Contemporary Art

Draftery Crowdsources Architectural Drawings Volume.

June 5th, 2013 by Jeffrey Pena

Since their relaunch, the curated architectural drawing site, The Draftery has been producing more ambitious projects. Figure 3 follows two limited edition runs of 90 booklets. They are seeking supporters via the crowdfunding site Kickstarter for the launch of Figures 3.

Statement from Draftery:
If you haven’t run into us online yet, The Draftery is a curated archive with multiple platforms that promotes graphic works by lesser known architects, artists, students, and other practitioners. Along with our free online archive, we also offer Figures, a printed biannual in which we curate a small group of contributing drafters around a specific theme.

In April, we launched a redesigned website and a new outlook. Our first two issues of Figures, were printed and distributed externally by our friends at Booklet Press in Tokyo. However, we’ve decided that it’s time to take things into our own hands and publish the books ourselves, in essence turning The Draftery from an online platform into a legitimate publishing house.

In order to support this, we have launched a Kickstarter campaign. You can find it here: http://bit.ly/YRvQS0

As part of the architecture publishing community we would really appreciate your support during our campaign so that we can reach a broader audience. If you are feeling particularly generous, you could forward this email to a handful of friends and other professionals who would be interested.

Thank you for your support, we are grateful.
The Draftery”

Pedro Matos @ Martha Otero Gallery, LA

April 20th, 2013 by John Verdery

WORKSKULL copy Pedro Matos @ Martha Otero Gallery, LA


Pedro Matos – Martha Otero Gallery

Building Castles Made of Sand

Opening reception: Friday, May 17th, 2013 from 6 to 9pm May 17 – June 15, 2013

Martha Otero Gallery is pleased to present Pedro Matos’ first exhibition in Los Angeles, Building Castles Made of Sand featuring a new series of oil paintings on canvas and azulejo panels – a traditional Portuguese medium of hand-painted, tin-glazed, ceramic tile work.

Pedro Matos’ paintings feature a rich and complex layering consisting of different languages of communication, which combine texture, patterns, realistic figurative painting, new media, digital and text references. His work draws the viewer into a dialog surrounding the impermanence of social and cultural values.

The use of traditional mediums to create an aesthetic of decay and ephemerality, together with a survey of subjects and references throughout the history until the contemporary society, tries to raise questions of subjectivity, arbitraries, and ephemerality in our value structure and cultural and social epistemology.

Pedro Matos was born in Santarém, Portugal in 1989. He studied Painting and Art & Heritage Science at the Faculty of Fine Art – University of Lisbon and Ar.Co Art Centre Lisbon before moving to London where he studied at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design and where he currently works and lives. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide, including The University of Arizona Museum of Art, Philips de Pury, Goss-Michael Foundation, White Walls Gallery and Ivory & Black Soho. Pedro has also given seminars and lectures in Portugal, and worked as a curator in cities such as London, Lisbon, Miami and Atlanta.

WORKtilespreview copy Pedro Matos @ Martha Otero Gallery, LA

WORKquadroLAweb Pedro Matos @ Martha Otero Gallery, LA

For further information please contact the gallery at 323 951 1068 or visit the website www.marthaotero.com

Links: Pedro MatosFacebook Page 


Douglas Gordon – Sharpening Fantasies at Blain/Southern

March 28th, 2013 by John Verdery

When entering Blain/Southern Gallery, one can immediately hear metallic grinding noises and outlandish chanting filling the air, see rough hands shaped by long lives full of hard labor and exotic poisonous animals performing mesmerizing dances and read cryptic sentences written in hidden places.

douglasgordon1 Douglas Gordon – Sharpening Fantasies at Blain/Southern

Image: Douglas Gordon

The gallery space is located close to the very Potsdamer Platz that David Bowie had paid tribute to in his recently released single “Where are we now”. The visitors of the exhibition seem to ask themselves the same question when they follow Gordon’s powerful narrative to a variety of locations in the city of Tangier, like the tower of a mosque, the casbah, markets and rooftops. Even though Gordon’s pieces are very strong individually, they tell a much more powerful story when understood as pieces of a whole.

