Daily life in Japan, bound by order and social norms. Nature in the strangest form departs from the context of daily life to awaken a whole new perception.
Orie Inoue ( Artist) Paris
Orie Inoue's works are made from kindness and a strange sense of softness. Familiar items found in nature speak to our daily lives. There is a "part" within our bodies that remains unused, and when this "part" receives the message projected from Orie's work, it makes us re-evaluate the purpose of our common sense and social norms. Like a free-willed verse, and with the context of a prose, Orie's art lures us to listen carefully to the small voice within.
Take line 8 on the subway, and head to the suburb of Paris, Maisons- Alfort Stade. When exiting the City of Paris, the subway rises to ground level in order to cross the iron bridge over the Marne River. It’s only a matter of minutes, but surprisingly we reach an area filled with greenery and a natural landscape. Our interview today is with Orie Inoue, an artist who bases her work in Paris. In hopes of finding an answer to my question, “why do true artists come to Paris?” I will be covering topics such as the style of her recent activities, and reasons why she chose Paris as the base of her career.
― Why did you choose Paris as the base for your career as an artist?
Inoue: Being chosen for the Paris Prize Competition at my university was one thing that led to my decision, but the main reason is because out of the many foreign places I tried living in, Paris suited me the most (laughs).
― What is your artist career like in Paris and how is it different from that in Japan?
Inoue: What do you think defines a professional artist? What is the distinction between a professional and amateur? I used to think a professional is someone who earns money.
Inoue: I came to think that in spite of the doubts I have towards myself, pursuing my work and continuing to produce here (in Paris) is what makes me professional.
― What about presentation? How do you create opportunities to exhibit your work?
Inoue: In Paris, there are many performers singing on subways, stations and plazas. They are looking for places to sing, and an audience to listen to their performance. It is their lifestyle as artists to be constantly expressing something. Seeing this daily has affected my views (as an artist).
― Location is definitely important for performers. But what about artists like yourself? And what about the business side?
Inoue: There isn’t much of a business side to it (laughs). But I do hope to plan one. This is something I think about a lot. If I work based on orders, I will not always be able to choose when to work. That sort of thing shows up in the art. If the client has a specific request, I might not be in the mood for it (laughs).
― Working based on orders may not be your style. I saw scenes of your exhibition and got the impression that there is a general story, with each piece completing a scene. I can imagine customers purchasing pieces with the total story in mind, as opposed to just clicking and purchasing online.
― Your recent works are the tree roots series and flower series, right?
Inoue: Right. I like to pick up various items to fire my imagination. I think stories are born from small things found within nature.
― I can imagine people having different interpretations of these pieces.
Inoue: My mother thought this was a mushroom or otter. From another angle it may look like an elegant drape, or something coquettish. Or it could be something sexual that has breasts.
― Right. It also looks like a mermaid with that little tail, or a woman in a dress.
Inoue: This is what I enjoy (laughs).
― The concept is pretty complex when put into words (laughs). So basically, it is something small, adorable and difficult to not love.
“Putting a focus on Jakob von Uexküll’s Umwelt theory: that each organism lives with its own sensations and perspective on nature, she reaches out to site-specific art that takes nature found in everyday life and encloses it within an indoor space. She captures deeply the transitions of the natural environment and creativity lurking within it, and with the perspective of the natural world and animals within it, she continues to pursue art which gently interlocks with everyday life.”
Inoue: Yes (laughs) I’m sorry.
―What kind of theory is the Umwelt theory by Jakob von Uexküll?
Inoue: Let’s say there is lighting, a bookshelf, sofa, and a table with a feast on top of it in a single room. A dog sees the feast on the table and sofa, but does not see the bookshelf or lighting. A fly may only see the lighting and feast. The idea is that we each have our own perspectives, and only things that hold meaning to us exist.
“These days, many people are so focused on their phone and computer screens that they lose contact with reality (the environment within it). By creating art pieces (creatures that do not exist in real life), the viewer must observe carefully to distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t. By taking the time to observe, they notice things that they hadn’t before. I hope that I can create opportunities for people to regain contact (perception through the five senses) with reality.”
― How were these tree root and flower series born?
Inoue: There are roughly two factors that I am interested in. One is my interest in natural history. The other is in people’s range of perception: the way people react, in a microscopic level.
― By a microscopic level, do you mean on your side as a creator? Or the audience receiving the art?
Inoue: The receiving side. A long time ago I read a book by Kōbō Abe called “Tanin No Kao (The Face of Another)”,and there is a scene in which a young girl with a disability sees through an elaborately created mask. I remember clearly that her ability to distinguish the mask was described as an “undifferentiated intuition.” I feel that the power of intuition is unlimited.
― You also mentioned natural history, which could mean many things. Do you mean that in an academic way?
Inoue: No (laughs). I just love collecting cool things! More like the intuition of a small child (laughs).
― Did you like collecting things since childhood?
Inoue: Yes! Exactly. I actually don’t remember this, but my parents say I was the type of kid to bring home whatever I found, like sow bugs, nails, nuts and bolts (laughs). I must have treasured these things. I think children are especially sensitive to nature. Even when surrounded by artificial things, they tend to place a focus on nature. My desire to collect is especially similar to a boy’s interest in collecting.
