Kevin Ei-Ichi deForest
7 December 2000 - 20 January 2001
Opening Reception 7 December 2000 8pm
Make Me: Work from Japan
Never the Twain Shall Meet
We arrived in Japan (specifically Kyoto) for the long haul…long enough anyway – Kevin for a year and a half, and I for a year.
It was a shock.
What did we expect?
Out of that time and place, objects, texts, positions were produced, by me, the reluctant English teacher, and by Kevin, the enthusiastic hybrid and critical observer, some of which are being exhibited now. All of these structures and presences are inextricably linked back to an engagement with constantly shifting cultural terrain; Japan was oddly and terrifying familiar in the worst ways, and yet reassuringly unlike at closer inspection.
The confusion is rooted in geographical ambiguity.
About six months into our stay (I had been there long enough to have a well-trained suspicious reflex), Trinh T. Minh-ha lectured at a screening of one of her films at Seika University. She spoke of oppositional aesthetics aligned along a global divide to the Japanese undergrads who wore expensive clothes and who clustered at her feet – she spoke of expressive silences (East) instead of effacement and absence (West); of “speaking nearby” instead of the explicit and linear development of the subject; and of unfinished pans instead of the safe and predictable centering of the image. When she was finished, no one, except a disapproving faculty member, asked a question… But where, I wanted to shout, are we now? East or West? Was anyone in that room sure? I saw no recognition from Trinh that what, in fact, she was deconstructing – the seamless packaging of images in order to placate and console an audience – could not have been more Japanese. Was she still in Berkeley? Were we all?
So what was I – what were we – to make of such a place, a place which carefully wrapped itself within layers of cliches easily and willingly digested by foreigners? What were we to make of the soft and brittle recorded babble of women’s voices announcing every bus stop, every subway station, every elevator floor, every train arrival, mechanically offering the same deadening details at each repetition (don’t forget your belongings, be careful of the doors, thank you very much, have a good day)?
What were we to make of the fait accompli of official Japanese culture, the selective histories and the plastic food, seemingly designed to appeal to foreigners’ sense of comfort and desire for reassurance? The most immediately recognizable appropriations of an out-of-time western culture – rockabilly fashions, and the housewives in commercials dressed in pastel dresses, matching pumps and aprons – remained the most absolutely opaque.
And yet, certain disruptions brought me down to earth, broke the loops of hysterical repetition and brought me back to facing something of Japan in its geographical singularity. For instance, we lived out every day of our stay at home with the unequivocal fact of being on a floor, not proper two feet above it on an artificial second level of chairs, tables, desks, and counters. That is, not being grounded, but on a floor which was it own paneled structure and covered with bound rice straw. In our case, our only living space was this floor, a raft in the middle of the ocean from which everything was cleared away, the futons rolled into corners during the days. (Or less ideally, a raft covered with the detritus of living because there is nowhere in these tiny spaces with cardboard walls to clear anything away. It was a relief for me to see the odd photo of a Japanese living in chaos in one of those small apartments. “That’s how it really is!”)
And another moment, something I never got over, never understood – the dissembling appearance of traditional wooden Japanese houses. When I looked, where was I to look? Where was the entrance, where should my eye go next, how could I contain the whole with my gaze? The wealthy build the most lavish houses, and at the same time, the least visible from public view. This fact, finally, pulled away from the known, from a European tradition of architectural visual excess based on symmetry, overabundance, and baroque presence, where the entrance is always clearly marked.
Kevin has twisted his everyday Kyoto world of food, shelter and sex into this body of work. It’s all there, the flooring and the disco, the manga explosions and the croaking of frogs. But unlike me, he is motivated in his processing, I suspect, by a baffling and amorphous need. Because he is in that rice somewhere. We’re both looking for him.
– Bertie Mandelblatt.
Kevin Ei-Ichi deForest was born in Winnipeg in 1962. Studied in Winnipeg (B.F.A. University of Manitoba, 1986), Montreal (M.F.A. Concordia University, 1994) with residencies in Banff (Banff Centre 1986 – 1987), Amsterdam (Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, 1989 – 1991) and Kyoto (Seika Daigaku 1997-1999). He has shown individually in Canada and Holland with group shows also in the United States, Mexico, Germany and Japan. In addition her has received numerous international grants and awards. lives and works in Montreal.