KAB Dialogue


November 3, 2013 UP

Let’s walk together with time and the world and increase our companions along this journey.

Noboru Tsubaki(artist)

  • interviewer:Fumika Shimono
  • Photo:Yuma Kawasaki

Prof. Noboru TSUBAKI serves as a director of “Shodo-shima Hishio-no-sato Sakate-ko Project” (Shodo Island, a Town of Soy-sauce Industry, Sakate Port Project) This is an outstanding project of “Setouchi International Art Festival 2013” which is going on since this Spring. He is also the dean of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts of Kyoto University of Art and Design.

Today, I would like to ask you how you got involved in art. When did you find out that you were the artist?

It was from the earliest days of my recollection. This is how a genius is like (laugh).
As a child, I didn’t listen to others. I was cynical and never believed what adults said. My parents used to say that they picked me up under a bridge, and don’t belong to their family. I believed it. From early age, I was defiant. I always wanted to be an outsider and never tried to behave as a normal person. I have studied various subjects such as astronomy and politics. When I was at the first grade of high school, I was trapped by art. Although, I chose it by elimination method, now I love it. I decided to enter the Kyoto City University of Arts because the English mark needed for passing the entrance examination was low. Everyone who graduates from an art university cannot always become an artist. I didn’t care about becoming an artist. Because of many random chances I got up to this point.

A soy sauce storage house in Shodo Island
On the occasion of “Setouchi Art Festival 2013”, this facility began to open to the public. The organizer asked the soy sauce company to open their facility so that the local food culture is appreciated together with the art.

You create art works, and you teach young people at the same time. What, do you think, is most important in teaching students?

First of all, we, the teachers must find those students who just copy the styles of others, and teach them practically what is wrong with them. They must not be content by mimicking others like Tillmans who used to paste many photos together. They should work diligently in a white cube. If they do so, people may expect oriental aspect in their works. This obstacle can be overcome by the ability of teachers.
Secondly, the students must acquire the ability to face the society, not only themselves. Most students are self-centered, only focusing on their own world. From now on, they must think “us” and not think “me”. Gauguin used to say “Who are we, and where are we from? and not “Who am I”. So I ask my students to use “us” when they think. This is the way to think of civilization. I wish that my students will be creative even if their works fail to be an art. Everything is connected to the concepts of civilization and history. These concepts are continuously changed by the world and time. I want my students to keep pace with the world and time and increase their companions.One should be in to something, for example, coffee beans. This quality could be the charm point of teachers. I am always angry about those who don’t stick to something. I will attack those students who never think earnestly. Earnestness is cool. I believe in this. I can find the laziness in those who are not cool.

At present, you are the dean of Kyoto University of Art and Design. Is it possible to convert a simply art loving student into an artist who can think of larger world, after four years of study here?

I cannot guarantee turning all the students into artists. However, I can change their attitude and mind in a way to face challenges. I am fully confident and have no doubt in teaching. I don’t think it is needed to change teaching method according to each student. I believe this attitude is my duty. I just teach what I believe is ideal. It is up to the students how they interpret it. This doesn’t mean that they can do anything they want. I am stricter than I look.
Many students worry about how to get a job. If a student is creative enough, he/she can ignore such a thing and create his/her own job. If someone pays money for what you do, it will become your job. There are many such possibilities and it is up to you. You must become a person wanted by the society. It is best to have self-confidence with no ground (laugh). The worst thing is that when you become a junior, you wear a dark suit and start visiting different firms for a job interview. They are the victims of job seeking scheme by the Recruit Agents. This is propaganda war. If you are attractive enough, everyone wants you. So you should think that “I am brilliant, every firm wants to hire me”. If you find a firm where you want to work, why don’t you visit it and say that you want to work here. This is how you should find a job in the world of arts. There are many such successful examples in the past. Don’t be a small person by worrying about getting a job. Today’s Japanese society needs to raise creative people. I think that will bring a positive change in the society.

Prof. Tsubaki, you have been teaching for more than 35 years, yet you look the world from the viewpoint of a child. In the past interviews, you have talked about the importance of mischievousness. Do you have some mischievous act in mind right now?

