are disturbed. In order for the meeting to come about and become passion they have to let go, to pursue their feelings beyond reason, but still to survive somehow. The exchange between the gazes is primary; it is like fire.
The Knife’s video might serve as a metaphor for the way I see Masato Kobayashi’s art and its relation to the viewer. His works are inherently passionate, while at the same time being ambivalent, ambiguous and offering resistance. The ambiguity of Kobyashi’s work is an ambiguity of gender, androgyny and non-determination. This might be a reflection of his shortcomings, but might just as well reflect the viewer’s. His art is complex and demands the viewer’s relational participation, for the impossible to occur, for the viewer and the work to let go of themselves and meet – in the meeting between gazes, in the gaze of the work and the gaze of the viewer. The viewer starts to move about in the space and interact with the work. A relation is established between the work and the viewer. His work requires relational participation in the sense that the work is not completed in the viewer (as Duchamp thought) but is created in the exchange between the artist, the artistic process, the performance, the work of art and the viewer.
”The last atom and its opposition to the primal power and the honour it pays it – this is what art is. This is nature fighting itself for its own honour.”
Kobayashi invites the viewer to establish a relation with the primal power that is vital in artistic creation. And he shows the dependence on the kicks from the primal power that the artist experiences. It turns into a kind of love of love. It resembles the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva’s interpretation of the Orpheus myth3): the child and the poet has the same ability to cross the line to the kingdom of the dead, where all languages are spoken and understood, and that is also the pre-natal realm. It is a way of penetrating to the other side, and to let oneself be penetrated, to give oneself up in order to be able to return.
In her essay, ”Art in the Light of Conscience”4), Tsvetaeva writes that art is neither heaven nor earth, but a third pole, which is not answerable to anything. It does not have to be intelligible, or be made intelligible through a context, neither society nor the contemporary art world. The artist/poet can only trust his or her own conscience and sentence himself or herself and his or her work to destruction or survival. Today, society and also the art world make many demands on art and the artist, and subject art to many taboos. In this perspective, Kobayashi’s art and aesthetic is interesting, since he creates a kind of discourse independently and at the side of the mainstream. What unites Kobayashi and Tsvetaeva is their deep belief in the individual aesthetic practice, that they in this conviction want to include the viewer. Tsvetaeva argues that the reader of her poetry has to be part of the creative process by giving voice to the words.
Kobayashi has developed a philosophy of his own that he has remained true to. His aesthetic is the result of his inner discourse on painting, which has had unexpected consequences that, at first, might look like a reaction against the norms that encloses art today, concerning both the aesthetics, the quality and the forms of exhibiting painting as a medium. But he is not engaged in an investigation of ”painting in the extended field”; instead it is an engagement with a necessity that stems from himself. He works in a performative way with painting, and all things that go into making the paintings are left on location and become part of the installation: paint tubes, wood for stretchers, rubbish, protective plastic wrapping, etc. Kobayashi’s motifs add a crucial dimension to the works. The energy of the motifs can be compared to that of a black hole. The light in the paintings comes from within. The motifs might be a sky or a naked girl, and are at one with the aesthetic process. The paintings gain autonomy at the same time as the work process is shown as part of the exhibition. Together they form a narrative, a series of events, the story that is contained in the conception of the work. It is suggestive of a film containing several events. It is painting as a course of events and as time. The work consists of the process, performative painting, the motif, the rubbish, the canvas, the wood and the oil paint. The conception is the work as a whole, and the work becomes, is and contains a narrative.
