Mai Yamashita + Naoto Kobayashi: Facing to art as one of the pair living on earth

Hanae Nakao (Curator, Kurumaya Museum of Art, Oyama City)

I use the "GABA extra amount" mode on my rice cooker when preparing rice – it takes profusely a long time, and I don't even know what is GABA. It must be something good as the rice cooker has special mode for it.
I saw on the news recently a story about a boy who wrote an essay that he would someday travel to Mars. By middle age, he nearly achieved his goal by travelling to space.
People are often surprised when I tell them I once drove to my home in Kanazawa by myself for over 7 hours. In the time of Edo, people walked from Kanazawa castle to Edo castle for about 13 days for "Sankin-kotai (a system under which feudal lords were required to spend every other year in residence in Edo)". 400 years since the death of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first shogun of Edo shogunate.
When I was in a school, I had an experience to bump into my schoolmates for three times while traveling. I hardly saw these friends at school, but saw them where I have visited only once or twice.
When my dog died, our family discussed what to do with the body. After intense discussion, we cremated it at cemetery for animals and placed the ashes there. It is five years contract for the burial. It is said that the body will return to the earth in five years.

Yamashita + Kobayashi have known each other since their high school days and have been an official artist unit since 2001. They also studied at the Berlin University of the Arts for a year as Class Stan Douglas Guest students in 2005. Mainly staying at the artist in residence programs, they have been based in several countries: Switzerland, Germany, and U.S. and when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred, they were in Berlin. In 2012, they returned to Japan and have been based in Chiba, their hometown since then. The artists use various media for their works such as documentary movie, photography, object, drawing, sculpture as sketching, and painting. With their two distinctive simple methods – humor and simplicity, they make the works through facing various subjects in a daily life. Examples include plant, animal, Earth, nature, superstition, transport, accident, desire, time, control and history. Their methods can be mainly divided into two categories – first is the type of work where the artists put the ideas which seem impossible to execute or purposeless into action, and then show as an installation with the video footage recordings of the process of production. The other is the series of work they make by their "look and make",
returning to their creation of art philosophy.

For Present (for Giraffe) (2004), the artists knitted a sweater for Giraffe for 3 months knowing it would never be worn. In miracle (2004), they threw 5 dices and collected the results when all 5 showed same number. Therefore, the probability incident of 1/1296 became the probability 1/1 event. Candy (2005) is where the artist made a large 18 cm diameter candy, then kept licking for 6 months until it became the size of ordinary candy sold in shops. In When I wish upon a star (2004), they made many wishes upon stars, which no one probably succeeded to do so before or after. infinity (2006) is the work where the artists ran on the grass everyday to make a road, again another idea never thought of before. In 1000 WAVES (2007), they counted waves until 1000; who has done that before? In Dogsled (2008), the artists imitated a dogsled by riding on wheeled sled pulled by radio-controlled toy cars covering with fake fur. In telepathy (2009), the artists attempted to communicate with telepathic exchange and succeeded ten times. In GOING MAINSTREAM (2010), the artists challenged a hard labor such by rowing down the Nile and the Amazon with a small inflatable boat. In these works, Yamashita + Kobayashi try overturn our common sense and show us scenes that people have never experienced. The common trends can be seen between their work and the reality TV shows of 1990s such as"Susume! Denpa shonen (Go! Radiowave boy)" or "Detective! Night scoop". In those
shows, the characters tried various challenges such as "filming without appointment", "crossing Eurasia continent by hitchhike" and "investigating the collective requests from the audience". There is sympathy produced as the audience laugh and get moved by watching the characters working hard without cheating, and putting their most effort into something purposeless in modern society. It can be said that there might be similarities in their structures.

In human society, the centre of its interest is human relationship, however Yamashita + Kobayashi seem less interested. They are mainly intrigued by subjects that have their own sense of time and values on earth, such as animals or nature, anything different from human. For Yamashita + Kobayashi, human is just coexisted with other various living things. In Release of mineral water (2004), they purchased a bottle of German mineral water in Japan and flew to Germany with it, then returned the water to wellhead. In A Spoon Made From The Land (2009), they collected iron sand at beaches to make a spoon out of it, looking through how the artists communicate with the objects existing on earth, these works show their humble attitude a co-inhabitor of the earth. Inspired by Lucio Fontana, Lion & Canvas (2008) makes Fontana's styled work by letting lions to play with a canvas, bite and scratch it. In Forest Dishes (2010), the artists prepared a ceramic plate before burning, then left it with foods on over night to make a plate with animal's footprints. In Major League Birdwatching (2011), they watched birds that came to Yankee stadium to look for a food. In Anne and Anne's Sculpture (2012), their dog, Anne played with the sculpture of Anne, it became the work in collaboration with the artists and Anne. It implies their unique perspective of the world that one object can be valued differently between humans and animals. It is also connected to the precept by Zen Master Dogen, "The same water may be viewed in four ways – devas see it as bejeweled land, men as water, hungry ghosts as pus and blood, fish as a place to live in1."

Their work also remind us of Francis Alÿs's Paradox of Praxis 1 (1997). In this work, Alÿs kept pushing a block of ice on the street for over nine hours until it melts. Through this action, Alÿs does not attempt to make miracle happen in the daily life, but he "brings light the reality and paradox of labor in society 2". Yamashita + Kobayashi's works can be also interpreted as metaphors from the point of view of social problems: antithesis to the movement depending on financial globalization, discharge of carbon dioxide by transportation and mass production mass consumption. However, their attempt is not to suggest social and political problems buried in daily life, just to show their attitude towards the world. The important thing is that everyone has an unlimited possibility to "imagine" to make miracles happen in real life.

