This conversation with Yukiko Shikata, an independent curator based in Tokyo, developed in April 2010, it follows up lines of thoughts that occurred when Verina met Yukiko in Japan the summer before as part of a research residency at Tokyo University of the Arts. The email-exchange takes four points as structuring element: independent curating, lack of mega-archives, entering media art, longterm projects and curating as research.
Verina Gfader: To start our conversation I would like to address your current sites of activity and their economies. You recently left ICC to continue working as an independent curator — where do you see its potential within current Japanese economies and the role of (media) art spaces, where and how art takes place? Is there a desire to be 'outside' the institution which perhaps assumes a more protective environment?
Yukiko Shikata: I left ICC after working there for five and a half years. I curated many thematic exhibitions and events and I thought it was time to restart my activities, because I felt the moment of a fundamental shift now in the second decade of the 21C. The ways of communicating are drastically changing, via social networking systems such as twitter, or Ustream+twitter, where the borders between the private/public, here/there, mass media/micro media, etc. are blurred, and the identity is getting multi-layered and connective. Being aware of these situations, I see the new emergence of media arts by creatively combining art, science, and technology, and I would like to work for stimulating the future culture and society, by actualizing the creative potential of people across fields. For this, my role is to change flexibly depending on each project, ranging from small events, continuous R&D, big exhibitions and projects in and out of Japan at this moment.
Thinking about the current economical situation in Japan and all over the world, art and cultural activities are in crisis, and I see the supporting structure for art could possibly come not from a single sponsor (such as from one company), but from several sponsors beyond companies, foundations, and individuals beyond nations. I expect the emergence of a new economy in the age of digital networks, with shared information and knowledge created by the people. The creators will carry out more direct distribution of their creations, and there will be more sustainable "on-demand"-based money exchanges. These new kinds of creation and distribution will lead to new cultural value, and the new cultural value will lead us to new economic value. This is my hope and what I am heading for.
I used to call myself a "mediator" or "agency" these past five years, but recently I started to call my mission "Curating the Future", by intentionally expanding the word "curating" into disseminating creative thinking beyond culture, science, society, etc. Sometimes I bridge, and create links and relations between the people and fields for the projects and exhibitions, and sometimes let them free to communicate with each other as something that would start someday in the future. I see some of the seeds of the past several years starting to bloom, recently in the form of various kinds of collaboration -- projects, workshops and spaces. Additionally, I started several small activities including Open Lab. within the frame of my lecture class at the Tokyo Zokei University. At Open Lab., I and two mature students (who recently opened an alternative space in Tokyo downtown), as incubators, stimulate the students to start autonomous research projects, and we open my class three times per semester to present progress and for further discussions. As a starter, we did two events out of class recently, one is the open "connecting party" with the president of the University in his room, and the other is the "Urban Picnic" fieldwork which is a to walk around Tokyo downtown to reach the alternative spaces of the students. We open it to anybody who is interested, to join the workshop and to collaborate, and also we utilize the Ustream+twitter to stream realtime for further interaction. So now two new research groups are born, and I look forward to seeing the progress.
In general, there are many artist- and curator-run alternative spaces emerging recently, and they are actively communicating with other spaces. Many interactions both in real and virtual spaces activate the scene, and I would like to connect them with the official cultural institutes, research centers and organisations, museums and art centers.
VG: Shifting our dialogue from the action, to how cultural activities and practices are entangled with the question of preserving them: when we met in summer 2009, you talked about how in Japan, body and technology are quite 'naturally' linked, technology is not an alienating device. Japanese people are looking for the new, as life is based on transformation and the fleeting (referring to the Buddhist tradition). There is no desire for building permanence, as in Europe for example, or thinking a "permanent situation". This led into questions of archiving, forms of documents, and memory. You mentioned that the idea is not to establish a "whole archive" (mega-archive) as desired in the West, memories are personal, and remain personal, in this sense there is a 'fragmented archive'. In the Japanese context there is no aim to build this shared big archive. My questions are about media and archiving, how to preserve work, or what to preserve? Do institutions archive at all, and in what way?
YS: In Japan and most of the Asian countries, there is no strong desire for the "construction" or "overview", like in the West. I think the European notions of "construction" and "overview" are established on the premise of the Cartesian notion (and notation) of space, and "chronos", the notion of time, and in Asian countries time and space were not articulated in this Western way. Especially in Japan, we live in the environment of ever-changing nature (four seasons, typhoon, etc.), and this makes the Japanese to flexibly adjust to the phenomena, and even to interpenetrate with them. But, after modernization we Japanese took the Western method, and now in the age of global networks, we confront the various values from different cultures... so, I think it is the time for the Japanese to be aware of being multi-perspectival, including the way of self-articulation and reflection.
Regarding the practical notion of archiving: we are aware of building the archive, by taking the modern Western method of "mega-archive", but the history, cultural and budgetary reasons do not easily let us to build a stable, continuous system to preserve the data for the archive. At the same time, we confront the future of archiving in the age of digital networks. The whole notion and system of "archive" should be reconsidered beyond cultures and countries, and there will be no one, universal state of "archive", but there will be more de-centralized, multi-perspective approaches to the archive. The digitally networked archive with social tagging by people's participation would be one of the actual, significant forms of archives.
