In October 2020, the installation of the site-specific work "Gallery of Mé" by the artist collective Mé was completed. This piece is one of the permanent collections of the 2019 SUSAS (Shanghai Urban Space Art Season), located in the north side of the south Binjiang section of the Yangpu River, in the "Climbing Gym" inside the former site of the new Shanghai Ministry of Industry and Commerce Electrical Appliances Factory. It is the only permanent public artwork of the 2019 Shanghai Urban Space Art Season installed "underground."
The Gallery of Mé consists of five parts, Acrylic Gas Big and Acrylic Gas Small, circular sculptures made of acrylic glass; Contact, transformed from a distant ocean view; Line, made of fluorescent tubes; and Respective Object made of two identical boulders. All of which are scattered in the cavernous "Climbing Gym," where the artists take advantage of the dynamic momentum of the location to present the pulse of the modern city from a microscopic perspective. Looking into the pit from the ground level, Respective Object stands in the space and seems to be quietly releasing energy from the geological depths while engaging each of us to dig in our memories; the crimson "acrylic gas" and Line are juxtaposed in the space inside the pit. Looking around the pit, old memories twist with the new sight; and when one encounters Contact - a lost landscape approaching the goal triggers our visual experience as if a shock invades like a giant wave.
Here, each work seems to be a fresh breath from the earth layers, from the sea, and their breath and pulse activate an industrial heritage site that embraces its history and texture, allowing the works' energy to inhabit the site.
Mé (Eye) is an artist collective consisting of three young individuals - artist Hakuka Kojin, art director Kenji Minamigawa, and production manager Hirofumi Masui. Mé, meaning eye in Japanese, is a simple and powerful Japanese pronunciation suggesting that their art practice addresses the act of "looking" from their thorough discussions. Their works are intriguing - the appeal does not lay in the visual impact at first sight, but their provocation in the viewer's subtle perception, allowing the viewer to experience the extraordinary in the everyday landscape. Mé was founded in 2012. Gallery of Mé is their debut presentation overseas. An industrial site's inherent ruggedness collides with the delicate and acute sight of Mé, expounding their philosophy of "looking" amid this unique industrial site.
Recently, we caught up with Mé's artistic director Kenji Minamigawa and artist Hakuka Kojin to talk about the concept behind Gallery of Mé and their ongoing work approach. In the interview, Kenji Minamigawa pointed out, "Our work is based on the "perception" between "understood" and "not understanding." We want to urge the viewer standing in a perceptive field and through our work to further the exploration of such perception."Online interview with Mé art collective (from left to right: artist Hakuka Kojin, artistic director Kenji Minamigawa).
About the three-person art collective
Three-person art collectives are very rare. What was the opportunity to form a team? How do you divide each person's role within the group? And could you introduce us to how Mé works?
My name is Minamigawa, and initially, Hirofumi Masui and I are an artist-duo that worked together. After I enrolled in graduate school, I met Kojin. Her artistic talent left a significant impact on me. Although I was also working as an artist, my encounter with Kojin made me reconsider what it means to be an artist. I began to reflect on whether or not I was an artist at all. What are my gifts and talents? Now I work as an art director - and I've found my niche by fully embracing Kojin's practice. The three of us take on different roles. I am the art director, Hirofumi Masui is the installer, and Kojin is the artist. As a team, although everyone has a distinct position, we work well together.
When you met Kojin, why did you think that you were not suitable to be an artist?
Kojin still remembers things at her birth and is gifted in expressions. At first, I thought it must have been a lie, and she probably wanted people to look up to her. But over our conversation, I was gradually convinced of its truthfulness. She is not the type of artist trying to make art on her own after being exposed to it, but rather, the type who has the creative impulse through her confrontation with the world. This aptitude fits perfectly into my imagination of what an artist should be. From then on, I fully recognized her as a true artist.
About the act of "seeing."
The name "Mé" seems to imply a way of looking at the world, and the artworks presented are outcomes from thorough discussions on the act of "looking." They are simple yet impactful. For example, a work in Gallery of Mé looks like a seascape at first glance, but when approached, it is a black entity - an abstract landscape and a figurative landscape are tenable at the same time. Can you share with us Mé's philosophy of looking?
Regarding the act of looking - for example, it's often the case that one does not see something one is supposed to see, or seeing something that one does not intend to see – the object of being looked at actually changes depending on the viewer. What exactly is conscious, and what is not? I want people to try to think about these questions.
Our experience or knowledge would inform us, "This is the sea!" a judgment we make unconsciously. To "see" is to walk the line between what the subconscious mind judges to be the case and what it is not. The so-called eyes are actually two holes on a black box with a skull filled with brain matter. The light that penetrates through the holes constitutes our perception. This is how we make the judgment, "This is the sea, or something else." But first, I would like to try to eliminate this speculative process. When we return to the phase of "light piercing through the holes," what exactly do we see there?