― So the treasures in your pocket eventually sublimated into art. Here is another question about perception. Would you say focusing on these small items lead to a larger realization? Meaning, when you look, hear, touch things, does it open up a whole different sensation?
Inoue: When I was in college, I used to make installation pieces which stimulate the sense of smell and sound. When a person approaches it, it would stimulate the senses. For example it could create an illusion that you are outdoors, or that there is a living creature within it. So in general, it’s related to nature.
Inspired by the thoughts of French philosopher Merleau-Ponty and German philosopher Heidegger, she explores installation which resonates with the sense of smell and sound.
Although it can differ slightly depending on the person, the general range that can be perceived by a person is limited. Adjusting the theme to a subliminal perception, she experiments with installations that resonate with sound and smell, instead of visual.
Within these works is an interactive piece which uses grass. What the viewer senses first is the smell of grass which fills the atmosphere. Once the viewer approaches the piece, he/she begin to hear the sound of a person breathing.
The audience listens carefully to this sound, and tries to approach the piece. The piece begins to feel like a single creature, or the home of a creature, and the whole experience begins to feel like the very first dialogue between people and organisms.
Looking closely, listening carefully and the action of approaching another could be the first steps to an understanding between the self and others. By crossing our boundaries, we may be able to widen the range of sensations which have been forgotten in modern society.
** Maurice Merleau-Ponty 1908 – 1961
His philosophies are called “philosophy of ambiguity (Ambiguïté),” “philosophy of the body”, and “philosophy of the superiority of perception”. He takes the <concept of the self> and <concept of the subject>, which originally conflict, and breaks them down to recognition through perception. For example, someone who has never seen a dead tree can only perceive the unnamed dead tree as a “phenomenon”. To be able to recognize the “dead tree”, it is necessary to acknowledge the word (symbol) “dead tree”.
Martin Heidegger 1889 – 1976
Heidegger studied Catholic theology, and was strongly influenced by Franz Brentano, Husserl’s phenomenology, German idealism by Leibniz, Kant and Hegel, and existentialism of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Heidegger developed his own ontological philosophy through interpretations of ancient Greek philosophy, such as Aristotle and Heraclitus.
―Very philosophical (laughs).
Inoue: I have a passion for things that are alive, natural, and breathing. Something that is man-made, yet still has nature left in it. I try to “turn off my ego”, and instead of presenting it as a piece of art, I gradually make additions to it while respecting its nature.
―Do you think your upbringing has affected your style?
Inoue: I was born in Saitama in a place surrounded by rice fields.
―Do you think Paris has had an impact on you?
Inoue: I feel that there is more nature here. Before living here (Maisons-Alfort), I lived in Marais. The flowers and trees were only in the restricted areas of the park, just like Tokyo, so I couldn’t collect nature freely.
―Still, you feel nature in Paris. Although it is off limits physically, it doesn’t feel that way emotionally. What kind of psychological state makes you feel so?
Inoue: It’s just very comfortable. You’d think that people would treat me as a “foreigner”, but they actually don’t view me as one. Maybe it’s because there are so many foreigners and no one really notices anymore (laughs). So it’s pretty carefree. I feel that the climate and food also suit me. After coming here I realized that for the first time, my lifestyle feels right (laughs).
―Meaning it didn’t feel right when you were in Tokyo?
Inoue: That’s right (laughs). I think that there are many invisible rules in Japan. For example, we avoid eating and drinking in the train. There are so many of these hidden rules that are considered common sense, and if you step even a tiny bit out of this line, people give you a strange look (laughs). A look that says “what on earth are you doing”. That is scary to me.
―Did you step out of this line often as a child?
Inoue: Yes (laughs).
―So it’s a good thing that you moved. As you mentioned, many things are considered common sense in Japan.
Inoue: Here, no one says anything to me when they see me picking up seeds or leaves. They might think I’m a weirdo…which I am (laughs).
―Yes, maybe (laughs).
Inoue: I started to think that pursuing art, or being an artist is a lifestyle.
―That answers my first question.
Inoue: When I say I am an artist, people in Japan ask whether I am able to make a living from it. In Paris, people ask me about my work. They ask me what kind of art make. That is a huge difference.
Inoue: I don’t feel comfortable in Japan. 90% of my friends who made art in college are no longer doing it. Many have shifted to things that are easier to sell.
Inoue: It’s easy to maintain a relaxed state in Paris. I don’t have to worry about others like when i am in Japan, and I can be myself and keep my head clear. I think that is why I am in Paris, and why I plan to continue working here in Paris.
Orie’s atelier is located in an apartment overlooking the Marne River, about 10 minutes by car from the station of Maisons-Alfort Stade. The building was built on a site where the castle of Château Gaillard once was, and it is an environment filled with greenery. From the window is a view of a beautiful forest in the Saint-Maurice area, and a forest which surrounds the Vincennes racecourse. Time seems to flow slowly here, I thought, as I watched Orie reply to my anxious questions in a gentle and patient manner.
Text: Koichiro Sato
Picture: Koichiro Sato
Translation: Yukie Haneda