Over the years, the Mori Art Museum has presented many outstanding examples of film and video art, as part of major exhibitions, as well as in the more boutique MAM Screen program series by featuring single-channel video works, and at occasional special screening events. Mori Art Museum’s permanent collection also includes a number of works on film and video. In the Screenings part of “MAM Digital” will showcase screenings of a select works from the past MAM Screen screenings and the Museum’s collection in order, accompanied by detailed descriptions of the works, and artist comments, for added viewing enjoyment.
Banner image: Installation view: MAM Screen 005: Niwa Yoshinori Selected Video Works, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2017
Online Screening of MAM Screen 005: Niwa Yoshinori
Screening Period: Thursday, October 1, 2020 – Sunday, January 3, 2021
The 6th edition of “MAM Screen” Encore Screening features four works by Niwa Yoshinori for a limited time. Setting his work in the streets and other public spaces of various countries, and locations with political connections, Niwa stages social and historical interventions by engaging in what at first glance appear to be meaningless and absurd acts and schemes, and presents on video a portion of these happenings in their entirety, including the unexpected outcomes resulting from the negotiation, its failures and reactions from others. In the MAM Screen, we presented a special edition of Niwa’s four-part “Communism” series which is in the Collection of the Mori Art Museum: Tossing Socialist in the Air in Romania, Looking for Vladimir Lenin at Moscow Apartments, Proposing Holding up Karl Marx to Japanese Communist Party, and Celebrating Karl Marx’s Birthday with Japanese Communist Party, newly re-edited for the showing. Through “nonsensical” actions and sense of humor that emerge from the series of attempts made by the artists (as indicted by the titles), Niwa’s will have us reconsider the various value systems and significance in our society.
Commentary by the Artist and Curator
Some fifteen years ago, I was a recent college graduate and working as an irregularly-employed, manual laborer. My intention then was that this would serve as a minor act of resistance to capitalism and our subordination to it. The majority of my wages went on paying the rent for my makeshift apartment in Tokyo, and I went into arrears with the utility bills, resulting in my electricity, water, gas, and mobile phone all being cut off. Though I was clearly living in poverty, I had the misconception that this would give me spiritual release. Notwithstanding that I could do nothing about it by myself, I feared if the world would radically change after 9/11.
It was around then that, watching TV late one night, I chanced upon a documentary about the Romanian Revolution, sparking a fascination with the revolutions of Eastern Europe that followed the fall of communism in the region. It was an intense interest, almost an obsession, and which led me to believe it was my destiny to go to Romania. I was not there during the revolution, nor was I Romanian, and neither had I even properly experienced the Cold War between the capitalist and communist blocs. Now I think of it, what had so gripped me, who was born in Japan in 1982 and was still in elementary school when the Cold War ended, was a powerful obsession that attempted to make up for my own lack of such experience. Even though everything in the world is interconnected and joined together, isn’t it bizarre that we are so divided by ideologies and history? What kind of role could a total outsider from the generation who experienced communism, someone from the time after the end of the Cold War, serve? How is it possible to share the past? Such discursive questions appeared in my mind one after the other, subsequently forming the motivation behind the four-part “Communism”series of works I made.
I live today in the Austrian capital of Vienna, which functioned as a buffer zone between the West and the East during the Cold War, and can now travel to the former Eastern Bloc in as little as an hour. Coincidentally enough, this city was where I came initially on the very first trip I ever took overseas. The communist nations collapsed and everything was thrown into a single global market, and then subsumed under the capitalist principle of competition. We remain unable even to imagine the end of capitalism. It is said that the COVID-19 pandemic will cause capitalism to change, though it might well spark a new struggle for economic and political hegemony, while the disparities produced by capitalism have actually increased the risk posed by the virus to the economically vulnerable. What is wealth? What is freedom? What does being democratic offer to the human society? Here in Vienna with its former communist neighbors, what should we now do to resist a world in which the standards we have for all our values are centralized?
