Devrim Bayer & Zoe Gray: Conversation with Yuki Okumura
Originally printed in the catalogue accompanying Un-Scene III, 2015, published by WIELS, designed by Goda Budvytyte

photo by Kazuho Soeda

Devrim Bayer & Zoe Gray: Displacement is a recurrent strategy in your practice. Instead of playing a highly visible central role, you seem to prefer to operate on the sidelines, as a sort of curator or interviewer rather than the star attraction. Why have you adopted this position and what does it offer you?

Kazuho Soeda: My name is Kazuho Soeda, curator of Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Japan. The artist, Yuki Okumura, has asked me to answer your questions on his behalf. So, you are right - even in this very interview, he gave away the central role (being the interviewee) and assigned it to me. He gave me just three conditions as to how I should answer for him: 1) I should not act as if I were him, but answer as myself by presuming his ideas; 2) I should insert my own thoughts and experiences while answering; 3) I should give my name at the very beginning. From this, I guess it is clear that Okumura has no intention to deceive the reader. He is even happy to disclose his position as the hidden operator. Likewise, in his practice, he tests how simple and modest manipulations can destabilize seemingly static roles such as “artist,” “performer” and “viewer.”

DB & ZG: You describe your process as one of translation. What is gained or lost in this translation?

KS: This interview itself involves two layers of translation: Okumura first translated your English questions into Japanese for me and then translated my Japanese answers back into English for you (he also told me it would be translated again into French and Dutch). I did not read your original questions and I guess you will never see my original answers either. So, it can be said that this whole process is comprised of translations in a literal sense. Furthermore, this interview seems to involve yet another, metaphorical translation. To answer your questions intended for him, I am trying to imagine his reflections and thoughts without becoming him. In other words, he is answering through me as a filter, which is a kind of translation.

So, what is gained or lost in Okumura’s translation process? While this question assumes the pre-existence of the original text as a basis for gains and losses, his practice is primarily based on doubting its certainty. For example, for the reader of this very text, I suppose that I am not a wholly reliable writer. Rather, I might be considered as someone who is completely fabricating Okumura’s answers. However, no one is to be entirely trusted as being capable of presuming his answers “correctly,” no matter how well he or she knows the artist. The original text could emerge only through tracing back from the translated text presented here. Furthermore, the reliability of the translated text is only inherent to itself, because the original text is absent. What is at stake here, I think, is not the translation’s technical accuracy or faithfulness but its form and presentation.

DB & ZG: Your work included in Un-Scene III is a response to a work by Roman Ondak called Measuring the Universe (2007). Yours is seemingly more modest in its ambition, titled simply Measuring Roman Ondak (2015) and directly addressing just one potential participant. Does your work aim to change our reading of Ondak’s?

KS: On February 10, 2015, a couple of minutes after visiting the Tokyo gallery MISAKO & ROSEN, I posted the following tweet on Twitter:

‘Measuring Roman Ondak’ by Yuki Okumura at MISAKO & ROSEN. I was not Ondak and it seemed he’d not been measured yet. Thought of him a bit. Will measure my kids tomorrow, it’s been a while.

Now, I would like to respond to what you playfully stated: Roman Ondak is a more modest object to measure than the Universe. Literally speaking, it could be said that in order to measure the universe, there must have been someone who is not included: the measurer. Even if Ondak’s piece, which began in 2007, continues to be installed and the measuring is someday complete, this outsider (ie. the observer of the project, namely Ondak) will inevitably be left unmeasured. So, if he is measured by Okumura’s work, the possibility of the universe being fully measured someday becomes more certain. I am not sure if Okumura considers this work in such a scale, but he might, considering the fact that he once succeeded in creating multiple universes with his project called Canned Multiverse (2012-2013).

By the way, I took the photos reproduced on the cover of this booklet while measuring my two sons at home after the above-mentioned tweet. Okumura told me that those photos made him want to involve me in this interview project partly because my reaction coincidentally traced Ondak’s process backwards: apparently Measuring the Universe developed from his own action of measuring his two sons on the doorframe of his house.

DB & ZG: Will you be disappointed if Roman Ondak does not visit the exhibition?

KS: I think Okumura would be as disappointed as if a good friend of his did not come to an exhibition of his work.

DB & ZG: What is your take on participation in contemporary art?

KS: This question sounds a bit too broad to me, so I am not confident to answer it. But anyway, with Okumura’s work in this show, I guess most viewers might find themselves unable to participate. However, I would say that being able to perceive this impossibility of participation (while feeling discomfort because you are not the “you” addressed in the wall label) actually means you are already taking part in the work. Maybe he thinks that “participation” includes such perceptive processes.

DB & ZG: Your work is situated in a tradition of conceptual art, and often explicitly refers to this art history. How do you avoid falling into a tautological position?

KS: It rather seems to me that Okumura intends to be tautological, in order to multiply or invert the meaning of the original action. Falling into the looped structure of tautology might be a necessary state for his practice.

DB & ZG: You first came to Belgium in 2013 to be part of WIELS’ residency programme. Since then, you have lived between Brussels and Maastricht. What does living and working in this part of the world offer you as an artist?

KS: Unfortunately, I have been to Brussels only once for sightseeing, and I have almost no idea where Maastricht is located. So, it is very difficult for me to imagine how he would answer this question. Nevertheless, his sudden request to me, who is living far away in Japan, to “answer” for him, is a very Yuki gesture. His work always intends to liberate our mind from various constraints, whether imposed by the physicality of our body and its definite confinement in space and time, or by personal pronouns such as “I” and “you,” or roles such as “artist” and “viewer.” He is very good at creating structures to trigger such liberations. In this sense, I think it does not matter where his body is physically located, although it should matter how he interacts with people in that place.

Edited by Devrim Bayer & Zoe Gray
Words by Kazuho Soeda translated from Japanese by the artist