06/ You cannot do Anything – To Imagine

Contemporary Art Lectures

In 1986, I could have attended ‘Contemporary Art’ lectures that I have always wanted. Compulsory subjects and teaching subjects were always in the way to prevent me from taking the lectures I really wanted.

Mr. U was in charge. He often comes in his dark-coloured jacket. And he gradually takes a microphone to start speaking. His speech had many different aspects as philosophy, economics, techniques and so on. But most of the time his theme was one same thing from the beginning to the end. To summarise his theme, also comparing with his writings, it is like this.

…first of all, what’s modern is not forever-lasting. It is in fact something temporary and now it is even in a state of decline.

As a result of modern people’s strong self-consciousness to continue to view everything in terms of ideas, the whole world had ended up with being filled with ideas.

Wherever we go into this world, one cannot expect to find new encounters or findings but people’s ideas…

Mr. U often used to raise a question after his speech.

‘Will you ever make a difference?’

After a moment looking at us being totally quiet, he answers by himself as having a sigh.

‘You cannot do anything.’

I liked artists like Michelangelo and Ingres, and for me ‘The Last Judgement’ and ‘La Grande Odalisque’ were what art was.  Turning the pages of their art books used to give me a moment of bliss. Although drawing just like them was not possible, if I could draw something like that would make me happy.

But things were different when I started studying for an art university. I noticed-when I first went into a group of people who were involved in art- that my images of ‘art’ seemed to be old-fashioned. ‘Put new wine into fresh wineskins’…why Michelangelo and Ingres when the historical background and the situation are different…comfort and beauty are now the things of the past. Now there need to be a concrete idea behind the expression. The shape of the times does not float vaguely in the air which is like sloppy liquid. But it needs to be spoken consciously in the bright and dry space.

I looked into contemporary art through illustrations after all. Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Yves Klein… I gradually start to think they are interesting. I thought the lightness and thinness of their works were cool. Ideas that they express and antithesis towards the old point of view were very exciting. It was probably related to my study for the art university. It was not always so easy. It always had its good and bad, and it was hard. After finishing this entrance examination, I was going to enter the refreshing world of contemporary art. I was telling so to myself without realising it.

However, after entering the university, I started to be tormented by the feeling of entrapment eventually. There was ‘nothing to do’. I felt as I had already seen what I was doing… What I was going to do seemed to be already done by someone else. I could not bear to think that someone else had already done it somewhere else.

‘You cannot do anything’

This was terrifying…I was slightly aware of it before he even told us. Mr. U has explained to us about the true character of our feeling of entrapment clearly. I felt as the mist was lifted before my eyes, but at the same time it obviously meant that there is no place for me in the realm of ‘art’ that I loved.

Even then, I still had to do something. It was my nature. During my academic years I was always making something as I was telling myself to do so. But after graduating and holding my solo exhibition, I soon started to lose my motives to create anything, and after a year or so I stopped everything.

I had nothing to do then, except my part time job. Doing nothing was not easy but things went worse. I had not the slightest idea what I could do. That was more errifying.

To Use One’s Mind, to Imagine and to Have them Thrown onto the Screen

The economy seemed to be doing well in society but living on my part-time job was tough. I was working part-time as I wanted to have free time to make things. But I stopped to make them. A man named Y who was in the same classes of Mr. U as I and who used to help him stretch a canvas on a frame in his house actually got a proper job after graduating the university. He was working part-time for some time before that. He told me that

‘Getting a job enabled me to think in a calm way’

After hearing this, I also decided to get a job.

After a while more than a decade, I heard a famous song from the car radio by Yumi Matsutoya on my way to tennis.

The song went ‘…don’t forget the moment, the eyes when we exchanged our words for the first time’

When I heard the first phrase, I felt a shiver running down my spine. And something came to my mind.

What Mr. U is telling by ‘To call to mind’ refers to the German word ‘vorstellen’ (vor=front, stellen=put). This feeling that comes up from inside a person- I am not sure whether it is from head, heart or stomach- should not be explained as ‘vorstellen’. It is more likely to be ‘empfinden’ meaning ‘imagine’. ‘Imagine’ was the right word.

Compare to the fact that the phrase came up from the singer, everything else was not good enough. The car, the CD, the CD player, how the song was arranged and played, and even the special voice of the singer seemed not good enough compare to the imagination that came up from her. In other words, because I was being hostile to the idea of ‘consciousness’ I have neglected what was projected in my inner screen for a long time (If I read Mr. U’s writings now, it is obvious that my interpretation was wrong). It may create misunderstanding but I must say that I came to realise that ‘to imagine’ (not quite ‘to call to mind’) is the beginning of all values.