Thursday, May 1, 2014

INSPIRE ME! Artist of Month for May 2014: Hiroshi Sugimoto


My work simply flows with the current: humanity’s 
ongoing technological development, 
which reaches science, religion, philosophy and art.
"Sea of Buddhas 001" (1995)
Hiroshi Sugimoto is a Japanese photographer, born in 1948. Today, he is considered to be amongst the most significant contemporary artists, recognised, not only for his technique, but for the conceptual and philosophical elements of his practice. Art Media Agency met with the artist at his new exhibition entitled “Aujourd’hui le Monde est Mort” (Lost Human Genetic Archive), taking place at Paris’s Palais de Tokyo. The artist discussed the evolution of his work, giving an insight, too, into new ideas and forthcoming projects. [link]
Portrait of the artist by Alicia Bruce Photography
Can you present this exhibition to us? What was you project?
The exhibition’s title is very pessimistic, yet I see something of great aesthetic value within it. There’s a great artistic beauty in the notion of the apocalypse. I’ve created 33 possible scenarios for the end of the world, each approached from different viewpoints.

The exhibition is very marked by the Japanese aesthetic, which decrees that life be led in an aesthetically-focused manner. There is truly this belief of beauty being intermingled with death — a notion which is present regardless of circumstance. It’s very much a Japanese tradition which inspired this work.

The stories I tell are sad, but they are nevertheless possible, even probable. I believe that human beings are deeply optimistic. We can’t go on continuing to believe in the infinite, as we do now. Everything which has a beginning has to have a final point. Our civilisation will surely have an end, in the future. And this is the theme I sought to explore.

Is this slightly dark vision inspired by your research in politics and sociology?
Yes, I think so. In this exhibition, I have ended up with 33 different people, 33 distinct figures. I am actually placing myself within these individuals and adopting their world view.

In a theatrical manner, I play 33 people, but the protagonist remains the artist [laughs].
Hiroshi Sugimoto: Past Tense (February 4–June 8, 2014) at the Getty Center
There’s a visible evolution in your work. The pieces exhibited here are very different from those of your first series —contemplative works situated on black and white backgrounds. Your installation pieces also represent something of a departure from photography.
I began my career as a photographer, that’s true. But, almost simultaneously, I began to collect objects, which are exhibited here. There is a certain porosity between the two practices, in that I view photography as a collection of the world’s fragments. For me, the act of taking a photograph, and the works presented here, represent the same thing. I have simply shifted field.

You have a very strong relationship with place and space — something which is particularly evident in the work Sense of space. Has the Palais de Tokyo influenced your practice?
I always compose my exhibitions with an awareness of their context, of their characteristics. I was fascinated by the Palais de Tokyo. It almost seems like an abandoned building — and it was, in fact, at one time disused. It’s a space which has been laid to waste, and which consequently fitted perfectly with the themes I sought to develop; this notion of the ruin and decline of civilisation.
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, Lightning Fields 130, 2009. Courtesy de l’artiste et Gallery Koyanagi, Tokyo
An apocalyptic outlook is increasingly prominent in your work, though the idea was already present in the series “Accelerated Buddha.” Is it a theme which reflects your opinion, or is it a poetic stance?
It’s a vision which is entirely possible, if not highly probable, I think. But it’s not yet something we’re taking seriously. At least not yet [laughs].

Tsunamis ravaged Japan, but after two or three years, we forgot the devastation it caused. But if this wave of catastrophes is to become more global, we will no longer be able to ignore it. In my opinion, it’s better we discuss it now.

Do you think it is your role, as an artist, to make the broader public aware of this?
As an artist, I can visually present ideas, something which has a greater impact than text. When we write about global warming, or an environmental challenge, people gain awareness, but their relationship with the information is different.

Does art have a stronger impact than science?
It has a more powerful impact, certainly. Visual works make an impression upon visitors, prompting them to ask further questions.

And yet — perhaps paradoxically — scientific questions seem to hold a place of great importance in your work. You demonstrate a strong interest in the work of Faraday, or William Henry Fox Talbot, for example. Has science influenced your practice?
Photography is deeply scientific. The first photographers were great scientists. My work simply flows with the current: humanity’s ongoing technological development, which reaches science, religion, philosophy and art.

Everything comes together in the end: all of these disciplines co-exist with one another.

It’s quite a “Renaissance” vision of the artist, as someone who specialises in religion, in science, in the technical, and even in magic.
Hiroshi Sugimoto, The Last Supper: Acts of God (detail), 1999/2012
And, like a number of Renaissance artists, you also work in architecture, with the Odawa Art Foundation
Yes, that’s my architecture hat. I test the boundaries of architecture, attempting to produce something which has never previously been constructed. It’s an ambition which has occasionally led my structural engineer to suggest that my ideas are too naive, difficult, or even dangerous.

I wouldn’t be able to do this project without a commercial outlook, as though I were building a house. I use my own money, so no one can complain [laughs].

Apart from that, however, I have a strong belief in the proximity of architecture and sculpture, notably in terms of aesthetics — it’s something which is of great interest to me.

Do you ever hope to produce a space specially adapted to your works?
Something about this project which is incredibly important is the fact that I have established a foundation, which is now in the public domain. The Odawa Foundation is not only mine. I developed the idea with the broader, global interest of promoting Japanese culture — both in Japan and abroad.

I’m also not the only person to invest in this project; there are a number of people contributing. It’s truly a foundation.

You’ve got a lot going on with the foundation, and exhibitions across the world. What projects do you have for the future?
I am not wholly certain. I am very easily persuaded, so I will continue to honour a certain number of projects.

I’m actually very fond of France, and of Paris — I feel they are very welcoming. I might consider becoming French soon [laughs]!

For more on the A&O INSPIRE ME! Artists of the Month, visit the registration page.