Persimmon Life Studies

Everyday Composed – Shinsuke Aso

Wall Siding, Gumna, Japan

Brent: Of course the first impression I get with your collage work (we may as well start there) is that it rings Japanese: The color, the quirkiness, and freshness – the level and sense of reserve and adornment. Though that’s too simple. Quirkiness and perhaps freshness has been picked up, more fetishized, by western media, so we’ll leave that for a moment. And as you are not in Japan, and have settled in a different environment, I’m going to leave the Japanese thing aside as well – for the moment. Sensibilities, or where the work comes from probably will flow naturally without the need to make some grand cultural point.
That said, if I didn’t live here, I don’t know if I would have got the collage work that you do, as well as I think I do. Simply said I enjoy and feel it. It’s very much part of this culture’s fabric. Said from someone who is still coming to terms with what that fabric is. In the process, so to speak – never expecting to get there, of course, but open to the process.
I wouldn’t mind starting with ways of looking. And perhaps how you see something that interests you. How you pick that up, give it some attention, notice its qualities, what memory that triggers, its instance, and some of the more intriguing background operatives, how you are thinking when you move that into that position.

Shinsuke: I am interested in encountering activities and accidents that convert or flip over concepts, stereotypes and prejudices. As an artist, I am trying to create artwork that suggests to the audience several different points of view toward things and phenomena around them.

Shinsuke Aso - Untitled, 2008

The series of collage work is one of my main practices. They are created by using a great variety of found materials including paper, fabric, plastic, tape, thread, and hair embellished with doodle-like touches of pencil, pen and paint marks. The first step of this process is to encounter materials in my everyday life, to collect and preserve them. Secondly, I re-contextualize the materials as shapes and colors by trimming, cutting them up, tearing, crumpling, adding marks and juxtaposing the elements with other materials on a paper ground.

What I am looking for in my daily life are awkward combinations of objects, placed in unexpected situations either by accident or through somebody’s intention. When I make the collages, I’m always concerned about the weirdness of mixture of the elements as well as the composition. To create these strange situations, I need to collect as diverse materials as I can, especially the papers: I have the local Chinese restaurant’s menu, porn, advertisements, found pictures, kids’ doodles, somebody’s memo, packages, tacky party decorations, fashion magazines, cartoons, newspaper, fancy wrapping paper, receipts, cardboard, envelopes, flyers and various kinds of catalogues.Cluster of Machines by a Parking Lot

It may be hard for you to imagine but you are only the second person who mentioned about the ‘Japanese’ taste in my collage works. I tend to avoid making stereotypical Japanese contemporary art such as the cartoon look, cute stuff, or a contemporary subject depicted with traditional technique. The Japanese taste in my work is not really cultural or artistic. It’s a different kind of taste that is considered uncool in general. I recently realized that this derives from landscapes of my hometown, a suburb of Japan.

You would imagine Pachinko neon signs glaring in the middle of rice paddies; brand new bow windows on an old wooden house patched with corrugated tinplates; a shiny red Ferrari parked next to a farm tractor in a barn; weirdly themed ‘love hotels’ clustered together on a side of a mountain; hand-painted anime characters on the wall of a kindergarten; a trace of a landslip covered with concrete; a zebra-patterned two-car-long train running through rice paddies; a line of vending machines shining in the darkness of night; an abandoned old refrigerator half buried in mud by a odorous bad smelling river; curves of electric wires in between massive pylons.

These things don’t look very sophisticated yet has an impact. And that attracts me. Perhaps it’s difficult for an audience who has never lived in Japan to understand this taste. Actually, on the other hand, the first person who mentioned about the specific taste was my local friend who does not have much knowledge about art. He nonchalantly said, ‘Your artworks remind me of our town’ after he saw my collages for the first time. His comment really shocked me because I didn’t even think of it until then.

I feel very excited when I encounter strange phenomena and keep this same excitement when it turns up in work: Although the excitements are very different. The former is like stepping on a mine, which is totally unexpected and shocks, or kills me. The latter is similar to creating a booby trap.

In addition, I am interested in art as a ‘phenomenon’ — that is able to convert the meaning and value of things. As mentioned, the materials I use are mostly discarded from our society, but they acquire currency as you work with them.

Brent: I don’t know how many times I’ve seen visitors standing in front of those glowing vending machines, getting their photo taken. This thing, glowing on the street, a whole set of them, is strange, but at the same time so appealing.
In your collages, where this odd connection between things works, you mention they are part of the everyday.
How different is the everyday that you are presently in to the everyday of your childhood? Is there an equivalent to glowing vending machines, or love hotels on the hill?Shinsuke Aso

The collages are very much ‘telltales’ of a system of a way of life and way of thinking. And as such you are working with these disparate links both at a formal level and also as something that has history. There is the story of the everyday, odd and diverse as it is. And that is primarily local, where you are now. Though there is this totally different history too, that is working and that is embedded in another local time, the one of your hometown as a child.