Niwa Yoshinori has a sharp perspective, always penetrating simultaneously both what seems most familiar and what seems remote. This acuity lies in how its examination of wealth and freedom - the things that we unquestioningly extol and pursue on a daily basis - does not overlook where they came from or what they bring us. The actions that Niwa makes in his work initially appear humorous or even nonsensical, but they vividly reveal past social systems and how these have changed within people’s lives. Today, we face the threat of the proliferation of COVID-19. What impact will it have on our future lives or on political and social structures? What is being done and what is being overlooked? Reading Niwa’s statement, I once again felt a sense of the growing necessity for perspectives that observe these.
Being a somewhat long work, people may not have been able to watch it all when it was screened at the Mori Art Museum. I hope that you could take advantage of this opportunity to enjoy viewing it online at your leisure.
Historically Historic Historical History of Communism, a book by Niwa introducing this series is currently on sale at the Mori Art Museum Shop.
Kumakura Haruko (Assistant Curator, Mori Art Museum)
Niwa Yoshinori Tossing Socialists in the Air in Romania (single-channel version)
Tossing Socialists in the Air in Romania (single-channel version)
25 min. 24 sec. Collection: Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
This first work in a four-part series about communism was made in Romania, where revolution brought about the collapse of a socialist republic in 1989. Niwa Yoshinori saw a documentary on television in 2005 about the fall of the Nicolae Ceaușescu regime. Shocked by the raw footage of amateur cameramen capturing the actual scenes of a revolution, he started his own research. During the process of this he exchanged emails over several years with Pavilion, an art center in Bucharest, which then led to Tossing Socialists in the Air in Romania in 2010. After the revolution brought down the dictatorship of Ceaușescu, who was executed along with his wife, Romania became a democracy and the Communist Party was made illegal for some time. From this it is easy to see the trauma left behind by the Socialist Republic, under which so many suffered. The film shows Niwa suggesting to various Romanian politicians and activists the absurd act of bringing together young people from the generation that did not experience the revolution to toss into the air people who continue to believe in communism even today.
Niwa Yoshinori Looking for Vladimir Lenin at Moscow Apartments (single-channel version)
Looking for Vladimir Lenin at Moscow Apartments (single-channel version)
22 min. 32 sec. Collection: Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
For this second work in his series about the Communist Party, Niwa Yoshinori went in search of images of Vladimir Lenin left behind in people’s homes in Moscow some 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Niwa looked for portraits, photographs, propaganda posters, newspaper articles, flags and badges depicting Lenin, the first leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, in order to exhibit them at Moscow Museum of Modern Art. He gave out leaflets at train stations, asking people: “Is Lenin in your home?” The reactions of people in Moscow varied widely, from anger to nostalgia. In his search of regular households, Niwa perceives how these portraits of Lenin, which were ideological symbols of socialism, had come to change over the course of the 20 years into objects connected to personal stories or memories. In this way, he depicts how Russian society today memorializes the failed utopia of socialism.
Niwa Yoshinori Celebrating Karl Marx’s Birthday with the Japanese Communist Party (single-channel version)
Celebrating Karl Marx’s Birthday with the Japanese Communist Party (single-channel version)
22 min. 56 sec. Collection: Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
Niwa Yoshinori Proposing Holding up Karl Marx to the Japanese Communist Party (single-channel version)
Proposing Holding up Karl Marx to the Japanese Communist Party (single-channel version)
18 min. 27 sec. Collection: Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
The third and fourth works in his series were made in Japan, focusing on Karl Marx, whose thinking formed the origins of communism, and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), which has a history of over 90 years. Niwa explores how Marx’s ideas have been received across the ages and in different countries, and the meaning of Marx today for the Japanese Communist Party, which is now a non-revolutionary party and has essentially abandoned the realization of a communist society. In Celebrating Karl Marx’s Birthday with the Japanese Communist Party, Niwa goes to the branch office of the JCP in Aichi Prefecture and proposes organizing a “195th birthday party” for Marx, while also asking them about the so-called “scientific socialism” that the party upholds. Having heard that the photographs of Marx displayed by the JCP at the time of its founding in 1922 were no longer to be found in the party’s facilities, in Proposing Holding up Karl Marx to the Japanese Communist Party Niwa goes to the Central Committee of the Japanese Communist Party and some of the JCP regional committees to suggest that they once again display the portrait of Marx in their offices. Through this seemingly absurd proposal, Niwa is attempting to re-interpret the current state of the Japanese Communist Party in the 2010s.
