ARTS WRITING AS PROTOTYPING
What interests me most about Masato Takasaka’s perpetual installation, I think, is the impossibility of his humble aim: to vacate his work of all subjectivity by creating an architecture into which he will disappear.
Each iteration of this work—it is the same one each time, it seems to me, only mutated—is constructed out of bits of previous installations. Motifs recur. Foldable foam core structures; MDF boards dotted with grids of drill holes and palm-sized blue circles; cubes criss-crossed with red-blue tape; angular geometric patterns dissecting the floor. Objects like a photo of Takasaka from something like a decade ago or guitar posters or packaging detritus are housed in and around these forms, which are mostly white but splashed all over with garish consumer colour. Bits get added, too—projections of previous iterations fixed now in time are a recent feature. In these works, spaces and times past rendered as wooden planes or discrete objects collide and collapse into a vertiginous now—the present of this singular installation.
By combining materials used in previous installations with images and projections of himself, Takasaka attempts to confound the viewer’s sense of where the work finishes and the artist begins—attempts, that is, to occlude his subjective mastery over the works he produces. Yet for all this drama the ever-morphing folds of his work harbour the very traces of the self they are supposed to obscure. At most, Takasaka manages to confound the spatial and temporal coordinates of his identity, in the process rendering the usual orientating categories of subject and object or self and thing impossible to determine. This failure is not total. The artist, as intentional subject, seems to be suspended by this sleight of hand. There’s also something curious about Takasaka’s unworkable aim. It’s resolutely orientated towards the future possibility that it might one day succeed. This paradoxical mixture of optimism and failure is what powers the work, and is also difficult to get a handle on.
I want to think about what it might mean to get a hold on an artwork in a moment. First, though, I’d like to appropriate and re-deploy the theme of this issue as a kind of conceptual key. Takasaka’s work is as much an experimental model for a speculative architecture operating in space—and over time—as it is a set of objects that installs a here and now.1 I think it’s possible to talk about this perpetual work using the language of design: as a prototype. We could think of the prototype as a physical model that actualises a conceptual one; or, perhaps, as a material practice or technique of thought. As a step in a process the prototype contains a kernel of the future: it anticipates the time in which it will be realised. What we talk about when we talk about Takasaka’s work, then, is a kind of method that models.
Most museums and galleries give us one main way of getting a hold of work: through writing. Arts writing is a practice too. Usually, it follows a set of protocols for engaging with a work of art, taking the work as its object by displaying it to make it make sense. When it doesn’t regress to an opaque, ‘international’ style, though, arts writing—unlike the communication of academia or the mass media—can say almost anything at all.2 Minimally, all arts writing needs to do is discuss a work: to build a relation between work and word. The work doesn’t have to be its object, something to be described and objectified. As a practice, arts writing can be more inventive. It can take what tools it finds in creative or theoretical language to compose a new and contingent model for relating to the work in question. That is, it can prototype.
Takasaka’s work is confounding for the writer. Its conceptual gambits act as defences against critical engagement. How do you talk about a work of art that can’t be pinned down in the here and the now? Or, that incorporates documentation of it back into itself, as Takasaka has done with films—or even with my writing, by appropriating it verbatim and un-cited in a recent wall text? One way might be to take Takasaka at his word, so to speak, by joining him in the quixotic pursuit of a final disappearance. If this is impossible, then we could at least pursue the suspension of subjectivity that his works seem to achieve.
Takasaka can’t just disappear. At least, not by building intricate memorials to the future out of old stuff. This is because this stuff holds time in it. Time is impure. Interacting with stuff frees the time it accrues: some of it looks old or at least has an age, an ‘ownmost time’.3 But despite its seeming obsession with the traces of the past, Takasaka’s work is still capable of imagining a future.4 Out of their confused, en-folded, artifactual, contradictory, counterfactual, and dense materialities, Takasaka’s compulsive repetitions produce time as form itself: a diaphanous futurity that emerges from his perpetual installation’s convoluted folds. His work shows us that time can be recombined if we use the right techniques.5
Future time is embedded in the prototype, the model that implies its own supersession—the future time in which the prototype becomes obsolescent. Takasaka’s work seems to find itself someway along this process. But, time can also be a kind of material. One strategy for an art writing that wants to get a hold of a work like Takasaka’s—or, to build a relation to it—might be to play with time itself. Words are both woven into their context and exceed this context almost totally; this is how they make meaning.6 But this also means that language can be stretched to contain time. Following Takasaka, we can use language as a found material to recombine both elements in space—letters—and their temporal inscriptions. How can Takasaka recuperate the critical work back to his perpetual work if that work is, itself, indeterminate? Rather than trying to pin Takasaka’s installation down, it might be better to meet it on its own terms.