I like this. It reminds me of you a bit.
The black drape as a tie, and the white the shirt.
And the lock of what, synthetic golden hair: The blue dangle of the ribbon.
I also see a color thing happening that is stereotypically ‘Barbie’, the western doll version – the blond and the blue – a prom even.
And what of formal arrangements: How things perform under their own steam, the different hangs of the materials, the way gravity plays on different material, how the colors of those things perform. This piece is also very structural.

Shinsuke: It took a while to get back to you, Brent. Again nobody has asked me these questions before, and I thought that it would be worth to take time to answer.

The ‘everyday’ of my childhood and the recent one that I am in are obviously different. I am now living and working in New York, have been getting older, and have learned more things. However, I feel I still have the same excitement and interest as I had as a child, growing up as a teenager. In other words, a part of my psychological life is still on the same lineage of my childhood.Drums

Landscape-wise, it is hard to find the equivalent experience here in New York. The nature of things, the half-natural-half-artificial, such as farms and rice paddies, coexist in Japan. (By the way, I use the word ‘nature’ here as a comparison to things created by human beings.) In NY the half-natural-half-artificial works differently. Of course the cultural and populational diversity in New York differs greatly from a small town just outside Tokyo.

The City of New York provides me with a huge resource for the collages. I don’t need to buy much except for glue, tapes, staples, and different papers for ground. As a result of living in New York for more than eight years, most of my materials can be found here, and are free. Luckily the city supports a very diverse and complex interweaving of cultures, as I mentioned before, and this huge reservoir supplies me with an abundance of interesting materials often that can be found coming from all parts the world.
Although I use these materials, that end up here, or are of New York, the way I compose them into a collage has more to do with the aesthetic of ‘the weird landscape of suburban Japan’.

In terms of my artistic inspiration, I would like to add monsters that I saw in animations, cartoons and live-action super hero TV programs as well as odd looking animals and plants such as deep sea creatures, tropical animals and poodle-cut pine trees, dinosaurs and mutants: All most likely derived from my experience of growing up, watching TV, and immersed in the everyday weirdness of landscapes in my hometown.

The elements in my collage, as with the individual as audience, and I, each have very distinct histories, so-called an ‘everyday life’. When these histories intersect through collage, different stories are being created depending on how I compose the elements and how the audience interprets them based on their knowledge, experience, and memory. For example, the work above reminded you of a Barbie doll, a prom, or me, while another person simply thought that it looked like a hammerhead shark constructed with junk. You read the work through the color combination and what each element means to you. On the other hand, the other person just saw it as one shape and didn’t pay much attention to the meanings of the elements and colors.

It’s hard to see what the exact elements are from the jpeg image. Actually, the hair is real extension hair that was used in fashion shows, the black drape is a torn up t-shirt, the blue ribbon came out from a party cracker, and the top part is a cut-up piece of another collage including black paint marks, a picture of some garden and somebody’s memos. For me the hair symbolizes the stereotype of Western beauty or sexiness in the Eastern world, the t-shirt gives an impression of punk rock culture, and the blue ribbon recalls my neighbor’s kid’s birthday party. I try to create an artwork embracing these mixed elements and meanings yet work visually to get them well composed, where all elements are leveled out no matter what they were, or where they are from originally.Wire Dangle

I recently realized that the physical, visual and conceptual freeness from gravity is very important to all my works. This invisible freeness is presented as dangling elements (dangling lines in collage) that often come up in my works. These elements are similar to a string attached to a balloon. And in the fact that they hang down visualize the gravity of the earth. However, they also emphasize the lightness of bigger objects that are placed above them simultaneously. In the collages all elements are not touching edges of the paper. That makes the elements appear to exist free in space. Furthermore, each element is alleviated from the gravity of its meaning being mixed with other elements or composed simply as shapes and colors.

Brent: Thanks Shinsuke.

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11 thoughts on “Everyday Composed – Shinsuke Aso

  1. wow, this is a beautiful discussion– from both artists. thank you for the insight and inspiration.

  2. Hi

    An interesting conversation.

    It would seem a question with which you were particularly grappling (Brent) was whether translocation was equivalent to cultural translocation, or cultural melding; if all those personal child-hood memories and images survived (in a memory bubble) to be suffused into a new time place, necessarily taking on the tenor of the new but harping back to the old.