douglasgordon2 Douglas Gordon – Sharpening Fantasies at Blain/Southern

Image: Douglas Gordon

One work that stands out nonetheless is “Full Circle”. The video offers a 360 degree view of the city at dusk, turning and turning, always coming back to the deeply concentated muezzin who is preparing for his prayer ritual, focusing on his hands. From the tower, Europe can be seen in the foggy distance. Seemingly close but so distant at the same time, a different reality altogether.

douglasgordon3 Douglas Gordon – Sharpening Fantasies at Blain/Southern

Image: Douglas Gordon

Gordon is a storyteller who understands the art of offering just enough of the narrative as to not destroy it’s mystery and to give the visitors enough space to create their own story. Titles like “The right hand won’t tell what the left has done”, “The nature of relationships between few words” or “Another unseen letter. Then another. And another. And yet another” are living proof of this.

The artist plays with shadows, contrasts, mirror effects, sounds and hidden messages to really draw the visitors in and to add additional layers to his videos, which combine documentary and magical aspects. His pieces have completely taken over the spectacularly spacious rooms of the gallery, dissolving the borders between different sensory perceptions, turning “Sharpening Fantasies” into a truly holistic experience.

douglasgordon4 Douglas Gordon – Sharpening Fantasies at Blain/Southern

Image: Douglas Gordon

douglasgordon5 Douglas Gordon – Sharpening Fantasies at Blain/Southern

Image: Douglas Gordon

douglasgordon6 Douglas Gordon – Sharpening Fantasies at Blain/Southern

Image: Douglas Gordon

douglasgordon7 Douglas Gordon – Sharpening Fantasies at Blain/Southern

Image: Douglas Gordon


February 12th, 2013 by Thomas Mader

Inspiration is the ignition point of creative processes. It can find it’s results in all shapes and forms and connects different artists both mentally and physically. It is an enormously powerful neutrality. Everything can grow from it.


SLCTDBY is a brand new Austrian/German based online project that amidst all the discussions about copyright, creative licensing and remix culture tries to offer a new perspective on how inspiration works in an art context. The makers invite artists from different backgrounds to write texts about pieces created by other artists in order to explain how said pieces influence them in their own creative production.

They offer artists the possibility to present their individual source of inspiration and to express a limitless closeness and identification with the creators of said source of inspiration. Through this process the invited artists become micro-curators. They have it in their hands to accentuate the importance and relevance of a certain artist and to bring her/him into a modern context and discourse.

By doing so, the constant evolutionary steps of creative processes become clearly visible, on both a personal as well as a much more general level.

sugimoto cliffs of moher SLCTDBY Launch

SLCTDBY contributor Jerry Go shares: “When creating, I try to remain as human as possible in my creation. A good piece of work is timeless, emotional and above all, human. It is also a mirror, reflecting the viewer’s current state of mind. It evokes, challenges, and stirs. A fragment of our past or a fleeting glimpse of the future could be ripped open and presented right in front of us. Hiroshi Sugimoto is a master in capturing that reflection and the Seascape series is a fine example.”

Read the rest of this entry here.

Harun Farocki SLCTDBY Dave Brown

Dave writes “Farocki plays with film as a recombinant media form, drawing you into an unexpected conclusion about factory labour and complicity. He repeats a scene where an assembly-line worker is describing what he produces in the factory assembly line, recombining the product he believes he is producing with the product the factory actually produces. By dividing the work along an assembly line of workers, Farocki suggests, the relationship between the individual workers and the product becomes abstracted to the point where the workers have only an objective relationship with the product they are creating. Farocki exposes this conceptual disconnection between production and function in the minds of the labourers as a devastating prospect. If both control and accountability are abstracted by way of distribution among a large body of workers, are we really much more willing to engage in a production process in conflict with what we deem to be ethical?”

Read the rest of this entry here.

Check out http://slctdby.com/ and shoot them an Email if you would like to contribute to the project.

Interview with Simon Karlstetter

January 11th, 2013 by Thomas Mader

Der Greif #6 from Ostrario on Vimeo.

