May 24th, 2006


An interview with Koki Tanaka

Back in January, taking my cue from ArtForum critic Midori Matsui, I blogged about three young Japanese artists, inventing the rather silly umbrella term Supereveryday for their "strategically unshowy" work. The artists, mostly video-makers, are Izumi Taro, Koki Tanaka and Yuki Okumura.

Yuki (right) is nearing the end of a Location One residency in SoHo, and yesterday he introduced me to his close friend Koki Tanaka (left), another former Location One artist who's currently in residence at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. You can see three of Koki's films online at Rhizome.

I visited Yuki and Koki at Location One, then joined them later for an opening at the Japan Society, where Asian Contemporary Art Week is being celebrated with a show called Fast Futures: Asian Video Art. In the Japan Society lobby I grabbed a short interview with Koki, who's one of the three artists in this show. I've transcribed it pretty much as it happened, leaving Koki's English uncorrected (it's wabi sabi English!). My favourite piece by him in Fast Futures is a video (made in 2003) of a young chef in a stainless steel kitchen, multi-tasking as he prepares food.

Momus: So I just saw your work and I really liked it very much. We were talking this afternoon about whether you felt Japanese or not, and you didn't think that was so important, but I know that cooking is an obsession in Japan...

Koki Tanaka: In Japan? You think so?

Especially in Japan, because every time I switch on TV everything is cooking programmes, people saying "oishi"!

Ah, yeah yeah yeah...

I wondered about the cooking piece, Each and Every, it seems like you could have been interested in that to show that the chef is an artist? Is that one of your interests?

I think that the chef is kind of like a performer, good performer, but nobody knows. And he knows... He doesn't know about his moving. He's always thinking about something like tomorrow's special dishes and he prepares something... At first I thinking about, like cooking is linear, like "prepare, cooking and washing dishes". But at the moment I shoot at the restaurant he's doing like many stuff at the same time, and it's really complex. I found like every moment is really special. I just cut some parts, and put it together.

Simple editing?


But also there's an aesthetic of the kitchen, the lighting in the kitchen and the stainless steel equipment, there's a certain kind of aesthetic quality. Personally I love this light, and the shape and the colours of the food, it's very beautiful. So is that important?

Yeah, yeah, it's really important.

But no connection with these Japanese TV food shows? Because it's very different on TV food shows, they show the finished result, but they don't show the process. So maybe, in Western terms, I think of Bertolt Brecht, he was always trying to show the process of something. He was very influenced by Asian theatre, like in Japanese theatre you see the stage hands...

Ah, yes!

...they come on stage dressed in black, it's very important to see that theatre is just a human construction and that it can be changed by humans.


Anyway... Yuki was telling me about the bouncing basketball piece, and I saw that one. It seems that that's closer to Yuki's work. Do you think you've started off doing quite similar work and then you've gone in different directions?

Ah, I think this work is a little bit older. It's 2001. And after this work I come to New York and I changed my mind. Because for these works I always thinking about manipulate something. To shoot video object, but I changed the speed and make it loop. And even kitchen piece, original version is 30 minutes, and then make it loop. So we cannot see the ending and beginning. So that's the concept for these works. But now I change my mind. You know my piece, Caviar to Pigeons? [Made in 2004.] This is not like this kind of work.

Yeah, it's much more natural, simple. So is it a higher aesthetic for you to be more natural, is it better for you to be more natural?

Yeah, more natural but also special.