About human perception.
In addition to "seeing," the works of Mé aims to mobilize people's delicate perceptions, for example, the lake that can be walked on in Elemental Detection or the false sense of vision from two identical stones in Repetitive Object. These extraordinary landscapes often intrigue the viewers. How would you consider the relationship between art and physicality, or between art and the subtlety of human perception?
First, there is the world, and then there is the self enwrapped up in it. If we were to roughly divide the "knowledge of the world," there would be an "understood interiority" and an " incomprehensible exteriority". For example, the universe is rather complicated to understand, regardless of your efforts in thinking about it. Our work is based on an in-between field called "perception" of the "understood" and "incomprehensible." We want to place the viewer in the perceptive field through our work and furthers their perceptual exploration.
Elemental Detection (2016), Former Saitama Prefecture Folklore Museum, Saitama Triennale 2016, Photo: Natsumi Kinugasa
On art and the public
While artworks displayed in museums often deter the general public, on the contrary, Mé's works aim at establishing a deeper connection with the public. As artists, how do you create rapport with the art public?
I think the relationship between art and the public is akin to the private and the public. When it comes to art and the public, most people think of them as opposites, but we think of them as equals. For example, doing something meaningful for society also meets our desire to make "societal contributions." Sometimes we do things for ourselves - neither for society nor for others - but in the real sense of the word, we do them for ourselves and execute the plan to the fullest. The result may provide answers for humanity.
On art and the venue
The venue to execute this project at SUSAS 2019 is in a rock-climbing gym. Unlike the white cube art museum setting, the rock-climbing arena has its site history and texture. How does the artwork created for SUSAS2019 respond to the site? Can you tell us about the concept behind this proposal?
While Shanghai exhibits compelling urban pulsation, it also presents microscopic perspectives such as the sudden flock of birds or the industrial pollutions. We wanted to show both of these states simultaneously through our work. The work itself offers dynamic features, but we chose to undertake aspects opposite of such quality. Our reverse thinking attempted to render a museum-style site, a place that can only be examined with a subtle and delicate perspective. The abrupt appearance of such a site would allow us to make these two perspectives possible simultaneously.
We have transformed the site into a place like the art gallery or art museum. Having done that, the eyes would be attracted by the gigantic object, its dynamic movements, and they would equally gaze at the nearby, the minute, the small.
The piece for SUSAS 2019 seems to be Mé's first project in China. What are the differences comparing to executing a project in Japan? Are there any interesting anecdotes you would like to share with us?
This was my first trip to China, so I can only tell you about my experience in Shanghai. The city is always in motion – next to many construction sites, the old streets and communities remain. The construction site and community life are in action at the same time. Being part of this environment, I walked along the streets and contemplated the kind of work I was going to create was an incredible feeling. I didn't feel alone. When I was in Japan, occasionally, when I was working on a project, I thought I was left behind. At times, I felt lonely. There may be a timelapse between "when I realize something has been left behind" and "the process by which the project is reasonably advancing." On the contrary, my experience in China was that even if one suddenly realizes that something has fallen behind, one can quickly move things forward. Everything can happen in the "present" moment. This makes me feel quite fulfilled. That's why I don't feel alone.
What are your impressions of the city of Shanghai?
I saw a lot of laundry hanging out to dry on the side streets of the old neighborhood. People tied ropes to their neighbors' houses on both sides, and many, many loads of laundry were drying along the street, that makes it hard to distinguish one household from another. That's the street scene one would never encounter in Japan. Everyone's clothes were neatly hung out to dry along the road, like a beautiful tent. It was as if the "present" moment had become a landscape.
How do you feel about working with APS?
APS is very meticulous about its work, and the production house we work with was very sincere. This is the first time we have done a remote installation due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We've only seen photos and videos of the work so far, but we are delighted with the result. We are the kind of artists who can't feel at ease unless we do it ourselves, and we were anxious.
What kind of art projects are you planning next, or what kind of challenge are you going to undertake?
Next year we are going to launch the Masayume (まさゆめ) project - it will take real people's faces and float them as giant objects over Tokyo. We are preparing for this project's press conference, and it will be our main event for next year.
A Japanese art group/team consists of three core members: artist Haruka Kojin, art director Kenji Minamigawa, and installer Hirofumi Masui. Mé works on the realization of artworks that manipulate perceptions of the physical world. Their installations provoke awareness of the inherent unreliability and uncertainty in the world around us. In 2013, they presented the work Maze Town-Fantasmagoric Alleys at the Setouchi Triennale; in 2014, they showed Day with a Man's Face Floating in the Sky at the Utsunomiya Museum of Art Outreach Project; and in 2017, they participated in the Northern Alps International Art Festival with The Real House of Shinano Omachi. The group adopts a various approach to create a diverse range of artworks.