Back when photography or any other means of creating a visual representation of any piece of art hadn’t been invented yet, let alone the possibility to easily send pieces of art from one place to another, the written description of visual art fulfilled a very pragmatic need. This craft, or art if you will, called ecphrasis allowed people to get informed about the existence of artists and their creations and to visualize and experience their work at least to some extent. So art and the written description of art have shared very strong links since ancient times. But the evolution of art from figurative and representational forms to abstract forms in the 19th century made it harder to keep on using the ecphrasis in the traditional way and art historians had to ask themselves if the combination of art and text was still a fruitful technique. If art got more abstract over time, then maybe one way of approaching this problem could be to make the accompanying texts equally abstract.
South-German based magazine “Der Greif” certainly has not intent to approach art scientifically or descriptively, but it’s intelligent combination of photography and poetry can very well be understood as an attempt to revive the once natural symbiosis of visual art and text. The concept of the magazine is easily explained. Everybody, professional or amateur, is invited to submit photographs and poetry. Once the submission period is over the “Der Greif”-team selects the best submissions and carefully curates the material in order to create stunning combinations of visual and literary art. Every page of the publication thus becomes a completely new piece of art that offers fascinating perspectives, moods and meanings. Curbs&Stoops talk to Simon Karlstetter, one of the creators of “Der Greif”, about this unique publication.
7 Interview with Simon Karlstetter
C&S: How can one imagine the curatorial processes at “Der Greif”? Are there any criteria according to which you select the presented artists?
Simon Karlstetter: No, there aren’t really any specific criteria. Of course our taste, our current moods and our interaction with the world that we live in influence and determine our choices. Also the experiences that we have made during the production of the first 6 issues play an important role in the process. In the beginning we try to gain a broad overview over the submissions and a first raw concept will then start to grow. With time it becomes clearer and clearer which photos and texts we will be using for the current issue. The process of selection basically consists of viewing, thinking, discussing and arguing. We need this friction between the team members in order to create a product that is not only interesting to us but that we can also whole-hardheartedly stand behind. Only then do we have the feeling that we did the pieces of art that the artists have entrusted us with justice.
6 Interview with Simon Karlstetter
C&S: During the launch event of the latest issue you mentioned that the word “Greif” in „Der Greif“ comes from the German word “greifen”, which means “to grab” or “to seize”. You also mentioned that an important element for you is to create an atmosphere of deceleration for the reader. Which tactics do you use in order to achieve this?
SK: The curatorial process of each issues takes several weeks and involves a lot of discussions and conceptualization, but also intuition, eagerness to experiment and coincidences. After the compilation of the photography and texts comes the sequencing of the pages which is being accompanied by the so called “Fräxxe”. The “Fräxxe” are the design elements that complement the haptics or mood of a certain double page, that round off the composition, but that also irritate the reader. In issue #6 we used ash for example. But it could also be pencil lines that add to the compositional lines of a certain photo, or maybe also break them. It could also be glue or coal or other things. Maybe we feel an urge to wipe something away or maybe we want to create smells or sounds in the reader’s imagination. By creating these irritations and compositions the reader’s way of reading and viewing will be challenged and potentially the speed of “consumption”, which is a result of the speed of the Internet, will be decreased.
4 Interview with Simon Karlstetter
C&S: “Der Greif” is clearly focused on photography. What role does poetry play for the overall concept of the publication?
SK:Poetry is an important part of the magazine because a text demands a more in depth reception than an image. This makes the reader stop a second time and take another close look. Also the combination of image and text creates additional tension and different layers that add additional depth and avoid an all too hasty and superficial contemplation. Because of it’s decelerating quality literature plays an essential part in our concept.
1 Interview with Simon Karlstetter
C&S: How do you manage to publish “Der Greif” without any advertising?
SK: We often ask ourselves just that (laughs). We are simply trying to establish an artistic format of publication that is being supported by different financial sources. At the moment the most important factors are the sale of the magazine as well as the support from our sponsors. It takes a lot of convincing to actually get sponsors to not ask for advertisement in the mag itself and to have them present themselves as promoters of culture on our website instead. But it seems that with time more and more companies seem to understand this concept. But of course the main reasons why we are publishing the magazine in it’s current form are our passion and idealism which keep pushing us forward.
3 Interview with Simon Karlstetter
C&S: How is the print edition of “Der Greif” different from your website?
SK: The print edition is the core of the project. You could compare it to a curated catalog or a printed exhibition space that connects pieces by different photographers and authors. The focus is not on the individual pieces but on the overall impression that is being created by putting different photographies and texts in context.
On our website on the other hand we present series shot by selected photographers. We call this an artist feature. The artists present themselves and their individual ways of approaching photography through guest-posts on our blog. The readers also get more information concerning the magazine, you can buy the magazine online, we present our sponsors and artists can send in their submissions for the upcoming issues. We see the website as an extension of the magazine with regard to content and communication. We are trying to create a sensible co-existence of the digital and the analog medium.
5 Interview with Simon Karlstetter
C&S: So far only photographers can present a broader overview over their oeuvre on your website. Are you also planning on giving writers this opportunity?
SK: We do have plans for writers but our literature department needs to be expanded in order to provide the necessary structures for putting these ideas into action. So far it only comes together when we work on the print issues. The editorial core team is still clearly focused on photography at the moment.
C&S: How do you choose the artists that are given the chance to present their works on your website?
SK: Just as the rest of the curatorial procedures this also depends very much on your momentary interests. We try to present the widest possible range of all the things that we subsume under the label “photography” This means of course that we invite those artists that have already caught our eye (laughs) during the curatorial process and who’s works we find exciting. Our personal interest is always the starting point and we hope that it also coincides with the taste of our readers. But especially the guest posts are always an experiment because we don’t brief any of the photographers and we leave them all the necessary liberty to show and write about whatever influences and touches them at the moment. This way we can always present something new and different on the website.
View Website Click Here