    And that sounds very Japanese, and locally Japanese, as Shinsuke said.

    But then his interest in freedom of gravity, suggests space unmoored from any of its cultural constituents.

    What I see is the free flowing black rag (unhemmed) and blue twirl (also hanging free) which in their commonality but contrast to the tortured caught bleached curled, (which lacks both the gravity impediment of the black rag, and the frivolity of the twirl, but bears and suggests a strong history of feminine entrapment/seductive power associated with someone like Marilyn Monroe, or other blonde sirens) possibly opens a discourse on cultural freedom/enslavement.

  3. Having just seen a group of Shinsuke’s collages in person, I wanted to add how wonderful the texture is in these works. There’s an interplay between the way shapes of the “odds and ends”read on the surface and in space, which somehow works with the hanging and dangling bits . All wonderfully free and yet focused, quirky, refreshing. A great insightful conversation here!

  4. Thanks for reading the interview and putting your comments and sorry for late reply.

    >mel
    This interview really helped me to figure out where my work and I are from. Of course there are more things that inspire me but the things I mentioned in this interview are the primary ones. After the interview, analyzing myself and my work became a part of my life.

    >DonnaLyn Hallard
    There is an expression in Japan “The spirit of three-year-old child lasts hundred years.” which means same as “The child is the father of the man.” Recently I often think of this expression and realized it’s true. In addition, I suppose I am obsessed with freedom and breaking prejudice partly because of growing up in a conservative society as gay although I’m now trying to escape from a category of gay. My works’ appearance shows how I try to avoid to be classified in certain type of person/artist. Thank you for contributing an interesting interpretation of work.

    >Kate Beck
    It doesn’t take long to make collages normally. On the other hand, it took so long to articulate why and how I make them, and what I want to express through them. I’ve been making collage for fifteen years since I was in high school and finally figured out what they are.

    >karen schifano
    Thanks for adding more info/opinion about my work. I really enjoyed the studio visit with you. am happy that you mentioned the different texture of each material. It is very important to my works although I somehow omitted. I love touching everything, and most of viewers ask me if he/she can touch my work when I show my works.

  5. Hi Everyone, I just wanted to leave a short comment about Shinsuke’s collage works. I am an adherent of Bell’s Theorum and this theory argues that influences can occur all around the world in subtle and at times almost undetectable ways. In the 1980s and Australian Artist named Imants Tillers wrote an essay titled “Locality Fails” that examines this issue in detail. In relation to this theoretical model I am convinced that Shinsuke’s collages would make a significant contribution to the discourse of contemporary art in Papua New Guinea.

  6. >Christopher Dean

    Thank you Christpher. The essay “Locality Fails” sounds interesting.

    Could you tell me little more about the discourse of locality in contemporary art in Papua New Guinea when you have time?

  7. Great seeing your work yesterday, and thank you for the wonderful discussion!

    What intrigues me the most in your work is the level of ambiguity. The play between the certain (found objects, texts) and the vague in your collage creates highly effective ground for looking and flexible associating.

    I’d like to share this.

    “… An English medieval mystic observed that we mistakenly feel close to things that we have clear ideas of. The truth is opposite. Clarity measures our distance from an object of thought. Ultimate reality, wrote the anonymous mystic, is met with in a “cloud of unknowing.” … the vague, the half-thought, the intuitive, the incipient-things on the tip of the tongue, just around the corner, barely out of reach. We hate such indeterminate sensations, as a rule. … In a way, nothing is more concrete to our minds than honest vagueness that does not resolve into forced certainty- though our yen for certainty is pretty concrete, too.
    … Abstraction aims to intensify this transaction’s uncanniness, bending consciousness back on itself to make thought the material of thought and feeling the object of feeling. …”
    from Concerning the Spiritual in Gary Stephan -Peter Schjeldahl

  8. Yejin,

    Thank you for coming to our open studio and sharing the quotation!

    I like this part, “In a way, nothing is more concrete to our minds than honest vagueness that does not resolve into forced certainty- though our yen for certainty is pretty concrete, too.”

  9. This quote of yours from the interview is fantastic Shinsuke, it rings so true to your spirit and collages…”I feel very excited when I encounter strange phenomena and keep this same excitement when it turns up in work: Although the excitements are very different. The former is like stepping on a mine, which is totally unexpected and shocks, or kills me. The latter is similar to creating a booby trap.”

    In short, “suprise” plays such a large role in your work…I love it! Many pieces remind me of bursting fireworks…floating, free, colorful, exciting. A lot like you dancing after something to drink at an SVA party.

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