Answering your question on preserving media art more directly: each media art work is different, some are stored physically and some are preserved only by data. Hardwares, softwares change rapidly over time, and becoming obsolete, and many works would be difficult to be shown in a proper way as time goes by. I think it is very difficult to keep the work function as it used to be, so the "documentation" of the work by video and sound (like performance pieces, because most of media art works are time-based, experience-based) would be the most fundamental way for archiving.
VG: To reflect back in time... I am interested in your entrance to media / art, what was relevant to you at that time? What are the original aims and ideas in your practice? My question relates to your work at Canon, and YCAM/Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media, with Kazunao Abe.
YS: I came into this field by encountering Joseph Beuys in 1982. I was very impressed by his ideas and attitudes, and the fluidity of his works, including what he described and understood as "Social Sculpture" and "Everybody is an artist". It keeps me encouraged and stimulated even now, and I would say that all of my activities -- especially "MobLab"(2005), "open nature" (2005), and "Mission G: sensing the earth" (2009) -- fundamentally come from an ongoing re-interpretation of Beuys's activities.
I was also influenced by Nam June Paik, and in the mid 80s, by the activities of OCEAN EARTH (Peter Fend, Ingo Gunther), all of them are in a way "outsiders" (they were originally not specialized in art, but then became artists), they take some distance to the existing notion of art, and have a keen sense of combining art and technology with a socio-cultural approach. I take a very similar stance. Since the mid 80s, I am very interested in art in relation to technology from critical perspectives, and started to write on the issue, and started curating. Then, in 1990, I got an offer to be co-curator at Canon ARTLAB to collaborate with artists and Canon's computer engineers, and we co-curators (me and Kazunao Abe, currently the artistic director of YCAM/Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media) took the direction to do experiments in producing new works of media art. At Canon ARTLAB, my curatorial direction was to focus on "process", "flow", "algorithmic" based organization of information beyond analog/digital, micro/macro, and to produce a system, platform or space for public interaction -- in opposite of being a "narrative" "representative" expression -- this (my curatorial) direction was established in the 90s, by collaborating with artists such as Ulrike Gabriel, Knowbotic Research, Teiji Furuhashi, Seiko Mikami, and Carsten Nicolai+Marko Peljhan.
VG: The issue of continuation and duration seems to re-occur — at the time I visited ICC you presented a stage of the longterm project "Mission G: sensing the earth", as part of Open Space 2009. In relation to projects that develop over time and research based curating, here addressing themes of the territorial and mapping, what difficulties do you experience in your curatorial practice with regard to these works in process (maintaining the process)? What are the potentials? Concept based curating, that allows you to work with artworks horizontally (non-linear) and that allows for making 'new' connections, is this a methodology driven by ideas?
YS: "Mission G: sensing the earth" exhibition (ICC, May 16, 2009 - February 28, 2010) had a long-term duration, and I consciously utilized that. I was very interested in the recent situation, the global diffusion of DIY & open source approaches to hardware and software, and how many individuals had started to measure the environmental data and share it. The local data are connected to becoming global. Anything in daily life and the environment can be sensed and visualized. I was also very interested in the possibility of a new emergence of information, by the continuous micro-activities of each bit of information, without setting any strict goals. Also, through the emergence of sensing on a micro-level, by sharing, visualizing, and perceiving the form of the globe, there might emerge a new consciousness for us to share the earth, by self-reflection. I think the importance of the singular artist/creator will stay, but I certainly see the emergence of other layers in artistic creation and distribution based on the "shared" culture, so that the existing way of expression could be repositioned.
The exhibition consisted of 5 projects beyond art, science and architecture, and the whole space was made for the works to co-exist, and even with some relations between the works (sending data to the other work). The whole space looked very calm, there was no clear interaction by the visitors, because all the works were in operation getting the environmental data from many places in the world, including satellites outside of ICC, and visualized in realtime. The whole exhibition gradually changed according to the environmental data. The visitors could feel close to the "environment" during their stay in the exhibition, and after leaving there, they will be more aware about the daily environment -- natural and informational -- around them.
The "Mission G: sensing the earth" asks the question of "observation", "calculation", and "visualization" in the age of digital technology. The trans-coding process from the numerical into the visual and perceivable data, shows us the optional features in dealing with data in observation systems. In the observation, additionally many "filters" exist - such as observation systems, observation devices and their mechanisms, the accuracy of the measuring device, the ways of analysis, visualization, and notation. Any measurement, analysis, and visualization are part of the "filters". Being conscious about that, we are now heading for the new horizon of measurement, and I would like to call it "Micrometry". In "Micrometry", each individual keeps measuring and feeding the environmental data by her/his own interest and without having a unified perspective or goal, this is a micro-, autonomous- behavior. I think this is what is happening now also in our society.
It might be understood as a perspective beyond "humans". There are the decentralized, time-based special projection by Hajime Narukawa’s "AUTHAGRAPH", "Dust Architecture" coined by dNA (doubleNegatives Architecture), that keeps transforming being influenced by an ever-changing environment, by connecting "nodes (Super Eye)" with Polar Coordinate, and "Pachube" as the network of local-, micro-information. A dynamically shared information platform would emerge beyond marginal micro data and perception, by getting connected and cooperating with each other. It is not "visually-represented" but rather "tactile", and originates in a micro and personal stance. The "Earth" being generated in the "Mission G" exhibition is based bottom-up, an ever-changing dynamic one, and open in the information process to go beyond the static way of space representation by existing maps and notation systems. And I think this "micrometry" is happening also in our mental spaces via the communication mediated such as by twitter. "Mission G" stays important for me and I will keep on investigating it.