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Konbit Shelter: Sustainable Building in Rural Haiti

December 30th, 2012 by Jeffrey Pena

Street artist Swoon started building fanciful rafts from recycled materials. Now Swoon and a group of collaborators are using their ingenuity to build fanciful shelters with low cost off-the-shelf materials. Konbit Shelters are “a creative, sustainable building project sharing knowledge and resources through the creation of homes and community spaces in Haiti.”

Donate to the Konbit Shelter on Kickstarter if you are interested in donating to a good cause. This is also a great way to start a collection as Swoon will be giving away beautiful limited edition prints.

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December 9th, 2012 by Cailee Inman

02 700 “DESERTMED” @ NGBK Berlin
Satellites have completely mapped our planet and there doesn’t seem to be a square inch left on it’s surface that isn’t claimed by governments and/or individuals. But nonetheless there are still many unknown, deserted, lonesome and mysterious places for us to discover and to enjoy. These places don’t carry their hearts and histories on their sleeves. It takes effort, both physically and mentally, to discover and reach them.
08 700 “DESERTMED” @ NGBK Berlin
Around 300 uninhabited islands can be found in the European regions of the Mediterranean sea and the members of DESERTMED, a group consisting of artists, writers, architects and theoreticians, have taken a closer look at 40 of these islands. They have visited them, archived them and newly contextualized and defined them, while always remembering the specific political, economical and historical conditions that have shaped these places.
07 700 “DESERTMED” @ NGBK Berlin
The NGBK (New Society of Fine Arts) in Berlin has just presented the results of this fascinating ongoing project.

The video installation “Deserted Typologies” gives an overview of the different kinds of uninhabited islands. They range from deserted prison islands, who’s former inmates after the closing of the prison decided to keep living in and around it’s premises, industrial islands, nature reserve-islands and islands with military bases and border patrol bases. Except for a short text about each specific island, it’s name and coordinates, the different videos remain mostly without further explanations and while they visitors virtually jump from one island to the next, they are being left alone with their questions concerning the history or ownership claims of these solitary rocks that are surrounded by the vastness of the sea. These islands are not only blank spots on the European map, they are also blank spots in the collective European memory and even for the visitors of the exhibition they remain gray areas in every respect.
06 700 “DESERTMED” @ NGBK Berlin