Kobayashi aesthetically deconstructs the exhibition as a form of display. He links painting to the act of painting and lets the process be visible in the exhibition venue also when the work is finished. There are other artists who do something similar but from a much more theoretical perspective. For example, the French-Sudanese artist and art critic Hassan Musa works with a kind of public performance that he calls graphic ceremonies. His goal is to deconstruct the idea of the exhibition as ritual. During these performances he makes large paintings on the floor and invite the audience to take part. He emphasises the creative act and not the finished artistic product, an act that is lost in the exhibition as ritual according to him.5) What distinguishes Musa’s practice from Kobayashi’s is that the latter does not work with painting as performance but with performative painting. The difference is that performance has a beginning and an end, a fixed duration, and the performance is the work; the painting becomes a trace of the performance. For Kobayashi, on the other hand, the act of painting is visible as a performative act and is not a trace in the work; the conception of the work includes the performative act and this is what is central. Kobayashi’s physical presence and the process are one with the conception and not subordinate to the form of the performance. Unlike Pollock he does not move the painting from the floor on to the walls of the exhibition space; instead he uses the particular space that he works in. Accordingly his painting often takes shape leaning against something and the installation is part of the performative form. A parallel to Kobayashi, but in a whole different way, is the British artist Tracey Emin, who did ”Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made”.6) She lived and painted naked in a gallery during a whole exhibition period and produced a number of paintings after paintings by male artist geniuses and the viewers could follow the process as voyeurs through small peepholes in the gallery walls. I do not interpret this work as merely feminist, but it is also a way of working personally beyond feminist values, and in Emin’s case this has the consequence that painting and the form of the exhibition is not the ordinary predictable ones. The open process is pushed to the fore.”It was about being stripped and it could have been about beeing vulnerable but actually it wasn’t, it became about the ego and about the strength of the ego. The strength of my failures are all amalgamated together” -Tracey Emin.7)
The title of Kobayashi’s exhibition is ”STARRY PAINT stars of outer space by pure painting”. It is the first time that Kobayashi’s ongoing process is also open for viewers, because Tensta Konsthall is open as usual while he produces the exhibition. The opening will take place when the works are finished, a month after his arrival in Tensta. It is in this tension between the making of the work and the primacy of the interpretations of the viewers in the exhibition space that Kobayashi is demanding more, requiring a relational resonance between the work and the viewer, in his attempts to repeal the line between the moment of creation and moment of viewing. Kobayashi’s work and The Knife’s video disturb our ingrained ideas about what is allowed and what is not. The demanding meeting between the viewer and the narrative is what is essential in this exhibition, like in The Knife’s video. It is a meeting within a meeting and a story within a story where a virtual moment arises in the motifs and a physical meeting and of the soul with the viewer moving in relation to the work. The work interacts because the narrative changes depending on where one finds oneself in the exhibition space and what one experience, and this is why the virtual story is never the same. For me, the point of the exhibition is to show the passion, the resistance and the meeting as consequences of, and dissolution of, the line between the work and the exhibition space, between the viewer and the work on display, and this is the intersection in Kobayashi’s painting. For me, it is about reaching beyond the exhibition and turning art into something subjectively necessary, making the viewer co-dependent on the artist, because in the end the artist and the viewer might be the same.
Ylva Ogland is an artist, curator and one of the artistic directors at Tensta Konsthall.
1) The Knife, ”Pass this on”, 2003, Rabid Records. Directed by Johan Renck.
2) Marina Tsvetaeva, Konsten i samvetets ljus [Art in the Light of Conscience] (1933), Umbra Solis, 1997, p 12.
3) Marina Tsvetaeva and Rainer Maria Rilke often relates to the Orpheus myth, Karin Grelz brings that up in her thesis Beyond the Noise of Time. Readings of Marina Tsvetaeva’s Memories of Childhood, (Stockholm Studies in Russian Literature 35), Almqvist och Wiksell International: Stockholm 2004.
4) Marina Tsvetaeva, Konsten i samvetets ljus [Art in the Light of Conscience (1933)], Umbra Solis, 1997.
5) The curator Salah Hassan exhibited Hassan Musa and writes about that in connection to Khartoum Connections: The Sudanese Story i Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa. London: Flammarion and Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1995.
6) Tracey Emin, ”Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made”, Galleri Andreas Brändström, Stockholm 1996.
7)” Interview with Tracey Emin”, Jean Wainwright, The Art of Tracey Emin, Thames and Hudson, 2002, p 198.
From: Masato Kobayashi STARRY PAINT stars from outer space by pure painting (Tensta Konsthall Catalogue #2).