Hyslom Art Centre
Higashi-Minamisannocho, Kyoto. April 3, 2016
Kyoto is everything you would expect it to be—idyllic, idealised, a picture postcard even, of something pocket-sized and weirdly perfect. But that’s the perspective of someone passing through. Its history is a little more complicated and not fully appreciated. Since the Second world war up until very recently it was home to a community of Korean immigrants who founded their own makeshift Korean Town as they become increasingly shunned, largely ignored, and almost largely forgotten. Just south of the station, is an area once home to these ‘buraku-min’, an area that avoids the horde of tourists, the downtown Machi-ya, and infinite array of ‘authentic’ guesthouses. It is Sunday after all.
I’m joining an event that revolves around Tokyo artist Reiji Saito, the collective Hyslom formed in 2009, and painter Masaya Chiba. Hyslom met Reiji in Tokyo and invited him to their newly created Art Centre (芸術センター) in Higashi-Minamisannocho, and the polar opposite of the historical Art Center in downtown Kyoto. Hyslom’s Art Centre is fashioned from three house knocked through to form one. Loose tatami covers a floor still under construction. The ceiling is exposed, beams are painted white, and a freshly excavated hole sits to one side with a mound of excavated earth nearby. As you enter, a raised floor sits in the middle, an island kitchen stripped bare next to it, and a projector is hung from rafters filling the linen screen hung at far other end. A toilet is tucked away in one corner with ‘other things’ promised soon. The excavated hole at the back would, as it happens, become clear as the evening rolled on.
(Note, the miniature maquette of Hyslom’s Art Centre at 04:43, and spot the racing pigeon!)
I turned up earlier that day with the hope of seeing his film work uninterrupted. Screenings are part-film, part-image carousel, and denote a continued body of work that so far numbers 19. Fragments of subtly suggested politics don’t overbear but teeter on the edge of ‘being’, sometimes in focus and then sometimes not. For instance Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears all but briefly, filmed from a television screen. Colour and tone, the faint outline of an eyelid, a used drinking straw, a female body, and a voice of concern in the middle of the night (「どうしたの？」) appear and reappear throughtout each film shown—#19, #13, #16-2, and #17—as well as #18 shown earlier in the day. If ‘fringe culture’ is an unspoken theme here, then Reiji’s films stand between being moving image ‘journals’ and abstract studies. They’re difficult to watch, at sometimes uncomfortable, but really captivating. Nothing lingers. The camera always fidgets. It focuses on tiny detail, with ambient sound placing isolated images in a much wider-world, beyond the frame of on the wall, filling the eyes and ears of everyone watching. They’re moments that feel inclusive and would seem self-indulgent in the hands of anyone else. The fabricated setting of the art center serves as much a backdrop for what’s projected, as it does a place for general play and curiosity. I hope I have the opportunity to expand on these things at a later date, but for now find solace in the indexing and vague cataloguing Reiji gives each of his works. I hope his approach continues. Incidentally, I met Reiji at a workshop run by Hitoshi Toyoda, a photographer who also specialises in projected images, suggesting more with slides that any printed image. If you think making film is difficult (and it is, believe me) and are curious how this photographer works without a gallery to represent him, be sure to keep his work in mind … and in eye.
Hyslom are lovely, assembled around the three core members Itaru Kato, Fuminori Hoshino and Yuu Yoshida. They stumble their words and talk confidently even passionately, as if amongst friends. Probably because they are, though you get the impression they’re this confident with everyone they meet. A confidence drawn from each other. From friends. I’ve never met them and yet feel like no stranger. Welcomed, joining-in. Joining something, though I’m not sure what. The event perhaps … Tonight along with this newly formed venue proves to be them broadcasting their recent activities. A living breathing newsletter, with fragments of things collected as artefacts for gentle but forthright conversation.
Revolving around a series of works they describe as “field play”, Documentation of Hysteresis is, like Reiji’s works, an ongoing project. It relates to a tract of land they actively revisit, land slowly prepared for development. Part anthropological study and part field research, their efforts are as varied as their own backgrounds—photography, film, creative writing, note-taking, performance, all searching for a language in amongst the earth and rubble and civil engineering. As much as they aim to make each ‘site visit’ a way of forming their own oral history, they return the site to the way they found it. There’s no attempt to impinge or activate something not there. They are not activists, more ‘conversationalists’ than ‘conservationists’.
The terms used to underline all of this is “Hysteresis”. A physics term, it describes the phenomenon of change in any given system where past and present forces affect its current state. Even if nothing changes, the path thus far will ultimately determine the final form. Their intervention in the system and landscape is social. They encourage others to go with them and listen to the sound of water, swim through u-shaped water traps and wells, throw stones into freshly laid irrigation, briefly occupy storm drains, entangle plastic pipes, detangle railings bent out of shape, and dig holes in the footprint of an old building such as this. Each time they lead a willing group to understand rather than affect the landscape as it changes, expands and evolves—open land slowly replaced by something that once complete, will remain hidden and out of reach for ever.
I had to run for the last train back to Tokyo by the time Masaya Chiba spoke. Incidentally, I’d sat next beside him for most of Hyslom’s presentation, though didn’t know then. He even appeared in one of their recent Documentations. Along with Yosuke Bandai. Yuki Kimura was present in the audience as well. They all knew each other. A community of like-minds. Masaya’s recent solo show at XYZ Collective in Tokyo screened one of his films. His paintings as well as films rely on a constantly changing set of climates. Masaya is a figurative painter but he mixes in his own mythologies—invented, found and abused, comical, tragic, suggestive and again perforative. The film above gives a good sense of how these interests never remain two-dimensional for too-long.
Kyoto is in a difficult position. This growing community is large but the network of institutions and galleries doesn’t appear to be that supportive. Yet appearances are deceptive. At the time of writing, KaiKai Kiki have just opened a new project space/office in Kyoto, just as other galleries close-up and move to Tokyo. With the pull of Tokyo as great as it is, everyone here shows willingness to entertain the fringe of their own workplace along with the work itself to point at something more vital, regardless of whether they are part of a gallery system or not.
The fact that they’re ‘politicised’ not ‘political’ also makes them even more interesting. They don’t openly aspire to affect change but ultimately that is what is happening. It was clear from being there that evening. Moving and changing with the world around them is probably more important to each artist anyway. These three houses knocked together forming one art center is evidence of this too. An area in Kyoto that at one point was shunned and labelled undesireable is now feted as culturally significant and gives pro-active groups like Hyslom the chance to exist beyond their own apartments and hopefully inspire others along the way. Another shared project space is nearby, and commercial enterprises are also taking notice, though hopefully not at the expense of everyone here tonight. I look forward to seeing what happens, from here on in. Joining in along the way.
NB: Big thanks to Yoshiyuki Uchibori for the kind use his photographs.