The monumental installation “The deserted Islands of the Mediterranean” follows this concept visually as well as in terms of content. On a long white table the visitors can take a look at a large number of books that allow them to take strolls over these islands without ever leaving the exhibition space. Again the only pieces of information that the visitors are being presented with are the names and coordinates of the different islands and again the same questions come up. Every island is different but in their core they are similar. They are all far from easily accessible and they remain that way. It almost seems as if they resist being found and stepped on but now at least their existence is no longer a secret.
03 700 “DESERTMED” @ NGBK Berlin

The installation “Untitled” consists of a completely dark room and an audio loop playing wind and water sounds as well as other undefined and delicate sounds. The idea of a black room without any light source is nothing new but it’s effects are intense and almost aggressive every time. The black installation is the optical counterpart of the otherwise white documentary pieces presented in the exhibition but it’s effect is the same. The visitors feel lonesome, lost, dissolved almost.
Even though “Desertmed” has a strong documentary feel to it, it still manages to engage the visitors on an emotional level. The intentional omission works in it’s favor and is really the exhibition’s strong suit. It creates awareness but still doesn’t take every last bit of mystery from these places.
If you want to find out more about the DESERTMED project check out desertmed.org and have a look at their extensive online portfolio:

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Interview with Dave Kinsey

November 27th, 2012 by Pedro Matos

STUDIO shot4 72dpi 700x525 Interview with Dave Kinsey


“Everything at once”, the latest solo exhibition of new works by Dave Kinsey will open at Joshua Liner Gallery in New York this December the 13th. Curbs & Stoops had a chance to do a small exclusive interview with the artist prior to his exhibition.

Who is Dave Kinsey?

A workaholic spinning around on this rock in the middle of nowhere; painter, designer, slacker.

What do you hope to achieve with your work? Could you talk a little bit about the meaning and message behind the beautiful paintings?

I like to think that people can get something positive from it. Creating art is like writing a book in a sense—if there’s an audience out there that enjoys reading it, that’s inspiring to me. I guess I’d like people to see what I’m trying to convey and let those ideas come together as they contemplate the work. But all-in-all, every piece has its own narrative depending on each person’s life and experience filter.

Regarding messages and meaning, my work tends to be a loaded visual dialogue. It’s my attempt to decipher and communicate what I see in the world by exploring social, political and even environmental issues. I like to think of my paintings like intersecting planes of glass sandwiched altogether into one story. For me, this kind of menagerie of images creates depth and perspective as well as exploring various narratives or dimensions of an issue.

How has moving away from Los Angeles after living there for many years changed your lifestyle and how does it affect your work?

I have to say it’s been one of the more unexpected moves I’ve ever made, but I’m glad I did. After almost 15 years of primarily focusing my attention on BLK/MRKT studio and gallery, my life’s taken on a simpler and more intense focus, which is synonymous with living in here in the Sierras. Having so much quiet around is kind of strange and inspiring all at the same time. I’m able to get closer to my work as a result and I’m finding it becoming more and more intricate. I love California. To me, it’s cool that I can live in the mountains between LA & SF and be only a few hours drive from both.

How did you develop your trademark palette and why such a precise palette for such diverse work?

When I was a kid, my Dad had a factory that rebuilt AC & DC electric motors. The place was a shit hole, and the only thing that brought life to this dingy chemical infested hell was the bright red/orange primer they used on the new motors. It was so intense and vibrant that you couldn’t help but be drawn to it—and it stuck with me. So that’s how that came about. The blue is the cool to the hot and I love the energy and clashing that happens when those two colors collide—the feeling of discord and tension within the environment of the painting says a lot about the state of things to me.

12 CONGOTROPOLIS 72dpi Interview with Dave Kinsey

You were one of the pioneers of the Street Art movement in the 90′s. How do you see the current street-art scene and where do you think it’s going?

That’s starting to feel like a long time ago, heh. In a nutshell, I think street art is a constantly changing and evolving animal that’s here to stay. Artists just keep moving it forward and some, like JR are even reinventing it. It’s good to see.

