What do you think of Japanese art

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In our Art Sympathetic series, the name says it all: We meet artists who have something to tell. About their work, their ideas and their role models. We would like to overcome inhibitions with a sympathetic approach to art and talk about art without unapproachable gossip.

Since October the Georg Kolbe Museum in Berlin has been like a fairytale. In the exhibition “Asana Fujikawa / David Hockney. Figures of the Flowing World ”, the Japanese artist Asana Fujikawa visualizes fantastic narratives that are always related to reality. In addition to printmaking and painting, ceramic works were created which, in the exhibition, meet the series of images created by David Hockney in 1969, “Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm”. Hockney's cryptic illustrations and Fujikawa's imaginative traditions complement each other to form a walk-in fairy tale book full of magical tales in which tradition meets modernity and the fabulous meets the real.

In the historical museum rooms, which the sculptor Georg Kolbe once used as a studio, we met Asana Fujikawa and talked to her about happy endings, horror stories and unshaven legs.

The title of the exhibition is "Figures of the Flowing World". What's it all about?

The title refers to the so-called Ukiyo-e, a traditional Japanese genre. Ukiyo-e can be translated, for example, as “Images of the flowing world”, the name of which the exhibition refers. My etchings of the "forest people", which are provided with tendrils on the left and right, tie in with the tradition of the ukiyo-e. The representations are also reminiscent of emakimono or emaki. These are illustrated stories that can be understood as a first form of comic or animation. By slowly rolling up an image, you can work your way through the process of viewing it. Although you can see my etchings as a whole in the exhibition, they were inspired by Emaki.

Are you making a conscious connection between tradition and the present?

I'm not doing this on purpose, I just like a lot of old things. For example, my work is very much inspired by early Japanese literature, such as the writer Natsume Sōseki, but of course I live in the present and am influenced by everyday events. The connection between tradition and modernity is therefore automatic.

Many of your works seem magical and beautiful at first glance, but then also have a surprisingly cruel component. Is this ambivalence between horror and magic a typical characteristic of fairy tales?

I don't know if it's typical for fairy tales because I always do little research (laughs). For me it is important to say that there is usually no happy ending in our lives. What is sold to us as a happy ending in films or books is usually not the end of the story at all - life somehow goes on. For me, however, this circumstance is something very natural and beautiful.

We particularly noticed the ceramics “A forest man tries to cut off his arm during his metamorphosis”. What's the story behind that?

The story goes like this: After some forest workers in dungarees accidentally step into a magical yew forest, their bodies suddenly begin to transform. Gradually they turn into trees themselves, their arms and legs become branches. Of course, workers would rather return to their families than humans, so they try to cut off their limbs. Ultimately, they fail. You have to create soul containers to save your soul from the metamorphoses.

So no happy ending. Do you make up the stories presented yourself?

Yes exactly. I am heavily influenced by Japanese mythology and superstitious stories from Japan. The people there are much more superstitious than in Germany. Greek mythology and my own experiences also influence the stories. It all mixes up with my fairy tales.

Do you also tell these fairy tales to your daughter?

No, she prefers to read children's books. But she will surely see similar stories later in life and I'm really looking forward to that.

What role did David Hockney's series of images, which are also part of the exhibition, play for you? Was it an orientation?

I concentrated on my work. But one of my characters is a little oriented towards this place here. The ceramic is called “Maria”, just like a former granddaughter of Georg Kolbe, who owned the studio here. The girl Maria sits on a chair at a table. Opposite her sits an invisible spirit. The parquet floor looks exactly like it does here in the museum. So the scenery could take place at this location.

We particularly like the figure with the title “Many plants grew on my legs instead of the hair”. How did this presentation come about?

The idea for the girl with the plants on her legs was in my head 5 years ago. The series is called "Apothekerin" and there are also some etchings on it. The story goes like this: A woman grows plants instead of hair out of her legs. Although it looks beautiful, she is very ashamed of it. I feel the same way: I don't like a lot of black hair on my hair that you can see clearly. It's strange that we should be ashamed of something so natural. But shame can also be something beautiful and I don't want to tell anyone what is right or wrong. People just have a lot of insecurities. I think these uncertainties are nice. My characters have very similar problems to us humans.

In addition to your ceramic figures, the exhibition also shows prints and paintings. What significance do the different materials have for your work?

I like to use different materials in the work process. I find ceramics and etchings in particular very suitable for my work. These techniques are perfect for my invented stories. But there is no specific order in which I work. I don't first make drawings and use them to create ceramics, everything is mixed. The two-dimensional etching is perfect for storytelling. Drawing helps me a lot because I can map my thoughts quickly. Modeling, on the other hand, takes a long time, sometimes two weeks. During this time I have often lost my original thought.

How exactly does the modeling work?

While I am modeling the ceramics, I talk to the figures a lot. As a result, the stories continue to grow, so they have an open ending. By speaking, the characters receive a piece of me and are therefore very close to me. At some point in the creation process there is a moment when I think: "I found you". At some point the figure emerges from the clay, that is the most important point. I love that feeling very much. But sometimes that doesn't work either.

Characters that you bring to life - that sounds like a fairy tale too.

Yes, that's right. And it's nice to see how differently the visitors to the museum react to them.

When you came to Germany from Japan, was that a clash for you?

Yes, that was a heavy cultural clash. I came to Germany when I was 27, 11 years ago. But I was young and lively back then and enjoyed this clash! Finally, I stayed in Hamburg, where I really like it. As a mother you need a lot of support from different people, which luckily I get there. I feel completely like a hamburger! That is where my home is for me.

Are you still in Japan sometimes?

Yes, every now and then I fly there and see my family.

Thank you for the interesting interview!

The exhibition “Asana Fujikawa / David Hockney. Figures of the Flowing World ”is presented by Dr. Matilda Felix is ​​the curator and can be seen in the Georg Kolbe Museum until January 12, 2020.