55th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia – Koki Tanaka – Japan Pavilion


abstract speaking – sharing uncertainty and collective acts
Koki Tanaka
Commissioner: The Japan Foundation. Curator: Mika Kuraya. 
Venue: Pavilion at Giardini

The Japan Foundation is delighted to announce artist Koki Tanaka’s representation of Japan at the 55th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia, to be held from June to November, 2013, and will present the exhibition titled abstract speaking – sharing uncertainty and collective act, curated by Mika Kuraya, Chief Curator of the Department of Fine Arts, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.

Koki Tanaka
Born in 1975; currently lives and works in Los Angeles. In his diverse art practice spanning video, photography, site-specific installation, and interventional projects, Koki Tanaka visualizes and reveals the multiple contexts latent in the most simple of everyday acts. In his recent projects he documents the behavior unconsciously exhibited by people confronting unusual situations, e.g. a haircut given by nine hair stylists or a piano played by five pianists simultaneously, in an attempt to show an alternative side to things that we usually overlook in everyday living.
He has shown widely in and outside Japan: the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), the Mori Art Museum (Tokyo), the Palais de Tokyo (Paris), the Taipei Biennial 2006 (Taipei), the Gwangju Biennial 2008 (Gwangju), the Asia Society (New York), the Yokohama Triennale 2011(Yokohama), the Witte de With (Rotterdam) and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Francisco). He will participate in “2013 California-Pacific Triennial” at the Orange County Museum of Art in June 2013.

Artist website: http://www.kktnk.com/

Artist’s statement


For example, each of us has within ourselves a problem. This problem is our own particular problem, and rarely does it converge with the problems of others. Problems always bring with them pain, and this pain, too, is something we cannot share with others. Things like sympathy and empathy only strengthen the boundary between those who are experiencing pain and those who are not. The vector of sympathy always travels from those who are not experiencing pain towards those who are. It cannot travel in the opposite direction. This is why we should probably explore engagement not through sympathy but through some other means.

More than a year has passed since the earthquake and tsunami, yet many problems, including the disposal of the rubble, temporary housing, and the nuclear problem, continue. In the wake of the disaster, a large number of artists as well as architects, musicians, filmmakers and so on traveled to the affected areas to undertake volunteer work, initiating actions that reflected their own creative activities. These were not short-lived responses; rather, they are ongoing. At the Japan Pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, too, one such project will be unveiled. In the first few months after the disaster, the question on the lips of many Japanese artists was, “What can art do in response to this event?” And to this day, I think this question still lingers in the minds of many artists. While some have initiated direct actions, others have tried to respond indirectly by continuing to make art as they did before.

Well then, what exactly can I do? Actually, for me the question is rather one of thinking about what changes have occurred as a result of this event. One example is that there has arisen a social context marked by a strong willingness to share, a context that has likely not existed in Japan to date. When we look at Japanese society in terms of this context, even the most casual of actions have a completely different meaning depending on whether they occurred before or after that day. For example, on occasion we use stairs. Instead of an elevator or escalator, we use stairs. Until now we could have explained this by saying it was for our health or for the environment. But in today’s Japan, it would seem that the act of “simply ascending or descending stairs” can be interpreted differently. By this I mean it might reflect an attitude of not wanting to rely on electricity (in other words, nuclear power plants), although of course this may not necessarily be the intention of the individuals concerned. When I saw large numbers of people descending the stairs at a railway station in Tokyo, it looked to me like a demonstration of some kind. Not initiating new action, but re-examining, educing, and reinterpreting the context of the actions we have undertaken to date. By doing this, it should be possible to broadly generalize particular problems in specific regions, making it impossible for anyone to ignore them. Koki Tanaka



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