There is nothing straightforward about “Three Easy Pieces”, a solo exhibition by Japanese-British artist Simon Fujiwara that opened Oct. 23 in the Carpenter Center: the “ease” of the show lies not in the casual nonchalance the title may suggest but in its confession-like integrity and approachability, strengths that enable a range of viewers to appreciate its multilayered yet unresolved nature. “’Three Easy Pieces’ implies each work is interdependent and part of a whole,” curator James Voorhies remarks. “But it also suggests that many ideas are continually developing here and that one should not try to take the work too seriously.”
The show combines sculptural, video and performance elements to tell a vivid narrative that examines broad social and political issues such as racial and gender inequality through an introspective, personal lens, one that engages the viewer by constantly redefining the boundary between the real and the imagined.
“Rehearsal for a Reunion” is perhaps most typical of Fujiwara’s style, both in its use of multiple media and in its exploration of both personal and universal themes. The first part of the piece, an installation, is at first eye-catching for its rawness: it consists of pieces of broken pottery next to a table whose tea set and pen and paper imply the viewer has just missed a tea get-together of some kind. Equally unfiltered is “Letters From Mexico,” which consists of framed typewritten texts that chronicle the artist’s trip to Mexico. Each letter, which recounts Fujiwara’s personal adventures in the country, has been transcribed phonetically by urban Mexicans.
Perhaps the piece most emblematic of Fujiwara’s style is “Studio Pietà (King Kong Komplex)”. The multimedia piece won Fujiwara his spot at the Carpenter Center, where he now has his first solo exhibit in the United States. “I first saw ‘Pietà’ at the Andrea Rosen gallery in New York,” Voohries recalls. “I was hooked, so I decided to invite Simon over here.”
Part video, sculpture and voice, “Pietà” features a staged interview with the artist and a mysterious interlocutor in which he discusses his memory of a now-lost 1960s photograph of his mother being carried in the arms of a Lebanese boyfriend at a beach in Beirut, where she worked as a cabaret dancer. Haunted by the image, Fujiwara decides to restage this photograph in the present by hiring actors to play his mother and her boyfriend, an enterprise that forms the premise of the video.
The video shows the clips, interviews, and trials that form the raw process of this reenactment, the physical evidences of which form the remaining portion of the piece: at the foot of the screen sits the swath of pebble-strewn beach on which the narrator filmed the actors, and at the far end of the room are sundry tokens of the filmed interview, such as the cups and water bottle from which the artist drank. Surrounded by the visual, auditory, and tangible manifestations of the video, the viewer’s senses indicate that Fujiwara’s endeavor to recreate the photograph actually took place. However, the narrator never produces the image, which leaves the viewer wondering if the mysterious photograph actually existed or if the very premise of the video was imagined.
For Voorhies, this ambiguity underlies the magnetism of the piece. “‘Pietà’ throws us in a thrilling state of suspension…. We can walk around, see the physical evidence, but still ask ourselves, ‘How much of this is true?’”
Another source of fascination that “Pietà” offers is its treatment of broad social and political topics, one that is especially palatable because rather than being forced upon the viewer, it is a natural and relevant offshoot of the artist’s personal experience. During one of the trials of the artist’s reenactment of the photograph, the mother carries the boyfriend, while the narrator questions the use of swarthy males and fair females in the media, a situation he defines as the “King Kong Komplex.” The interviewer brings these political questions back to the artist himself, asking him if he is attracted to the man he chose as the actor of his mother’s boyfriend. The artist never answers this question—at least not vocally. Instead, the camera follows water droplets, which the narrator used to simulate ocean spray, as they travel down the actor’s face and chest. Fujiwara’s initial attempt at self-discovery thus fluidly expands into an exploration of such universal themes as exoticism, racial profiling, and sexual identity.
For all its far-reaching intricacy, however, the video’s presence is free of rigidity and encourages free interpretation. For one, the video does not have a clear beginning or end: instead, the viewer can enter at any point during the video. “There is no clear ‘resolution’ in [Fujiwara]’s work. It is inconclusive on purpose,” Voorhies says. “And that’s what I like most about it.”
As Fujiwara sees it, the video’s cyclic fluidity can be attributed to an even more practical reason: “In our society of information, we always feel like we have to follow every fact,” he says. “But in my work, you can dive in whenever you’d like: you as the audience choose how long you want to watch it for, and, more importantly, you don’t have to experience everything.”
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