Hunter Gatherer

I am always thinking about energy.
Whether in painting or sculpture or anything else, creation starts with unorganized ingredients or thoughts, and at the very moment when a work approaches completion, the world of possibilities closes, and it starts to become conservative and stable. When that happens, my approach is to take this nearly complete thing, create a fracture of a different nature to destabilize it, make it inconsistent, and destroy its balance. When I am drawing, I add irritating extra lines or erase an important part, upsetting the world of the picture, and mercilessly spoiling it. I do this because energy bursts forth explosively all at once deep inside the work when I try to get rid of this unevenness, breaking through the current stable dimension, bringing about alterations. As this creative gamble is repeated again and again, the work gains further strength through transformation and heads toward completion.

This routine, which may be compared to producing hydroelectric power, is my daily creative process.

On the other hand, for several years, I have been acting like someone plundering a colony (or like Cruella De Vil) in that I have been buying animals from hunters. These are animals that are subject to pest control in Tohoku or Hokkaido, such as the moon bear, the Ezo deer, or the earless seal. I have sent them to a tannery to have their skins made into pelts. The wolves that I obtained in Mongolia were among those killed in large numbers in that country.

The type of tanning employed in making pelts involves using a scraper to scrape the body fat that adheres to the skin, carefully leaving the skin and fur intact, and then washing them in chemicals several times to remove the smell of blood. The result is an everyday item that feels good when you touch it. The initial step in taxidermy was stuffing straw inside the skin. Taking a dead animal and reproducing the shape of its skin surface as it was when the animal was alive seemed almost like magic. This act of “replication reproduction?,” that is, “representing again,” is at work at the foundations of creative work in every field of human creative activity. We humans are incredibly fond of looking at a dead stuffed animals as if we think it is alive and looking at the fantasy of keeping dead things unchanged forever.

In order to break through a fixation on the visual, I have decided that I need to engage in the act of making things. There are many ways to make things, whether by myself or with other people.

“Making” is a very good word. It encompasses “drawing,” “singing,” “erasing,” “eating,” “moving,” “listening,” “symbolizing,” “telling lies,” “touching,” “stumbling,” “hitting,” and can be replaced by any of them. In response to that, I began to seek out new artistic materials, everything from my customary paper and paints to clay, leather, pelts, doors from houses, old pictures, dandelion seeds, souvenirs, a bird’s nest that I had found, cosmetics, and other things, so that all kinds of substances became artistic materials. I have also taken little birds’ nests that the neighborhood children found and set them up in the exhibition area. Those finely detailed designs are the birds’ craftsmanship. I have also become indifferent to human decisions about whether I made something or whether another person (or animal) made it.

Since I have spent a long time wandering the Earth for taking pictures or taking part in exhibitions, my body often feels as if it is meeting wind resistance and may even be some sort of vehicle for traveling around. I first noticed that I had made my own tools for moving around when I finished exhibited a moth-shaped kite attached to fur, a model of a mountain hut mounted on a sled, or video footage of paddling upstream in a canoe on the Anigawa River. If that’s the case, even a song is a vehicle, as if my gaze is out in front of my voice, running around, watching the scenery on an a slope where the trees are covered with hoarfrost.

One time, when faced with an impending exhibition, I was busily working and tried to grab a quick sandwich. I absent-mindedly ended up biting down on my right index finger with tremendous force. This was a serious injury, and I could not hold a sculpting knife for a week. More importantly, my own teeth caused me to feel the fear I might feel from an animal’s fangs. Being unable to recover from the shock of that incident was another one of my “creations.”

After I began using pelts in my works, I found out that now, so many animals have come into the inhabited areas in search of food that control efforts in the mountains seem to have been too late. Those were situations in which it was impossible to say that humans had been able to control nature. When violating boundaries, the animals have the upper hand.

You want to control incursions into human domains, but you want to enter that dangerous other world of nature and come into contact with it, smell its odors, eat it, and become one with it. Friction inevitably occurs at the boundaries where different types of entities come into contact, and it may be that when both entities receive that energy, they react by surviving. For example, killing and eating a bear is like that. My creative activity, too, is no longer self-expression or any other such abstraction. Instead, I am certain that it is a form of energy transformation. Furthermore, this desire to violate boundaries has existed in humanity since the very beginning.

The Ōu Mountain Range stands behind the city of Yokote, where I will hold an exhibition. Ever since I was a child, I have enjoyed the mountains that make up this range through activities such as skiing. In this mountain range, which runs through northern Japan like a scenic backdrop, the scenery is given over to the transitions of primitive nature. There is an abundance of incomparable mountaintop vistas, and I have spoken with expert stream climbers who have been fascinated by them. Furthermore, when you travel on the Kitakami Line from the Iwate Prefecture side over the rugged mountains and arrive at Yokote Station, you realize the extent to which this city is situated on the boundary between the plains and the deep mountain region. With the alien world of the mountains looming behind them, the view that the townspeople have of nature is probably quite different from the view that people who have lived a long time in a vast plain.
I decided to take the mountains as the starting point for thinking about energy. First of all, my gaze was directed at the city of Yokote, but when I quickly turned the other way to face the mountains, I needed to borrow a way of seeing other than the one that humans are inclined to use. By that I mean not the words of modern-day people but a world in which the physical senses lead the way. We rely on the visual realm too much, so it may be all right to close my eyes. When I do that, I cannot make use of past methods of experiencing the unknown natural world, such as sightseeing or developing it. Once I remove the frameworks and labels from the Ōu Mountains that humans have established, including prefectural boundaries such as “Akita,” or even “Tohoku” or “Japan,” once both the mountains and I discard any such fixations, it feels as if the mountains are encouraging me from behind to take a look at the landscape. This is probably somehow related to the beauty and treasures that we humans have created, including public sector institutions, such as art museums, other museums, and other cultural institutions, and the structures of art. That is because we are no longer thinking only of humans as out audience.

The cultures that humans created developed out of an original hunter-gatherer lifestyle. They hunted wild game in the forests, took the fruit and fibers of plants and made baskets and other coherent objects, and combined both technologies. I have broadened my understanding to think of myself as a “hunter,” in that I use tools to take fragments from the natural world and drag them into the human world, and then as a “gather,” I take collect these fragments and make new forms. Whether taking wild game and cooking it in a pot or taking motifs from scenery and composing them into a picture, or accumulating components to build a PC or other machines, it’s the same thing. When rice cultivation arrived in Japan from the Asian continent later, the people took the wisdom and data accumulated from the hunting and gathering and “produced.”

However, if all we do is continue applying or customizing these hunting and gathering practices, we will only forever be creating things by forcing them into the human world. I think that the question of how we can break down the original forms and transform them is one of the roles of fine art. For one thing, we can start thinking about it by simply saying that we will no longer continue making simple adaptations and customizations.
In order to do that, we will not longer look to existing art. Instead, we will need to open up our perspectives as human beings, first as human beings, but also borrowing perspectives other than the human one.

Now that I have set up my works in the exhibition space, I feel like breaking up the arrangement, just like always, and making it unstable. I have become tired of complete venues. Violence is needed to arouse some energy in a venue. Thus, the “completeness” of an exhibition is simply nothing more than human words. At any time, the new eyes of the audience will take the completeness of the works in front of them and violate, destroy, and change it. The person who creates a work and the person who views it are living in the same era as they exchange and dissolve their limbs and eyes.

Tomoko Konoike, 2018