Absent City: The occupied and the occupant

Absent City
Gallery within assistant, Tokyo & Alternative Space LOOP, Seoul
June 6–June 12, 2008 (Tokyo), August 29–September 24 (Seoul)


“We need to project ourselves into the things around us. Myself is not confined to my body. It extends into all the things I have made and all the things around me. Without these things, I would not be myself; I would not be a human being. Everything surrounding me is part of me.”
C.G. Jung, Man and His Environment, 1950.

When Tokyo speaks who understands what she says? Maybe we only hear what we want to hear, or perhaps we are only listening, failing to see her gestures. In reality though who can listen to what any contemporary and complex city is saying? Who can truly decipher its physical and psychical landscape and its endless projections of selves.

Stemming from a desire to understand the languages of Tokyo, Megumi Matsubara has attempted to shed preconceptions and explore a newer and richer language of the city space. Matsubara says she is “talking about the city, through myself and through my links with the city”. What Absent City has now grown into is an exploration of contemporary complexity and the self. Part narrative, part installation and acknowledging its position as part of something much larger, Absent City is the physical expression of this exploration.

The exhibition space itself mimics a living room. Inside are walls, objects, household ephemera and portraits. Noise and sound fills the space and conversations waft in and out like undefinable smells. Works were produced with assistant(realisation), Sebastian Mayer(photography), and ILPO(music). These works acknowledge a complexity and connectedness in their process and creation. Matsubara says:

“In the modern age everything is connected, I have a belief that everything is layered like a Matroushka doll. Everything is inside you even though you are inside everything.”

The Matroushka doll is one way of imaging this complexity, another metaphor is the onion. The Norweigan playwright Henrik Ibsen wrote about the layered quality of the onion in ‘Peer Gynt’ in 1867. Ibsen writes, “taking an onion, he strips it skin by skin” as ‘Peer’ describes the removal of layers of self.

Lets extend the traditional onion metaphor and imagine an enormous onion composed entirely of paper. Picture this enormous paper onion in the context of Absent City. Imagine you are inside it, a layer yourself, made from thin translucent paper with smaller layers inside you. Picture the layers as discrete and separate from one another. Sometimes the papers are all completely separate and all we can see from inside is the world as a softly lit blur, however other times the papers attract and bind to each other as though they are charged with static electricity. At these times light can permeate the layers with ease. These are the moments of clarity, when we can see how things are connected and also see our place within those connections. Matsubara says:

“What inspired me was when things match up, or align, and you have a kind of clarity, or see a sense of order or a pattern in things.”

The works in this exhibition mimic and embrace this embedded complexity. Conversations are had, replayed, reheard, and remade as objects. Phenomenon are experienced, stored in memory, retrieved, re-remember and re-enacted as an image, sound or model.

In terms of the function Absent City performs, there is a completeness that comes from reading the exhibition as a kind of praxis: an arena where theory is put into practice, physically realised as new objects, images and sounds. The Absent City space and idea, allows theories to be brought into a new type of practical realisation through the Absent City process. These may be theories on identity, perception, time, the environment, collective memory or personal hypotheses. In addition to this there is a scientific aspect to the work. Most of the pieces in Absent City are informed by seven everyday, possibly even banal, conversations Matsubara held with friends. This creates a sense that Absent City is about gathering and interpreting data as a psychologist might do:

“Their task the job of taking the immediate sense-data available to them and constructing their theory directly from these, always letting the data dictate the nature of the theory.”
Anderson and Bower, 1980.

But the exhibition is not so informed by a one way data conduit. Matsubara draws no borders between theory and data, and is not so much concerned with data driven insights into memory and perception. Absent City is about approaching something larger and more abstract. It may be more accurate to describe Absent City as prophetic praxis: A space where revelations, vision and virtuality are made physical and can be reexperienced.

This leads to the view of Absent City as a palimpsest: an object which can be repeatedly written upon, made blank, and rewritten upon once again, as ideas are refined. In this way dreams, visions, theories, objects, models, conversations and images can be made, undone and remade to get something closer to the truth, and achieve a kind of clarity.

The phenomena that are written on this symbolic palimpsest extend far beyond the scope of a physical exhibition with a fixed location. Absent City sits like a blurry cloud over Tokyo, its translucent rim extending far beyond the opening of gallery spaces and extending further into the future than we can see, attempting to engage with the city.

When Matsubara explains modern complexities she envisages a Matroushka styled infinite regress. For Matsubara this complexity is a lived reality in Tokyo. It can almost be seen as an acceptance of the City as it is, a complex ecology to be lived in but also as a complex psychic space occupying the thoughts of people living in it. Absent City presents Tokyo as both the occupied and the occupant. When coupled with Jung’s vision of the landscape as a space for us to project our self onto, an image of a city self emerges: a self simultaneously projecting and being projected upon.

•“Man and His Environment” from C. G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters
By William McGuire, Richard Francis Carrington Hull, Translated by Richard Francis Carrington Hull, Contributor William McGuire, Richard Francis Carrington Hull, Published by Princeton University Press, 1977.
•Peer Gynt
By Henrik Ibsen, Published by Courier Dover Publications, 2003, p. 116.
•Human Associative Memory: A Brief Edition
By John Robert Anderson, Gordon H. Bower, Contributor Gordon H. Bower, Published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1980.

Appearance: ABSENT DOCUMENT (Exhibition Catalogue), August 2008


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