The title of your new exhibition is “Everything at Once”— it suggests our more and more insane consumer attitude in all fields in life. Could you talk about the message of this exhibition?

Consumerism is definitely one aspect of it. Now throw in the clashing of the civilized and natural world, climate change, social identity, the complexities of political systems, religion, war and protest, human rights and you have it—a bombardment of everything we create and are therefore subjected to. You know, all the fun things…

Along this vein, I’ll also be exhibiting some new, almost entirely abstract pieces based on the dissemination of information via modern media. I’m attempting to create a visual testimony to the constant influx of information that is becoming more and more abstracted and addicting—even standard news is taking on an entertainment-like format these days, vying for our (limited) attention. At what point do we turn into zombies?

With your design called “UNITED”, you actively participated in Obama’s reelection campaign. What was the major motivation to have this political engagement? Or as somebody who has history in the street art movement during the 90s did it actually come naturally?

I really wanted to try and do something to inspire the younger people who I feared had become apathetic since 2008. Also, there’s been so much appalling rhetoric toward President Obama by media conglomerates like Fox “News” and the extremist asshole right wing in the U.S. that I was troubled enough to try and do something about it.

I feel that if Obama lost the election it would have had major consequences. I’ve heard people say it doesn’t matter who’s in the White House, but that’s total bullshit. This election in particular was a huge decision in the direction we want to go in as a nation. Right now the establishment is fighting for its life, trying to go back to a time when no one but the rich white men had freedom. Fuck that! I’ve always been unnerved by fucked up things I see in the world, so I can definitely credit my street days—graffiti, hip hop, punk and skateboarding—for helping fuel my self expression.

Any upcoming projects you’d like to share?

After my upcoming show in NY, I have solo shows scheduled in both Berlin and Zürich in 2013. I’ll also be making a trip to Ghana, if the funding works out, to teach art to kids and paint murals with them as part of a program to help bring modern art to children that don’t have the same exposure as some other kids around the world. I’ve got my new bottle design coming out that was commissioned by Absolut Vodka, set to be released early next year, and a few other things in the works that are on the dl for now.

To learn more about Dave Kinsey please visit www.kinseyvisual.com

Interview by Linda Lendvai.

Ivory & Black to show at SCOPE Miami

November 20th, 2012 by Pedro Matos

scopeskullweb Ivory & Black to show at SCOPE Miami

Pedro Matos’ Studio

cattle brand on hide 1 detail 700x466 Ivory & Black to show at SCOPE Miami

Erik Brunetti – Detail

deannaweb Ivory & Black to show at SCOPE Miami

Deanna Templeton

Ivory & Black Soho will be exhibiting new work by Erik Brunetti, Deanna Templeton, Geoff McFetridge, Jatinder Singh Durhailay and Skullphone at SCOPE Miami 2012 from the 4th until the 9th of December.

To learn more about SCOPE please visit www.scope-art.com and for any enquiries please contact info@ivoryandblack.com

Interview with Kaoru Akagawa

November 15th, 2012 by Cailee Inman

Calligraphy master Kaoru Akagawa was born in Canada grew up in New York and lived and studied in Japan. This globetrotting artist is currently residing in Berlin where she invented a completely new style of Calligraphy, the so called Kana de l’Art. Using small characters of varying thickness and darkness she manages to create amazingly delicate and intricate pieces that speak both to an international as well as a Japanese audience. Curbs&Stoops met up with Kaoru Akagawa and talked with her about forgotten arts, how to modernize one’s art and oneself and why Berlin played such a crucial part in her development as an artist.

