“I don’t think Art will change the world, as it is just an observation of an era, a civilization, or a state. But that is also what I am interested in: what are we today? What are our dreams? What keeps us alive?”
For french translation, click here : Francois Shunsuke Nanjo_FR
Meeting François in 2009 was fun coincidence. Through a friend we have in common, I met this guy who turned out to be the friend of another friend of mine (are you still with me? ). It was in Tokyo. Since then, François became a good friend, somebody worth knowing, someone whose artistic approach, whose own world I personally admire; also he’s got his very own sensitive way of tackling fundamental issues.
François, who are you? Where are you from? How’s your life been like so far? I am a visual artist. I was born in Tokyo, Japan. I lived there until I was 11, before my parents and I moved to France. I had a pretty regular education; I did a Master’s in plastic arts, and I attended les Beaux-Arts in Paris. But I didn’t stay there long enough. I went back to Tokyo when I turned 26. Since then, I live between Paris and Tokyo.
We met in 2009 during my trip to Tokyo. You always stand between those 2 cultures. If you had to do like Anita Baker and declare your love for one or the other city, what would you say? Oddly enough, those two cities are the total opposite. Every time I set a foot in Paris, I am filled with amazement. It’s like an old lady full of energy to whom you pay your respects; an old lady in a mink coat, a granny loved by her grandchildren. Tokyo is a city where anything is possible. This city is like a sophisticated woman with a nice manicure and youthful energy, yet infinitely wise. It’s like a young teenage girl at a club who has grown up too fast and who has a string urge to move. Both ladies are beautiful.
Just like romantic relationships, the places we live leave a mark on us. What are the drawbacks of both cultures you just can’t stand anymore? It’s true that when you arrive in a city for the first time, you feel captivated by the little streets, the walls and the people there. But then, when you start working, your look on the city changes and you see the hurdles that you eventually learn to overcome. Whatever people may say, Japan is a very egotistic country due to its history and its geographic insulation. Also the economic crisis and the recent series of events tend to push the country towards some kind of unhealthy withdrawal. And all the codes and rules of etiquette are often an obstacle to productivity. As a visual artist, I think there are way too many regulations. There’s no room left to interference, the engine is well maintained, no rust, not a single grain of sand in the gears, no dent, and no questioning is possible. Sometimes I feel like spilling a whole bucket of sand. As for France, people often have a negative opinion on everything. It’s all about being self-deprecating and ironic. It turns out to be exhausting sometimes. If Japan is polished marble, France is raw concrete. There are lots of empty spaces, gaps, big flaws, and shortfalls. When you want to work, nothing seems to be working in that sense. You have to spend a tremendous amount of energy to achieve something simple. And nowadays, France has this violence in its guts, in its system, perhaps because people don’t seem to understand each other.
Do you think this double culture has some kind of influence of your work? I don’t think this double culture has really influenced my work, as both cultures are deeply part of me. I am entirely capable of switching from one language to the other, no transition needed; my brain seems to be pretty good at juggling with both easily. To me, it’s something established. Perhaps if there were any kind of influence, it would be my place in those cultures; I am neither in one nor in the other. I am a crack in between. Maybe so is my work.
An artist… no one is born an artist. Do you think you are born an artist or you become one? I think there are 3 types of artists: the talented type who doesn’t need to work to be an artist, the genius somehow: whatever they touch turns into gold. Then there is the hard-working type: no specific talent but a lot of work; they learn constantly and eventually end up learning what talent is. Finally there is the condensed type: the one who is both talented and a hard worker. I guess the latter is more likely to succeed.
Tell me about your world, your obsessions. That’s a broad topic! For the moment, I am dedicated to two types of work. On one hand, there is the personal work that includes the proposal of what MY conception of Utopia is like. Creating my own World is like playing in a sandbox. I am currently working on the creation of imaginary landscapes, using satellite images and landscape collages. On the other hand, I work together with my collective (that still has no name) on the themes of memory and touch. We develop audio and electronic systems to create installations. This format allows more freedom: I work together with Nicolas Charbonnier, my musician, Christophe Nanjo, my engineer, and we sometimes collaborate with outside participants.
What made you want to be and become an artist? What made me want to become an artist? That’s an easy one: I had really bad grades in school; I was the kind of lousy student that never speaks a word, that tries to hide when the teacher asks a question; I was that kid who was never invited at birthday parties. I spent my entire time drawing. My school tests were filled with drawings. Then I was given a camera. I became the photo lab rat, always doing stuff related to chemistry. Also I had a stimulating familial environment, so it all felt quite natural.