I’d like to suggest, to conclude, that using language in this way would be prototypical. It would treat writing not as a style to be deployed but as a practice that uses whatever tools it has at hand to build a relation between word and work. We can think of this as a kind of emulation – a modelling. Describing the work of art emulates its aesthetics in writing. But, art works don’t just operate aesthetically and they’ve long ceased submitting to the critic’s objectifying grip. A prototypical arts writing might find a way to emulate a concept or a feeling, rethinking its relation to the work of art – and the fact that writing can say anything.
Masato Takasaka might not disappear in the (re)arrangement of words that accompanies this essay. But then again, is he there? I’m not so sure myself. I cut those words together, and I can no longer remember where his intention ends and mine begins. Subjectivity might not have disappeared—it might just have been suspended. Where? More like when – somewhere between the three times that that text recombines and the time of their combination, in the future of reading. This then might be the prototype for a kind of criticism that joins Takasaka in his quixotic pursuit.
1. I’m thinking here about Boris Groys claim that installation is the exemplary art form of contemporary art because it presents a present. Groys, ‘The Topology of Contemporary Art,’ in The Antinomies of Art and Culture, ed. Terry Smith, Okwui Enwezor, and Nancy Condee (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 71-80.
2. On arts writing’s international style, see: Alix Rule and David Levine, ‘International Art English’, Triple Canopy, July 30, 2012, accessed October 6, 2013, http://canopycanopycanopy.com/16/international_art_english. Groys makes the claim that arts writing can say anything at all in: ‘Critical Reflections’, in Art Power (Mass.: MIT Press, 2008) 116-117.
3. On the time congealed in media, see: Wolfgang Ernst, ‘Media Archaeography: Method and Machine versus the History and Narrative of Media’, in Digital Memory and the Archive, ed. Jussi Parikka (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2013): 58.
4. On the rarity of future orientation in contemporary installation, see: Peter Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art (London: Verson, 2013) 201.
5 . On time’s recombinability, see Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1993), 77; ‘An Attempt at a “Compositionist Manifesto”’, New Literary History 41 (2010): 487.
6. Jacques Derrida, ‘Signiature Event Context’, in Limited Inc., trans. Samuel Weber and Jeffrey Mehlman (Evanston, Il: Northwestern University Press, 1988).
‘ENOUGH ABOUT ME, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT ME?’: MASATO TAKASAKA IN HIS OWN WORDS [AS ARRANGED BY SCOTT WARK]*
… [W]hat is it that Walter Benjamin said, something about collectors collect themselves? … I guess I do this quite literally in my art practice—by presenting real objects and materials in real time and in real space… showing them … from my back-catalog of works more than once … Literally … making something ‘new’ from what I have alreadymade.
[W]hat I do with my installations of objects and materials is … in some way, a refusal to make anything new … [i]n the sense that I’m … literally [reframing] something that I’ve done before, … [t]aking the subject-matter of my own work … out of the context in which it originally works … to the point of disorientation.
I guess I see the combination of the MDF boards, plywood plinths and folded foamcore sheets as the display armature … or they can accumulate their own sense of time … where I pretend to look at my own work as a kind of found object or readymade … it becomes like an automatic structure … and also the potential of alternate architectures.
The artworks I re-use were made a long time ago … from 1994 to the present … There has been lapse of time/ delay from when the objects were shown … The objects became the one-to-one memory of the previous time …
So I can reconstitute it again, but not one-to-one … but out of order … instead one-to-one fragments. So I can … retroactivate the present by looking at the past.