C&S: You have had a very international upbringing. Why did you decide to study this very traditional kind of Japanese art?
Kaoru Akagawa: I have two professions. My first profession is that of a master of the traditional Japanese calligraphy called Kana-Shodo. And my second profession is that of a Kana-artist. I didn’t plan to be a master of Kana-Shodo or Kana-Art for that matter. It was all purely coincidental. When I was living in New York as a child I loved to draw with my best friend, she always thought that I would make art, but when I went to Japan as a teenager I lost interest in drawing because my art teacher only taught us to paint still life, which did not fascinate me. After high school I started to study psychology but soon realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do either and that I still had an interest in art. So I studied graphic design and worked as a graphic designer for some time. I was really happy with this work until one day I went to a department store and I saw a TV commercial playing on a loop, I saw women buying the product that was being advertised on the screen and I thought that it was very scary because not only had I studied psychology, but specifically the effects of TV commercials on costumers. That was the moment where it became clear to me that I had to get out of this and do something artistically that wouldn’t affect people commercially instead. I was also starting to feel that I was faking something because when you work in this field you can always edit something and if you make a mistake you can always correct it. So I decided that I wanted to do something that was the exact opposite, something where you didn’t have any second chance. And that is how calligraphy came to my mind, because when you work with ink and paper you don’t have a second chance. Once the ink is on the paper it stays there, it is forever and you can never change it. So I practiced to become a master of Kana-Shodo. In Japan there are three different writing systems. One is called Kanji, the second one is Hiragana and the third one Katakana. Kanji came from China and is based on logographic characters and there are thousands of these characters. The Hiragana and Katakana systems evolved from Kanji. In Kana-Shodo I use Kanji and Hiragana, but the Hiragana characters I use are rarely seen in Japan today. Not so many Japanese can read and write these Hiragana characters anymore, because today only 46 Hiragana characters are taught and used in the Japanese school system. In the past there were at least 300 Hiragana characters. The reason for this decrease is modernization. The Japanese government selected only the most frequently used Hiragana characters and abandoned the rest. But one can say that the unique beauty of Japan lives on in these abandoned Hiragana and Kana-Shodo characters. In the 10th century aristocratic women commonly used Hiragana and they showed their abilities as writers using Hiragana. Until about the 19th century Hiragana was mainly used by Japanese women and Kanji by Japanese men. I was shocked to learn about this loss and I decided to do something to preserve this culture. This has become my labor of passion and that is why I decided to become a Kana-artist. So in Kana-Art I try not only to express my personal inspirations but also to preserve and to further develop and spread the abandoned Hiragana writing system.
fujin S Interview with Kaoru Akagawa
C&S: You were mentioning that you wanted to do something that would not offer any second chances. Looking at your vita it seems like you yourself were given quite a few fresh starts and new beginnings. So why this decision?
KA: Maybe because I was lost at the time. I didn’t know if I was Japanese or not. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t feel American but when I went back to Japan I didn’t feel Japanese either. I was always told that I was different. So I wanted to really concentrate on myself and with art your mental and physical state appears through the brush on the paper. And you cannot tell a lie. If you are under stress then something on the paper will look stressed. If you are irritated your handwriting will look irritated. When I write something and I look at it, it is like looking at myself.
C&S: It still seems to me that you had a very strong desire to be accepted as Japanese and that that is why you chose this very Japanese art form to express yourself.
KA: That is true. Back then I really wanted to be accepted and at the same time I wanted to understand the Japanese culture. While I was studying Japanese calligraphy I walked from Tokyo to Kyoto, about 700 kilometers. As I was walking along this road I started to understand why my hair is black and why my eyes are brown. It was pretty much like a pilgrimage to me and it took me about three years to finish it. In the beginning of the journey I wasn’t able to read many of the historical documents I encountered along the way; just some symbols here and there. But as time passed I was able to read more and more and in the end I started to feel this connection with the past. So maybe I was born in Canada and grew up in New York but all this is still in my DNA and I started to think that it is OK to be this way. It was only when I moved to Berlin and started talking to German people and saw German culture that I suddenly started to think that maybe I don’t have to be accepted by anyone anymore.
C&S: I find it very interesting that in Berlin of all places you came to the conclusion that you don’t have to be accepted anymore. Especially considering the heated debates over national identity that is going on in Germany at the moment.