MAM Screen 005: Niwa Yoshinori Selected Video Works
Period: 2017.2.4 [Sat] - 6.11 [Sun]
Organizer: Mori Art Museum
Curated by: Kumakura Haruko (Assistant Curator, Mori Art Museum)
Screening Period: Tuesday, September 1 - Monday, November 30, 2020
The fifth edition of “MAM Screen” Encore Screening features five works by Hsu Chia-Wei for a limited time. All of these five works were previously presented at MAM SCREEN 009: Hsu Chia-Wei.
Hsu Chia-Wei (born 1983 in Taichung, Taiwan) is known for his highly refined video works and installations depicting complex narratives that cannot be read from the histories of various Asian countries that have been conferred the status of official history. Based on a process of meticulous research, these narratives cast light on the histories of individuals who have been at the mercy of the mercurial currents of political and social eras, as well as neglected fragments of history.
This screening program, with three short films - Drones, Frosted Bats and Testimony of the Deceased, Takasago, and Nuclear Decay Timer - seeks to unravel various hidden narratives that lay concealed within the Industrial Research Institute of the Taiwan Governor-General’
s Office during Japanese rule, through the perspectives of industrial policy, ecosystems, and geology. And the other two works, Huai Mo Village and Ruins of the Intelligence Bureau, examine the stormy fate of a man who lost his nationality as a result of the Chinese civil war, and subsequently with the advent of the Cold War had to lead multiple lives as a spy, director of orphanages, and priest in a village located near the border between Thailand and Myanmar, revealing turbulent history of this region.
By collecting regional memories and scattered materials that have been lost to industrialization, urbanization, and the aging of those who were key witnesses to these events, Hsu prompts in his audience an awareness of the complexity and diversity of this world, as well as the uncertainty of one’s memory.
Hsu Chia-Wei graduated from the National Taiwan University of Arts, Taipei, Taiwan. From 2014-2016 he studied filmmaking at the Le Fresnoy - Studio national des arts contemporains, in France. He was a finalist for the HUGO BOSS ASIA ART Award in 2013, and the Grand Prize winner of the 15th Taishin Arts Award in 2017.
Comment by the Artist Analysis on the Works as well as Current Project under the Current Circumstance
The pandemic this year has dramatically changed the way we live, and it looks like we will have to live with the virus for a long time to come, which has driven a transformation of work patterns and industries. Take me, for example, as an island country, Taiwan implemented pandemic-prevention policies quick and strict at the beginning, so the current daily life in Taiwan has not been impacted that much. While the relevant international plans have all been suspended, many exhibitions have been postponed, or held online. I couldn’t go abroad for months, but it gave me some time to collect my thoughts, get to know more and think deeper about Taiwan. During this time, I devoted myself to more art projects about Taiwan. I went to two islands, one is Green Island near eastern Taiwan, where they had taken in many political prisoners during the Cold War, and I produced a set of works related to “White Terror.” The other one is in Heping Island in northern Taiwan, where I worked with archaeologists and filmed an archaeological site from the 17th century Dutch and Spanish colonial eras. With the impact of the outbreak, I have become more committed to Taiwan’s domestic policies.
The works screen at the Mori this time is, coincidentally, much associated with the outbreak. In Drones, Frosted Bats and the Testimony of Deceased, we can see some bats, which were initially considered the intermediate hosts of the virus during this epidemic. When I first made this series, I tried to re-enter the colonial and historical issues with the non-human elements; in the past, we talked a lot about the human being, but I think the non-human factors could be a way outside the existing framework of interpretation. Therefore, we can see non-human elements such as bats, minerals and pine tree spirit running through this series of works. The outbreak of the epidemic has underlined the delicate symbiotic relationship between humans and all things, and also knocked the humans off our pedestal, back to the original biological appearance – making the anti-anthropocentric way of thinking appear yet another déjà vu.