You need that delay in time … When something is built up, I kind of rearrange it … through material relations … I’m trying to see if objects hold a sense of time … through the accumulation and representation of objects, … so I guess I’m making my own system/form/shape of time … so it’s like… a kind of time out of joint … incorporated into the works’ structure, … [d]eferring in the meantime the future time of meaning and understanding… [i]n the sense that … past-present and future iterations yet to come are also incorporated …
I try and exhaust the idea of repeating myself … (if such a thing is possible) … — repetition as a positive affirmation that is always different … Does that make sense? … [S]orry if I have repeated myself.
I was obsessed with technique, copying and replicating someone else. [So] I kind of curated myself … (‘copies of the fragments of the original piece’ … [—]is that Borges?[—] … [O]r like the one to one map of the city?) … with the goal of being objective about my own subjectivity.
But I guess I’m also interested … in failure or something … It takes 10 to 15 years to know what you’re doing. Is this nostalgia? … I don’t know … the further the one gets the more indiscernible it gets … I’m making my own mash-up of self-history, … [it’s a]lways a perpetual work-in-progress.
Removing my own subjectivity becomes a ruse, a quixotic practice because … I’m the one stuck with the problem of choosing what goes into the work … [T]he work is about me but I tried to make myself disappear, … [l]ike doing a selfie without being in it … —maybe that doesn’t make any sense.
For the last couple of exhibitions I have been asking artist friends to make short films of my work … [as] also a way of recording … moments of that time of the exhibition, but also … as a kind of ‘official bootleg recordings’ of my work … I can literally project different moments in time of my own work onto the work … but then this is reclaimed or reappropriated as another iteration of my artwork.
I’m interested in … [f]ilm dictating the temporal flow…, splicing/curating moments in time… [and r]e-appropriating, or reclaiming someone else’s subjective/objective take on my work … The latest iterations have become remediations of the remediations—recordings of recordings … projected onto the real work. A ‘re-authorised’ bootleg, because the bootleg is unofficial.
The time of the past is … harder to read than the immediate present. [I]t results in … different fragments of time shown at once all in the present … or a simultaneous durational aspect … presenting a one-to-one fidelity of the broken recording or the fragmented material … Maybe I’m always saying one-to-one because these things have a relationship to the viewer? I’m not sure …
It’s like … [t]he irony is, the work is about collecting fragments of the self through objects and materials … recomposing new subjectivities each time I do this, … [so] not self erasure … I’m not trying to tear apart time, but deliberately breaking it up … It’s like … the objects start collecting you.
I’m kind of riffing on things that we’ve spoken about—and that’s all you can ever do … I don’t have a concept to work with … and I rely heavily on the process of improvisation as well … Constraints leading to a work will lead to different works … It’s like whatever works, except it’s whatever doesn’t work … [and] the real event never comes along … So—it’s another propositional model for something, it’s always the next thing or the next thing, it’s never fixed.
Accident and intention are interchangeable … [p]roviding vectors to orient installation itself … [B]ut it nevertheless grows through constraints—it’s alive. [A]fter all—all we have is the empty form of time of the future … Maybe just the … point at which loss/fragments meet future potentiality.
[W]hen I was in Japan, I picked up a couple of guitar pedals … There was this pedal that said future–overdrive—it was kind of like I found Bergson in the guitar shop, or the philosophy of time in the guitar shop … When I’m actually gone, all that’s left is this work … When you said disappearance … it’s kind of like I’m writing my autobiography through the work, like I’m being proactive.
Sorry if I have repeated myself …Enough about me, what do you think about me? … I’ve always wanted to know what my work was about.
* This essay was composed by splicing together three records of Masato Takasaka’s thoughts on his work: two interviews and an email exchange. The interviews were recorded using a pen and paper and were later dictated to a computer, retaining all noise or errors of inscription. I’ve marked splices with ellipses (…) and minor interjections, like capitalisation, with square brackets. I’ve also taken the liberty of fitting Takasaka’s words into my punctuation. I don’t know who is ultimately responsible for the thoughts contained in this essay – SW.
Scott Wark is an arts writer and an M.A. candidate and tutor at The University of Melbourne. His essays have appeared in catalogues for galleries...