Tets Ohnari, a sculptor who won the 24th International Takifuji Art Award, has been living in Czech Republic to create works since 2010. His work has been exhibited not only in Czech Republic and in Japan, but also in various countries in Eastern Europe such as Romania and Hungary. He is also proactive in interacting with artists from other countries and is one of the Japanese artists who is active globally. We asked him about the reason he moved to Czech Republic, his thoughts for creating art, as well as topics such as cultural exchange in art.
At the time of award winning and after
I gained a huge confidence by receiving recognition for my own work and winning the long established award that many famous artists had received.
——Let me ask you about the time you, as a student, won the art award. I think you were enrolled to the department of sculpture, trying various different things. What sort of things were you interested in, then?
Like any other art student, I was creating works everyday, thinking things like “what will I be in the future?”, “what is a professional artist?”. I think I also had a vague idea of going abroad.
——Why did you think to apply for the International Takifuji Award when you were a student?
I now receive various grants and participate in Residence (Artist in Residence Program*1),but as a matter of fact, the Takifuji Art Award was the very first prize I received. I applied as I simply wanted to try out something and be evaluated by a third party, etc.
*Annotation 1 Artist in Residence Program
A system or program whereby artists at home and abroad get invited to a place for a certain period of time, during which they pursue their creative activities.It is organized by corporations, organizations, and governments around the world, and besides providing support during the artist’s stay, sometimes exhibitions are held as part of a cultural exchange program.
——What do you remember about the time you received the award?
I was very happy as well as nervous. I also remember being curious about those students who received the award at the same time, wondering who they were and what sort of work they were creating. I gained a huge confidence by receiving recognition for my own work and winning the long established award that many famous artists had received.
——After graduating from the university in Japan, why did you choose Czech Republic and overseas as your destinations to study abroad?
Since I was a student, I always had a desire to create works by living somewhere abroad, but I believe I didn’t have such a strong will to go to a specific country. The reason I ended up going to Czech Republic was that I received a scholarship from the Czech government in 2005. I had traveled there a couple of times before that, so I was vaguely familiar with the country. However, it was different from visiting there on a trip, and once I started to live in Czech Republic, I encountered many difficulties such as language and cultural differences. At the same time, I got drawn to various things around me such as the beautiful town, reasonable, tasty food and beer, and also interesting people with diverse backgrounds that I met there. Also, since Czech Republic is located at the heart of Europe, access to art scenes in other European countries is easy. Although it is rather an after-the-fact, that is another reason that I feel happy about having chosen Czech Republic. (Photo 1)
——After studying abroad, you continued to present your work overseas (such as Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary, Austria, etc.). Is there any difference in the way your work gets received in Japan and in countries abroad?
I think, in a way, there is not so much of a difference in Japan and abroad in the reaction of those who saw my work. In fact, to create a piece of art and to have it actually exhibited, there are various factors surrounding the work such as the process of creating, dialogues between curators and viewers, and exhibit space, so literally “work of art is not about the work itself”, meaning the reaction could vary widely according to a person who sees the work.
That said, there could be a small difference based on different cultural backgrounds. As a Japanese living in Europe, I’ve become more conscious of my Japanese aesthetics than when I am in Japan, or subconsciously I have such sensation. That is often reflected in my work and I experienced many times in the past that, for such a work, I receive fresh opinions from those overseas with different cultural backgrounds, and that I was able to have a new discovery from there.
The concept of art works
Picking up something inarticulate and vague that resides deep in myself, I used a method of sculpting to connect to what I would like to express.
——Let me ask you about your work. I saw your works that are shown on your website, etc. After breaking or separating, what started as one single shape is reconstituted as an object that has a different expression. However, through the act of breaking, the relationship and the strength of connection actually stand out. It is very interesting and make us think that viewers can freely imagine and comprehend about things happening at boundaries, such as stories around the work, before and after separation or destruction, and at the point of contact. In your act of creating work, “symmetry”, “contrast” and “destruction” are important keywords. From when have you been working on these themes? Is there any specific reason for that?
If I recall now, I was conscious about them from my childhood and I have been working on these themes since back in the days. There is an underlying question of “what is an act of creating” and the above-mentioned keywords such as “symmetry”, “contract”, and “destruction” could be something like clues to find an answer to such a question. Also, I have thus far created my work with various materials, always thinking from where these materials come and to where they end up going. In any case, picking up something inarticulate and vague that resides deep in myself, I used a method of sculpting to connect to what I would like to express.
To give a concrete example, I remember about the International Sculpture Symposium in Horice, Czech Republic well. At this symposium, I created a work called “make, be made” (Photo 2), making a hole in a gigantic rock that was over two meter long. I entered inside and sculptured a spherical hollow that was over one meter long. Carving from within, of course detritus from sculpting was piling up inside the rock and by continuing the work for many days, gradually I myself was also coated and buried. I was creating a hollow in the rock while making a lot of detritus at the same time. When I realized it, I got confused with what I was creating and got caught up with a strange feeling. Since then, I’ve come to feel that I want to explore more about these themes.