Commentary by the Curator
Kataoka Mami (Director, Mori Art Museum)
While the pandemic has changed the way we look at the world, Hsu Chia-Wei’s video works also offer new interpretations. COVID-19 spread across the world within a very short span of time, leading each country to hastily close its borders. Even the member states of the EU that are united under a political and economic union, with nations connected via land across the European continent, had respectively gone into national lockdown. As a result, we were made increasingly aware of “nation-state” framework. Huai Mo Village and Ruins of the Intelligence Bureau by Hsu Chia-Wei, which follow the lives of people who are at the mercy of political turmoil and therefore have deviated from the very framework, once again in current times remind us of the relationship between individuals and the state. The three works, Drones, Frosted Bats and the Testimony of the Deceased,Takasago, and Nuclear Decay Timer also make us conscious of the nature and concept of “nation-state” through the legacies of colonization and industrial policies. On the other hand however, as Hsu himself comments, by incorporating scientific perspectives into political history, our awareness is directed towards the history of planet Earth and the history of non-human organisms such as animals and insects, thus eventually nullifying the significance of such frameworks as nation-states or national borders set forth by human beings. This also seems to convey the impossibility of anthropocentrism, as humans find themselves completely defeated in the face of an invisible virus.
Hsu Chia-Wei Drones, Frosted Bats and the Testimony of the Deceased
Drones, Frosted Bats and the Testimony of the Deceased
This work was filmed at the abandoned site of Hsinchu Branch of the Sixth Imperial Japanese Naval Fuel Plant. During the World War II, the fuel plant was used to produce aviation fuel with butanol developed by the Department of Industrial Fermentation at the Industrial Research Institute. Hsu utilizes the unique mobile perspectives of a drone, while using it in the video as exposed photographic equipment and casting it as an actor anthropomorphically. This video also includes several different shots, including a scene of frosted bats (northern species) coming to reside in the chimney of the military plant once come early summer, footages of bombers from World War II when United States allied with China to bomb Taiwan.
The video narration originated from memoirs of factory employees at the time. Nineteen oral accounts dubbed by four voice actors in Japanese and the video archive manipulated by a computer program are arranged randomly on the playlist to constantly shift the structure of the video, which indeed makes up the video installation altogether. Through the random calculations of the program, Hsu presents the uncertainty of these memories and his response to the scattered historical text. The online screening program this time presents a demo version of this work.
Hsu Chia-Wei Takasago
9 min. 20 sec.
Production support: TAKASAGO INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION
Takasago is a video installation combining two seemingly unrelated elements - Noh theatre” and “a perfume factory currently operating in Japan.” Takasago International Corporation was founded in 1920 in Japan. With the support from the Japanese government and technical assistance of the Industrial Department at Central Industrial Research Institute, they placed headquarter in Taiwan from 1938 to 1945 aiming to expand the business, producing fragrance with plants from Taiwan. The corporation was named “Takasago” for two reasons. First, owing to the fact that in old times raw materials were imported to Japan from Taiwan, Taiwan was given a Japanese name Takasagokoku (“Takasago Country”). Second, Takasago is also the well-known Noh play by Zeami Motokiyo in the Muromachi era (1336-1573) about the lasting love between the twin pines transforming into an old married couple to express that the geographical distance will never separate the two. In the work where Noh actors perform in a modernized factory, the multiple references of the word “Takasago” and the moral of the ancient tale are connected through a writing beyond the script of history.
Hsu Chia-Wei Nuclear Decay Timer
Nuclear Decay Timer
8 min. 40 sec.
For this work, Hsu collaborated with geologists to look at colonial history from a science history perspective. After the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, Japan’s economy suffered a steep economic decline. In hopes of reviving the economy, Japanese established several benefits for the gold mining, thus resulting in a rapid development of colonial Taiwan’s gold mining industry. It was not until the geologists discovered zircon in the riverbed of Mawudu River (in Hsinchu) that it was put into proper research. Initially, researches aimed to survey these mineral resources in order to produce alloy and to support military’s development during the World War II, however, later did they realize that the output of zircon was insufficient. Although the plan ended in failure, the zircon samples from the excavation have new scientific applications for the later generations of geologists. Now they can determine the composition of zircon. In addition, with the help of nuclear physics, they are able to reveal intriguing information about the past. Zircon is like a nuclear decay timer that allows geologists to look at the long span of time from the beginning of the world to the birth of humans.
