Cataloguetext “ANOTHER PLACE”, 2018
The Japan Foundation, Cologne
Miniatures of the Everyday
Pretzels, potatoes, coke bottles and waste paper… These items – snapshots of our daily lives and consumer behavior – don’t generally evoke a sense of artfulness. The artist duo Nana Hirose and Kazuma Nagatani, intrigued by these presumed trivialities, transposes these objects into ‘art miniatures of the everyday’ through perseverance and the use of sophisticated processes.
One exemplary work is their expansive installation entitled Still Life (since 2013). While this title is a clear reference to a historic traditional style of painting, Hirose and Nagatani’s installation fills an entire room with numerous small, white ceramic objects arranged on a large white table. These objects create a special tension between figurative representation and alienation. While the referenced real-life object remains recognizable, the items’ physical properties are often far removed from the fabric or material quality of the original object. Onlookers are confronted with an orange that looks like a piece of soft dough, a cucumber that has completely caved in on itself, a glass bottle lying dented and shriveled on the table’s surface. Even though the objects are made of hard porcelain, they appear soft and rubbery. The two artists created and fired a custom mixture specifically designed to evoke this property. It caused the cast taken of the original objects to degenerate during the firing stage. The creation process thus combined sculptural shaping as well as the destruction of the modeled object.
This was not the only time that the duo transferred ordinary groceries into the artistic sphere. The installation Today is a good day (2016) consisted of a large number of small pretzels that formed a garland over 30 m in length. The large object magically merged the self-contained shape of the pretzel into an interwoven bigger self. The intertwined arches are reminiscent of an infinite array of linked arms, which evokes the image of swaying or ‘schunkling’ to live music in a German beer tent. However, the installation of Hirose and Nagatani is quiet and precise. There are no colors, no paper flags flapping in an imaginary wind; instead, the work is a sober portrayal of row upon row of interlinked baked goods suspended in a cascading manner.
The focus on the mundane in art is nothing new in itself. Ever since Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Readymades,’ many generations of artists have directed their efforts towards exploring this topos. Yet it remains a fascinating one, as is evidenced in the creations of Andreas Slominski, Achim Bitter or the FORT collective. Apparently, artistic defamiliarization unlocks an entirely new perspective on items that shape our daily lives, are consumed as food or end up in the trash. Returning to Hirose’s and Nagatani’s Still Life, it is as if the negation of key characteristics of such objects created a clearer understanding and awareness of them. Rather than simply map reality onto their medium of choice, the two artists add a surreal layer. They intervene and question physical actualities. The confusion thus generated even exceeds the sensation evoked by Duchamp’s Bottle Rack (1914) as it leaves the traditional realm of art. While the ‘Readymades’ are about the gesture and meaning of artistic posture, the Still Life’s objects are clearly recognizable as everyday items – there is no mystery as to their origin. Hirose and Nagatani, however, play with resemblances and alterations of the sensory characteristics of mundane items. In doing so, they confront us with riddles that, once solved, bring a smirk to the onlooker’s face.
The ongoing series 365 Apartments, which the duo has been diligently working on since 2011, is about their own lives. It consists of countless miniature models of the apartment the couple lived in during their joint studies at the University of the Arts Bremen. They have been creating small replicas of their new home ever since moving to Düsseldorf. Day in, day out, they add a new piece to the collection. The materials used for this project are derived from paper and cardboard items accumulated in everyday life – the sort of things that would normally end up in the dust bin: cereal cartons, transportation tickets, flyers, notes, postcards or toilet paper rolls. Set up in a meticulously arranged grid on a white table, they present a colorful, yet structurally monotonous miniature city. The solemn white of the surface creates a calming contrast to the color explosion of the consumer aesthetics dressing the miniatures. These real-life leftovers give onlookers an intimate impression of the artists’ daily life, while, at the same time, turning the private space into a mass commodity and thus demoting it. This makes sense when you consider the transient life the two have been leading for years. As they put it, “We spend the lion’s share of our time in the apartment. Yet even though it provides the foundation of our lives, it is only a temporary, makeshift place.” Ever since they traveled to Germany in 2007, first staying in Berlin, then studying in Bremen and finally moving to Düsseldorf, they have been constantly on the move – for them, the tentative has become a permanent state of being.
Given this backdrop, it is not surprising that their daily surroundings receive such special attention in the works of Hirose and Nagatani. Recently, they embarked on a new daily project: producing precision cut-outs of street maps that depict their immediate surroundings. They call this work Draw a city. Here, again, they use a source of paper accumulated on a daily basis: magazines and newspapers. The result, in addition to the impressive non-representational cut-outs themselves, is an appropriation of the spaces fashioned from paper. The two experience their neighborhood on foot, using maps and, through their art, as they trace each twist and turn of the streets and rivers with their hands and cutting tools. This disciplined daily engagement with one’s own locale is reminiscent of On Kawara’s Date Paintings series, which the Japanese-American artist created in the 1960s over a great number of successive days. The works depict the date of their creation in the format customary in the respective country. The paintings thus solidify passing time with each stroke. While On Kawara’s paintings documented his nomadic existence, Nana Hirose and Kazuma Nagatani have a wholly different take on the concept of ‘place’ in their exhibition Another Place. They show how even the most familiar and common place can be turned into a new and unknown space through transformation into an artistic context. In doing so, they demonstrate and celebrate the power of art.