About the exhibition “reflection”
In this distinct time and space, I hope every sensation is reflected within those who view the work.
——From this February, your solo exhibition “reflection” is taking place in Trnava in the Western part of Slovak Republic. We’ve learned that gallery used the venue used to be a synagogue (*2). Please share your thoughts on exhibiting at this place as the first Asian artist.
I have been exhibiting my work in various Eastern European countries such as Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Romania, and Hungary. To talk about art in these countries, their historical background of the communist era becomes important after all. With such a history, Jan Koniarek Gallery (*3)where I have the pleasure to exhibit my work this time, has a strong will to create a new path for modern art as an international cultural city, and I think that was also one of the contributing factors why the exhibition was realized this time. As an Asian who is based in Eastern Europe, I am very happy that I can contribute to such a gallery filled with passion. Moreover, the architectural style and the atmosphere of the synagogue have been maintained from the time it was built in 1897, and I believe it is very rare in the world to be able to exhibit modern art in a space with this sort of spacious and glorious atmosphere. As an artist, while I am extremely pleased to be able to have my solo exhibition at this fantastic place, it also became a big challenge for me.
Synagogue A place of worship or hall for Judaism. While it is a religious place, it also has a role as a community center to support social lives of Jewish people, such as education and marriage. Based on the historical background, there are some synagogues that are designated as cultural preservation area or world heritage site.
Jan Koniarek Gallery
Modern art gallery that was made by renovating a building used as a synagogue. Keeping its historical background and its distinct atmosphere a synagogue has, it mainly holds modern art exhibitions as well as concerts and lectures.
When I thought about what kind of exhibit I could have at this place, I could not ignore the special feature of space a ‘synagogue’ provides. I was inspired by a decorative window in the synagogue shaped as the Star of David, a Jewish symbol and employed it as motif. Using hinges, I connected windows that were made by embedding glass into triangular wooden frames, and created objects by transforming “the Star of David” motif into various geometric patterns, and hung them from the ceiling. You see the synagogue’s decorative window in the shape of the Star of David at the far end, and when you walk around a large space, you can look at the way it changes its form in many ways from various angles. (Photo 3)(Photo 4)
“reflection”, the title of the exhibition as well as the title of my work, has a meaning of repercussion, mirroring, and reverberation, and “reflect” as in a verb form also includes a meaning of recreating. In this distinct time and space whereby a Jewish symbol, the Star of David, is replicated and additionally its transformed objects are lined up in what used to be a synagogue, I hope every sensation is reflected within those who view the work. (Exhibition flyer)
Message to the Assosication
——Although the environment surrounding artists is severe, besides grants from governments and municipal governments, support for art and cultural activities by corporations and organizations is increasing. What kind of support have you received as you work as an artist in Japan and abroad?
Throughout my artist career so far, I have received support from a number of corporations and organizations in Japan and abroad. Such a relationship has further developed that I am now partnered with several companies in the form of sponsorship agreement so that we can help each other grow further as a corporation and an artist respectively. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce these companies.
Kaseyama is work clothes manufacturer specialized in Tobi and Takumi work clothes. From the beginning, I am a fan of Kaseyama’s work clothes that are made out of domestic materials and enjoyed wearing them at work or at parties. In doing so, I formed a partnership with them as a sponsor and they now provide me with their work clothes on a regular basis.
UNIMAGNET is a magnet company in Czech Republic. They have a wide range of magnets and I have been using them for some time for various purposes when creating my work. At present, they provide me with magnets that I need for my work through the sponsoring partnership. To receive this kind of regular and continuous support not only supports my artistic work, but it also provides me with an important opportunity to get connected with society as an artist.
——Besides International Takifuji Art Award, Japan Traffic Culture Association is considering to expand support for art students and young artists. Do you have any comments on support that would be good to have?
After winning the art award, if there is a lasting support that is not scholarship such as having exhibitions, invitation to symposium, and collaboration with Japan Traffic Culture Association, I think it would provide young artists a springboard to become known in the world.
Born in Hachioji, Tokyo. He graduated from Nihon University College of Art in 2004. In the same year, he entered Graduate School, Tokyo University of Arts. In 2005, he received a scholarship from the Czech government and went to Prague to study. He was enrolled to Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (AVU) and Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague (VSUP) for one year respectively. In 2008, he completed a master’s program at Tokyo University of the Arts (TUA).
Based in Tokyo and Czech Republic, he creates sculpture and installation using glass, stone, and wood, and is working internationally with vigor.