KA: Yes, I’m also aware of this debate. When I was living in the USA I expected to be accepted because it is considered to be the big melting pot. But still I wasn’t. And when I went back to Japan I expected the same thing but it didn’t happen either. When I came to Germany I didn’t expect to be accepted because I had no ties whatsoever to German culture. But still my German friends tried to accept me and taught me German culture and it felt very comfortable for me. I felt free from the stress to be completely Japanese.
C&S: Has your art changed, too, since you moved here?
KA: I wouldn’t have become an artist if I hadn’t moved to Berlin.
C&S: So you wouldn’t consider traditional calligraphy an art?
fujin Zoom Interview with Kaoru Akagawa
KA: It is an art, definitely. It’s an art with a long history and tradition. What I was trying to say is that I wouldn’t have become a Kana artist. Kana-Art is my invention, I developed it here and that wouldn’t have happened, had I continued living in Tokyo. When I moved to Germany I was very much moved and shocked by German opera and I thought to myself that if German opera manages to be so modern, then I should also try to modernize traditional calligraphy. When I write Kana-Art I write translated lyrics from German operas. I usually translate them myself. Sometimes I also write the texts myself and sometimes I use more abstract words, like company names for my piece “Capitalism”. Nowadays it seems that Japanese traditional calligraphy is very popular in Germany. But I often notice that Chinese calligraphy written in Chinese is mixed up with Japanese calligraphy. The real Japanese calligraphy is Kana-Shodo. When I write traditional calligraphy I always write Japanese poems.
C&S: Your pieces always have a visual side and a literary side. How are they combined?
KA: For my piece “Beyond Time and Space – Hokusai meets Wagner” I was inspired by Hokusais famous pieces and had also just seen Wagner’s opera “The flying Dutchman”. When I was listening to the overture I could really visualize this Hokusai wave. I found it interesting that two artists that lived in such different places were able to come up with the same imagery by experiencing a storm on the ocean. I think that if you can find these similarities then people can understand each other better and maybe that can be a solution to discrimination.
C&S: Your art is very cryptic and you were explaining how not even in Japan many people could read what is actually written in your pieces. How important is it to understand the writing in order to understand the piece?
KA: I started Kana-Art because I wanted to show the beauty of Kana-Shodo to German people. The Japanese women in the middle ages were not allowed to show their face in public so they weren’t able to show how beautiful or sexy they were. The exchange of love letters was their only medium. So they tried to write sexy. And these lines are so deceptive. I wanted to show them to the people outside of Japan and to Japanese people that don’t know about Kana-Shodo. I don’t think that it is too important to understand the texts. The point is to show what is written without having to read it. Just by looking at the image. Every image is connected to the text and if you look at it you get a rough idea what the text is about. I can of course still read it and other masters can, too. When I had an exhibition in Japan there were also some old ladies that could read it. That was really amazing.
C&S: You always lived in very hectic places. Tokyo, New York, Berlin. Is your art a shelter for you to get away from the stresses of urban life?
KA: No, that never really bothered me. When I created the video “Beyond time and space” I simply wanted to write two gods. For the writing I used some lyrics from Wagner’s Opera “Das Rheingold”. In this Opera the god of thunder plays a part and I had to think of the god of thunder created in the 17th century by Japanese artist Tawaraya Sōtatsu. Both are men and carry tools that they bounce on the earth in order to create the thundering noise. This similarity seemed really interesting to me. When I find these kinds of similarities I am always very moved because I think that all human beings are really connected deep inside.
C&S: You have shown your Kana Art in Japan as well. How were the reactions?
KA: When I have exhibitions in Germany I sometimes have to explain that it is handwriting you can see in my pieces and not just curvy lines. In Japan the people all understood that it is handwriting, but they were shocked that they couldn’t read what was written. When they read the explanations for the pieces they were even more shocked that they didn’t know that these kinds of symbols ever existed. Next year I will be having an exhibition at a Zen temple in Kyoto where you can see the original Tawaraya Sōtatsu pieces. For Japanese New Year the people go to the temples just like the people here go to church on Christmas. So they can see the original pieces in the main temple, Kennin-ji, and my pieces in Ryosoku-in, the sub-temple from Kennin-ji. I am so grateful that I got the permission to do an exhibition in such a traditional place. But at the same time I am a little bit nervous about that because Kyoto has always been the center of Japanese traditions and a rather conservative place. I wonder how they will react to these pieces that have been created in Berlin.
C&S: Thank you very much for the interview.

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