Since the great earthquake happened on 11th March 2011, the changes can be found in the subjects Yamashita + Kobayashi select. They started facing to "themselves", the closest existence to them, and "Japan" where they were born and raised. The main series of work to be shown in this exhibition is Artist's Notebook (2014 – 2015). It is consisted of 36 still life paintings of notebooks that the artists used for keeping their idea sketches. It is inspired by Box by Hanjiro Sakamoto, a series of still paintings. Why do they choose still painting now? The still life painting requires the complete set of artistic skills to recreate the intricate details of the model. It becomes a place of formative art experimentation for shape, colour, light, composition, and space. Still life painting was also a means to express symbolically with the selection of the motif and position. The orthodox composition of Artist's Notebook is not formatively experimental, nor the motif in the paintings is jawing itself. The viewers cannot read "inside of book" no matter how "enticing" the notes may be. At the first sight, the viewers might feel an unkindness regarding this work, however it shows the door for everyone to open towards the unlimited possibility of imagination. Having both elements of "make with concept" and "look and make", all the works in the past and future are part of its construction and provoke every complexity.

In I Am Everything, Everything Is Me (2015), various images changes one to another instantaneously with the sound of "me", "me", "me". The images are such as passport photo, chair, fallen leaf, a pair of glasses, raw meat, rice, dog, stuffed dog, horse, bone, waste of animal, smart phone, bench, firework, crane car, collective housing, dustcloth, toilet paper, etc. From melting ice to spring water, from busy ants to a person working on the rooftop of a building, from stone to potato, from a red road cone to a cherry tomato, building to horsetail, horsetail to totem pole. The way in which the image of "me" changes with colour, shape, use, material, behaviour is as an association game, it embodies the present world of flux. As they say, "The material of "me" itself can be said of a moment formed within the cycle of earth 3.", all the images in this work have no fixed nature, and constant change is their normal state. The artists discovered the world of flux in the word games such as word chain or word association game.
The new series of Boku to Watashi (Me and Me) (2015), Art (2015), World (2015) are the works that took an idea from Gestalt Collapse. Anyone might have had a funny or troublesome experience in relation to the characters you know very well, all of sudden recognized strangely. This is a typical Yamashita + Kobayashi's discovery of humour buried in daily life. Collapse of forms of Chinese characters and repetition of renewal, they are also connected to the perspective of the world where every living changes constantly. This can also be seen in Anne and Anne's Sculpture.

"The mountains are never lacking in the spiritual merits with which they are undoubtedly endowed. This is why they constantly reside at ease and are constantly moving on. By all means, you must examine in great detail the spiritual merits of their moving on. The moving on of a mountain will be just like the moving on of those who wander through life in ignorance, so, even though you may think that it seems the same as the human activity of walking, nevertheless, do not doubt ‘the moving on' of mountains4."

How to make a mountain sculpture (2006-) is an experimental work series that the artists attempted to study the motif through careful observation while they were staying in Switzerland and getting used to the new land. They carved the sculpture of mountain by "observing" the actual mountain in front of them. Considering outdoor sketch in art class in a school, it is not rare to work outdoor, but the scenery of two artists working on a wooden sculpture lonely with a splendid mountain view on their back, that is something people would not experience. As they say, "Apart from political point of view of nationalism or conservative swing, we wanted to rethink about this country again quietly with nature observing-approach5." Not as a member of human society, but a member of the livings on earth, they continue studying and observing upon what the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake has brought us.

The direction of the society taking is constantly changing. The common sense that we believe in also keeps changing. The trend of arts changes constantly. The main stream, the tone of society, everything is formed on a moment-to-moment basis, however Yamashita + Kobayashi keep moving forward on their own path. This is exemplified in work such as the bird watching in the Yankee stadium, or going to the mountain while others gather in front of parliament. They face the surrounded objects in their life, and make art works with the methods of "make with concept" and "look and make". Yamashita + Kobayashi will keep questioning to themselves in a high level with the perspective of human being on this planet, and the one of being artists.

Through practice in art, Yamashita + Kobayashi demonstrate the power of imagination by using their own eyes, ears and ideas. Social media has begun to form a lens over our own perception and understanding of the world around us, our thinking process has even begun to embed itself online – There are 5.5 million images uploaded daily on Instagram.
In this information overflowing world and hectic daily life, it is extremely difficult to have a time to observe and think quietly. Yamashita + Kobayashi strongly affirm life positively through creating without spending money but using what they already have and their own five senses, mind and time. They send the messages of "there is something more exciting.", "there are things worth experiencing." and teach us that we already have enough. After watching this exhibition, the viewers start to feel like they are using a part of their brain they don't usually use. That is a small, but big change. It is hoped that this change will lead the viewers to unlimited possibility.

1. Lewis Hodous, William E. Soothill, A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms: With Sanskrit and English Equivalents and a Sanskrit-Pali Index, Routledge , 2003, p.7. first published in 1937.
2. Yukie Kamiya, "Walking and Bridging – building an intangible bridge", Don't Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River,, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokoyo and Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, 2013, SEIGENSHA Art Publishing, Inc., p.107
3. Mai Yamashita + Naoto Kobayashi, From E-mail correspondence between the writer (E-mail,17 July, 2015)
4. Rev. Hubert Nearman, O.B.C.(translator), Shobogenzo: The Tresure House of the Eye of the True Teaching, Shasta Abbey Press, 2007, p.142,143
5. Mai Yamashita + Naoto Kobayashi, Mountains and a Dog,, hiromiyoshii roppongi, 2014, p.3


Translation:Yoshiko Kogi