Hsu Chia-Wei Huai Mo Village
Huai Mo Village
8 min. 20 sec.
Huai Mo Village focuses on the “Huai Mo Tzu Chiang House” in Chiang Rai, Thailand. The founder of this orphanage house is a priest who, during the Cold War period, served as a secret informer for the CIA for 39 years. His identity indicates the sources of this period of history and the process of change. Starting from the 1980s, this region had turned into a world’s drug center facing serious issues of smuggling and human trafficking. Currently, there are around seventy children most of whose parents have been killed or jailed due to drug trafficking or smuggling and become orphans.
In this video work, the artist invited these children to form a filming team and jointly used cameras, sound recording equipment, lights, and other filming devices. Children were able to visit the priest in person and to listen to him tirelessly talking about the past of the Intelligence Bureau. The artist’s customary style is extended in this work - the people telling the stories, the people listening to the stories, the filming crew made up of orphans, with the artist standing furthest back, observing it all and exploring a complex history of this region.
Hsu Chia-Wei Ruins of the Intelligence Bureau
Ruins of the Intelligence Bureau
13 min. 30 sec.
Produced by: Le Fresnoy
This work was filmed at its historical site in Huai Mo Village, near the Thai-Burmese borders. The original building of the Intelligence Bureau does not exist any longer, yet foundation slab, now governed by the Thai army, still remains there. The artist invited former intelligence officers, who still live in this area, to participate in filming. The foundation slab was turned into a stage for a traditional Thai puppet show. The narrator in this video is the head of the orphanage “Huai Mo Tzu Chiang House” and served as an intelligence officer for thirty-nine years. The video also reveals the narration recording process.
The video opens with the puppet show upon the grounds of the Intelligence Bureau; the puppeteers are dressed in black and wear black masks. Simultaneously, the narrator recounts an ancient legend about the monkey general Hanuman rescuing the army. Some of the performers currently serve for the Thai army and some are the former informants. All of them wear black masks. They are a group of unknown people who had been forgotten in the tides of history. The final scene of the video reveals an empty recording studio, where only the video is still running. Weaving together folklore and reality, documentary and fiction, this work reveals complex identities, memories and dreams of people in Huai Mo Village.
MAM Screen 009: Hsu Chia-Wei
Period: 2018.10.6 [Sat] - 2019.1.20 [Sun]
Organizer: Mori Art Museum
Curated by: Kataoka Mami (then Chief Curator, Mori Art Museum (current Director))
Online Screening of MAM Screen 010: Mikhail Karikis
Screening Period: Saturday, August 1 - Saturday, October 31, 2020
The fourth edition of “MAM Screen” Encore Series features three works by Mikhail Karikis for a limited time. All works were previously presented at MAM Screen 010: Mikhail Karikis.
Mikhail Karikis (born 1975, Thessaloniki, Greece, lives and works in London) had shown extensively in a number of museums, including his solo exhibitions at Whitechapel Gallery (London, 2018-2019) and the Turku Art Museum (Finland, 2018). He has also participated in various international exhibitions, including the Aichi Triennale (2013), and the Biennale of Sydney (2014).
After studying music and architecture, Mikhail Karikis has crossed a wide range of genres including moving image, photography, and performance, developing these media into immersive installations. While Karikis deploys sound as the primary material for his work, the human voice plays a particularly important role within his practice. This program presents three works, Sounds from Beneath, Ain’t Got No Fear and The Chalk Factory. Each of these works propose alternative models of friendship, labor, action, and even human existence itself. As viewers, we are made keenly aware of the impact exerted on individual lives by shifts in economic and industrial structures, as well as fundamental questions regarding the nature of labor, employment, and communities. Let us lend an ear to the collective voices of various communities, and expand our imagination to try and envision an increasingly informatized contemporary society, as well as a future society that accepts diversity.