The Human being is at the core of your work. What is a human being for you exactly? When you watch the world’s evolution, what does it inspire you?I strongly believe that Art has always looked for defining what the Human being is. Art has always illustrated glories, dreams, the greatness of human beings as well as their fears, their sadness and anguishes. Art is our own reflection, that’s it. I don’t think Art will change the world, as it is just an observation of an era, a civilization, or a state. But that is also what I am interested in: what are we today? What are our dreams? What keeps us alive? To me the world’s evolution is just as usual: neither better nor worse.
You work with many different materials. How do you choose your artistic media? Contact with the material is something quite personal for an artist. Do you create instinctively or do you take a lot of time to think about a piece of work or an exhibition? I’d say it’s more on an ad hoc basis. Sometimes, it’s intuition, but often, it’s evidence. It takes me a long time between the moment when I have an idea and the moment when I start producing, as it needs to be accurate and obvious; I want acuity between what I mean and what I do. It can take me up to three years to get a satisfactory result. Of course, there are also the ideas to come up when I’m in contact with the material. But this technical sensation is just about know-how, and I personally exclude it from my work. The pleasure of making makes me blind, and don’t want to let the sensation bring me self-satisfaction. The more times passes, the more I delegate the production work to professionals. It allows me to take a step back. And from time to time, I have a stroke of genius; I create something impulsively, and it works. But that doesn’t happen very often.
What’s on your agenda at the moment? I am preparing an exhibition in Singapore with my team/collective, another –more personal- in New York, and another one in Rio. Besides, I will participate in the urban development of a regional city outside of Tokyo; everything needs to be built or rebuilt, and there is budget for that. I am really excited about that.
When will those exhibitions take place? Nothing’s defined yet. Developing those systems takes a whole budget and substantial conception time. So we are looking for sponsorship. But if everything goes well, Singapore and New York will be in September 2014, and Rio in fall 2014, hopefully.
Among your influences, who are the artists – not necessarily contemporary artists- you admire, and why? I admire many artists: Tatiana Trouvé, because I like the world and the odd forms she offers; one can feel her presence on her work, and I’ve always followed what she does. I would have loved being her assistant. Also she’s a very humble person. Following the same logic, I also like Hans Op De Beeck. I am interested in his world that has something gloomy and melancholic about it, and it is depicted with subtlety and infinite darkness. There is Chim Pom, a group of young Japanese artists who make performances that could be pranks, but it’s hilarious. The Chapuisat brothers for their powerful work. I am interested in the works I unfortunately don’t get to follow enough, those from MIT’s Creative Lab in Boston, where there are sick research and developments.
To you, what does the art market represent today? What are the strengths and the weaknesses? Art market is what is interesting in Art actually. There is supply and demand. It is essential to allow artists to live, to measure themselves, and to produce. It is essential to allow artists to live, to measure themselves, and to produce. The danger lies in your being caught by demand, as you’d probably end up losing yourself. The interesting part is not the overall art market but rather the specific one. Seeing what’s up in Indonesia, in New York, in Berlin… It seems to me that observing local demand can bring a further cultural understanding of what’s going on regionally speaking.
What are the differences in approaching art like between Japan and France? In Japan, there’s no room for the art market: everything’s so beautiful and sleek to begin with that it results in a lack of demand. Let’s be honest, there’s no material room. That’s the perfect example to illustrate the fact the art market is the reflection of the culture; the houses don’t have walls big enough to display art. In France, there are two views: the first one is rather a mainstream one that basically says that money isn’t good and that art should be institutional and have an educating role. That’s a bit cliché but it’s true and most people think so. The second view is that of collectors who take part in art; they are the ones who buy art and support artists. These people remain discreet but without them, the system would collapse.
What tips would give young people dreaming of becoming artists? There is no magic bullet. Just do it.Going to Art school is probably a good thing. But how would I know, I never really attended an Art school. But I like to think what you learn at an Art school is not what really matters. It’s rather about collecting information and knowing how to treat and execute it. Obviously going to the museum, art galleries, and exhibitions helps, but it is also about working with friends at a workshop, sharing ideas, working in any other fields like design, cinema, science, or even finance. You must have various and broad interests. Also as soon as you have some free time, use your hands and your brains. It’s not a full time job; we’re talking about a lifetime job. It is very tiring. Everything you do (living, eating, sleeping, going on vacation, arguing) brings you back to Art. You can say goodbye to lazy Sundays, holidays, and time off. Inspiration doesn’t simply appear in your sleep at night. You need outside influences to get inspired. So you need to go out and look for those influences. At least, that’s my own opinion.
Any other hidden passions? Nothing else actually. Or maybe building things like a chair or a desk that have nothing to do with my work… And sometimes going on a mountain trip; it takes me away from my daily worries and it has a reboot effect on me.
What did you want to be when you were a child? When I was a child, I wanted to be an artist, and to travel as well.
A statement or a motto you always keep in the back of your mind? I can’t remember who said that: “It’s always been the same old story.”
Official Website : François Nanjo