On 13 June you tuned into our YouTube channel to watch the live performance The Birth of Tragedy by Japanese artist Meiro Koizumi. We share behind the scenes photos and revisit some of your questions asked in our live Q&A
As Meiro Kozumi’s live performance The Birth of Tragedy begins, you’d be forgiven for thinking all is not right. A camera swoops across a dimly lit room with its focus on a figure in black, holding an open book. There’s a quick a glimpse of the set where cables, lights and the backs of screens are on view, but in a moment this all falls away. The figure is plunged into further darkness and now only his face, arms and book are visible. After a minute another hand appears, then another, then another…
Born in 1976 in Gunma, Japan, for this live performance Tokyo-based Koizumi adapted his video It’s a Comedy (2012), which straddles a line between comedy and cruelty. His video works are often based on constructed scenarios where characters are entered in awkward situations to amplify the moment when a situation gets out of control, becomes embarrassing or breaks social rules.
During The Birth of Tragedy we asked you to share your thoughts on the live performance on our YouTube channel, sending your questions directly to Koizumi and our curator Catherine Wood to be answered in post-performance Q&A. Thank you for all your comments and questions as you watched live from 50 countries: from Germany and the Netherlands, to Slovakia and Taiwan.
In case you missed it here’s a video of the performance and just a few of your questions answered during live Q&A. Have a question not answered here? Head to our YouTube channel and put your questions directly to the artist ahead of the next performance by Nicoline van Harskamp on 19 September.
The piece evolved from a video work you made in 2012 called It’s a Comedy – could you say something about more about the piece and how you made it?
First I had to make something about the relationship between Japan and India. I went to India for a week in a commission for the Japan Foundation and that’s where I conceived the idea. Here I have some drawings [motions to drawings on wall], it was like this, when I was in India, I saw all of this chaotic world and that’s where it all started. Indian Gods have lots of hands and lots of heads and that’s supposed to mean that they’re more omnipotent – they can help many people with many hands – but at the same time if you really apply that to the real body it must be so hard to do one thing, to eat breakfast, the three of you together [laughter] – so that’s where I got the idea.
This looks interesting. What’s the book and is it significant?
The book was The Antichrist by Nietzsche – for It’s a Comedy we used another book for the context of Japan and India, and this time I wanted to do this in a more abstract setting…this book has to be used, interpreted and read in many ways, different perspectives in history….a lot of people love Nietzsche so I like that. Now this is a book [holds the Japanese book Nietzche’s Words by Haruhiko Shiratoria] which has had over a million copies sold…somebody took very positive words from Nietzsche’s book and put it in this book, and now Japansese business people love to read this [in a way similar to self-improvement books].
Your work touches on issues which, I believe, are to an extent still regarded as taboo within Japanese society. How have your works been received by audiences in Japan – particularly those that engage with difficult historical memories of war and imperialism?
In Japan, after the war until recently, we didn’t teach much history, so we don’t know what our history is…our parent’s generation, they were born during the war, or right after the war, so people in Japan couldn’t teach them because the history was too traumatic and they lost the war. So, our parent’s generation, who have been building Japan for let’s say the last 30 years, don’t know much about history…we are brought up by them, so we don’t know much about the history. I got the chance to got go to different places and now I’m beginning to learn what really happened. It was all taboo and it wasn’t dealt with properly…but our generation have some distance towards the history…we are the new generation who can deal with this I really believe.
What do you think about comedy in contemporary art and the tendency of an art-viewing public to want art which is very serious and heavy?
For me it’s very difficult to be comical. I’m not trying to be funny, if I was trying to be funny then I don’t think it it would be funny. It’s more absurd comedy maybe…for me to make people laugh is very difficult. When people are confronted by something they don’t understand then people often laugh.
You studied in London - how does the contemporary art scene here compare with what’s happening in Japan? What is it like to be a contemporary artist in Yokohama?
I think good things are happening in Japan now. For me, to be a young artist is always difficult, always hard wherever you are. But for me, for now, Japan is a good place because I can make all these works and have good friends who make really good video works who help me a lot.
You’ve presented this piece as a video before - does it feel very different doing it live?
Yes, quite different. With a video now everything is digital. Last time we did eight hours of performance and so I took as much as possible and in the editing I took all the good bits from eight hours. But this is more like filmmaking - you can just do it once, continuous without cutting…each second is more precious, each moment is more precious so that’s why I think we get more excitement after the performance.