Commentary by the Artist Reflections on art and visions of the future
Coal defined British life and played a key role in British life. Coalmining fuelled domestic fires and industrial furnaces, and stimulated the socio-political and cultural life of the country through workers’ unions and choirs. Now, the English landscape is marked by the radical urban, social and economic changes that have taken place in the country since the mid-1980s. Since the dismantling of the coalmining industry in England in the ‘80s, many coalmines have stood desolate and silent.
In response to the muteness of the empty pits in south-east England, in my project Sounds from Beneath I wanted to give voice to the community of former coal miners. The colliers were proud men who, after the closing of the mines, experienced communal unemployment, poverty and the dispersal of their communities. They became socially stigmatised and felt humiliated. What could be an adequate memory keeper of their community, their achievements, resistance and culture?
I started working on Sounds from Beneath in 2010. I collaborated with a coalminers’ choir. Through conversations with the men, I asked them to recall and vocalise the sounds they used to hear when they worked in the mines. In the film we produced, the men sing noises that evoke the coalmine where they used to work. Mechanical clangs, whirring engines, wailing alarms, subterranean blasts, hissing and whistling vocalised by the men reanimate the empty pits. Singing became the reason for the men to come together again. Their song transforms the desolate mining site into an amphitheatre of communal remembering, forming a record of former activity and community. The miners stand with dignity and unearth a memory of loss. They compose a collective lament, both resisting social inaudibility and resonating beyond the silence of England’s vanished industrial architectures.
Several years later, in 2015, I was given the opportunity to work in Japan and I turned my attention to another group of workers on the outskirts of Tokyo. I first visited the country in 2013 and in my research before traveling I read about cultural attitudes towards disability and labour. Workplaces must include a minimum of 2.2% (2% in 2013) disabled employees, yet the majority of companies in the country choose to pay a penalty rather than comply with this rule. There are exceptions however that offer positive and empowering examples which include people with disabilities.
I discovered Nihon Rikagagu Chalk Industries. Over 70% of their workers have disabilities. At the factory I observed a large team of hard-working specialised and productive staff. Any team of high-performing workers such as those at the chalk factory would be defined by their achievements and abilities. Yet, cultural attitudes define these people by what they are not able to do: by their disabilities. This is not however the only attitude Japanese culture provides.
In my research into Japanese legends I discovered the myth of Hyottoko, the god of fire. If Hyottoko were alive today, he would be labelled as a person with a learning disability: he failed to understand the instructions of every task he was given. He was asked to clean but he swept the ceiling; he was asked to pick citrus fruit but collected leaves instead. Everything changed however when he was asked to blow the fire and keep it ablaze. He did it enthusiastically and tirelessly, keeping his village warm while people were out, giving light and making it possible for everyone to cook. His work and contribution to his community were irreplaceable and immortalised in the mask we see today in shops, homes, on tattoos and in festivals around the country. Hyottoko might have faced difficulties, but was valued and remains remembered and celebrated for his gift of fire and his ability.
As I write this, a world pandemic has gripped our planet and we are suddenly faced by obstacles and our inability to continue with our daily lives the way we used to. All of us have experienced more isolation. Many people have become unwell, some have sadly been lost, and many communities have become poorer with worsened employment and life prospects. What can art and culture do in the face of such global disaster? In many ways, art is incapable of providing immediate practical solutions, but what it can provide is examples of care, empathy and compassion. Art offers insights into other people’s ways of overcoming difficulties and hardship. In my projects, I have chosen to focus on human dignity and solidarity, and on compassionate empowering action in the face of adversity - be it unemployment or disability. Art allows us to imagine different possible, probable, desired and empowered futures. Once we capture these positive futures with our imagination, we can focus on making them real. That’s what I feel we collectively need right now to face the challenges ahead.
Commentary by the Curator
Kataoka Mami (Director, Mori Art Museum)
Mikhail Karikis creates sculptures of the human voice, upon which he projects people’s dignity. These sculptures have no specific form, and are only perceived through hearing. He states, “I often find language to be unreliable. While language and words are able to conceal something, the voice itself - its volume, tone, and what it implies, functions as a measure of one’s emotions. The voice reflects a person’s emotional world like an x-ray. In fact, by just listening to a person’s voice I am able to tell whether they are physically in good health, as well as the state of their emotions.”