It is difficult to answer this question right now. Fundamentally, I use mischievous approaches in creating artworks and in teaching at school. However, I emphasize more on experimenting new methods related to the society and social system. Recently simple mischief would not work. Some external factors affect me which makes my work more complicated than before. It is the happiest situation for me to display my works in a museum which protects my visions and concepts. It is very easy to accurately express my idea and vision there. Outside the museum, countless noises mix with my works and make it difficult to maintain their quality. However, both cases are very important for me. I try to create an essence of art in a museum and experiment it in the outside world. It must be cool if one can change a political system by mischief. When I think of art, I assume that it must be the clean blood circulation and warm hands. In order to make blood circulation function well, you must take a good care of it. If you fail to do so, beauty will disappear. Therefore, I hope that our living space, political system and all other aspects would be regarded as art. Eventually, when we reach a level where the existence of those entities are no more felt like air and water, that could be called art.

A display at the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (2004-2009: GOLD/WHITE/BLACK [mushroom])
From 2004 to 2009, he traveled to Palestine, Bangladesh, Rokkasho Village and an open-cut mining site in the U.S.A. to create artworks which display human desire. In this exhibition, he also expressed his concern about the future crisis of Japan by exhibiting a 30 m long nuclear missile made of vinyl at the entrance of the museum.

In a museum you express your own idea and concept freely in your work which has mysterious power. How does this work change when it is placed outside the museum? For instance, how do you think about Setouchi International Art Festival

It is wonderful that this art festival is located in the beautiful natural scenery. In the old days, Japanese would visit Ise Shrine and other places. Nowadays, only the aged people would go there. Therefore, we think we need to create such opportunities. This event was successful because it was made for a new pilgrimage spot. For instance, when visitors from metropolitan areas climb a hill while sweating and find a simple stone there, and someone says that this stone is a piece of art created by a certain artist, normally they would get angry. However, they were not angry because of the beautiful natural scenery in Setouchi area. Therefore the visitors of Setouchi festival would vaguely realize that there is a contradiction in the definition of art. New type of art is neither found in a museum nor in a park, but is floating somewhere else. If a special spot that embraces everything from experiences, actions, to Mother Nature and visitors, can leave deeper impression on a person. That can be more valuable than the works people are forced to see in a white cube. The time for making a paper tiger and exhibiting it is over. The type of art that integrates many elements including local characteristics is required. Thus, the artists need to have the ability to interact with their surroundings like a wandering mendicant.

Does it mean to include not only nature but also communities?

Everything. Therefore the artists are similar to mendicants. The artists must go out in the world like a wandering mendicant. What is interesting is the fact that when Christianity began to collapse, the society was transformed to a system similar to Capitalism. Then many fundamentalists like Francesco of Assisi appeared who led a group of mendicants. They wore shabby clothes and struggled to live. However, strange enough, they financially survived, because people would donate money to the poor. I don’t think it a very good idea, but they could earn a big fortune as a result of this method. A different system was born which is the thorny relation between the countryside and the city. It seemed like money would flow into the city and circulate there. However, somewhere in our civilization, faith in religion collapsed and many people departed from it. Then the whole system was renewed both from inside and outside. At this point, a new possibility would arise. Although all artists are not aware of this phenomenon, there are many who know it and consider it in their works. Some young artists are thinking seriously about this.

What is art and who is an artist in your opinion?

At present, the capitalistic art (art for making money) is a stock with least risks. Our custom after the agricultural age is to protect the rights of the world centers. As Takashi Murakami says, it is an accepted assumption that not the artworks stored in museums but the works bought at the art market will survive in the history. However, when the latter market gets saturated, an opposite trend will arise, just like the transformation from the religious way to a non- religious system. History always repeats itself. Today, the capitalistic art and a new type of art co-exist while confronting each other. The money we receive through our socialistic art is nothing compared to the value measured by the financial engineering method of the capitalistic world standard. However, if the value of our emotion and current trend is added to it, the total value would not be small. This is just like an economy of donation. Capitalist economy is not the only kind of economy of humanity. I think the donation economy will be expanded in the future. There is also a possibility that artists and creators will be strongly involved in this system. Therefore, there is no single style that one has to stick to. Many students feel uneasy about not having their own style. There is no fixed style in the future. Therefore, those who belong to the next generation must acquire various ideas and tools to cope with any style. The strongest weapon for the future is to be creative. You must be utterly flexible and resilient. I believe that acquiring the artistic way of thinking and attitude is very useful in creating artworks.

Roppongi Art Night 2010 “Mother Night”
This exhibition attracted 700,000 people in one night. This is a monster measured 14 m located in the arena, the main venue. This artwork incorporates the images that will change according to the density of CO2 which is regarded as a source of global warming. This piece of art warns those who blame CO2 through their short-sighted views.

■date:16th February, 2013. at Kyoto University of Arts and design

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