Now that the pandemic has exposed the fragility and imbalances of the world’s social structure, Karikis’ attitude towards artistic production seems to have strengthened its very significance. That is, with the limitations of human-centered and economic-centered growth models pointed out, to take another good look at the land upon which we stand and aim for a society in which all life there is healthy and sound. We human beings as a part of the natural world are also required to listen to the voices of nature. What do the voices that are heard from Karikis’ work have us think about in this day and age?
Mikhail Karikis Sounds from Beneath
Sounds from Beneath centers around a sound work for which Karikis asked a community of a former coal miners’ choir to recall and vocalize the industrial sounds of a working coal mine, which they used to hear when they worked in the pits. Karikis located the former Kentish coalmine where the men used to work, and upon completing the sound work he invited the artist Uriel Orlow to collaborate on a video which depicts the desolate colliery brought back to life through the miners’ song. The sunken mine transforms into an amphitheater resonating sounds of former underground explosions, mechanical clangs cutting the coal-face, wailing alarms and shovels scratching the earth, all sung by Snowdown Colliery Welfare Male Voice Choir grouping in formations reminiscent of picket lines.
Commenting on Sounds from Beneath, the curator and writer Katerina Gregos highlights that “at once political and poetic, the film cuts through any expected conventional documentary realism and resonates with pathos dignity and emotional force. It functions as a salvaging of memory, an ode, a tribute, and a requiem all at once […] It captures the essence of the act of coal mining, while recalling the picket lines and intimating a strong sense of male identity and the solidarity of sharing a common purpose in work and song.”
Mikhail Karikis Ain’t Got No Fear
Ain’t Got No Fear is a project which Karikis created with a group of teenagers who are growing up in the militarized post-industrial marshland of the Isle of Grain in southern England. In response to the isolation of their village and the lack of space for teenagers, in the last few years, kids have been organizing raves in a local wood, recently raided by the police. Using as their beat the persistent crushing noises of the demolition of a neighboring power plant, 11 to 13-year-old boys from Grain sing a rap song they wrote about their lives, recalling memories of being younger and imagining their old age and future. Reminiscent of a music video the film glimpses teenage experiences on the edges of urbanity by following youths to their secret underground hideaways and capturing their rackety reclaiming of the local site where raves used to take place. The project reveals a way in which industrial sites are often re-imagined by youths with a form of spatial justice defined by friendship and play, the thrill of subverting authority and evading adult surveillance.
Mikhail Karikis The Chalk Factory
Special thanks to Nihon Rikagaku Industry Co., Ltd, Shibata Naomi, Kiku Day, Osaka Koichiro, Dr. Nicola Grove, Mitsudo Yumiko, Namba Sachiko, Spiral and the Yokohama Paratriennale 2014.
The Chalk Factory is a project created with a group of factory workers with learning disabilities in Japan. Built in the dense industrial outskirts of Tokyo, Nihon Rikagaku Industry Co., Ltd offered temporary internship to two teenagers with mental disabilities in 1959. The last day of the youths’ internship was marked by a little-known but extraordinary event that changed the factory’s identity and Japan’s labor history. Workers reacted against the termination of the internship of their disabled colleagues, requesting permanent employment and emphasizing the benefits of including them in their team. Nearly sixty years on, the factory has a workforce almost 75% formed of people with disabilities. Karikis was inspired by the workers’ historical action, which addressed labor rights for workers with disabilities.
For MAM Screen 010, Karikis edited an original ten-channel video installation into a single channel version. The soundscape ranges from factory chimes which conduct the day’s activities, to industrial beats accompanying the workers’ murmurs, their involuntary vocalizations and repeated soliloquies. These are interrupted by the cheerful dissonances of the workers’ karaoke. The Chalk Factory foregrounds disability’s own cultural history. The project observes productivity, the body and social function and raises ethical questions about disability and labor.
MAM Screen 010: Mikhail Karikis
Period: 2019.2.9 [Sat] - 2019.5.26 [Sun]
Organizer: Mori Art Museum
Curated by: Kataoka Mami (then Chief Curator, Mori Art Museum (current Director))