Otak Jepun - In Between

28th, July 2016

Yutaka chuckled as we ran through his processed images in Shooshie’s room, as he selects a few from amongst hundreds of his personal collections for his site-specific installation within the hall at Lorong Kekabu space. It was during this moment I realized that Yutaka has touched every single piece of his digital montage with such detail and care, that he can make out the details of them even in their small thumbnail size. I could count on it as a form of an obsession, and to my surprise, the images weren’t even his usual final piece of artwork.

     Through the exhibition and the workshop, we observed how Yutaka responds to his own social interactions, everyday objects he sees and his immediate surroundings. He is indefinitely part of the Japanese contemporary lives, living in the current era as any other citizen of Japan. It is part of his art-making process for him to take photos, photographing just about what he sees at a given moment, capturing them stark in their element; almost candid, straightforward in essence. One can feel the intimacy of the images he took, and to him a form of mirage mirrorring his everyday environment. Then we were presented with digital montage he made from these photos, in which he juxtaposed them together digitally. He is treading a thin dividing thread in between his conceptual idea at the same time resulting to his own amusement, humouring himself with the unrelated subjects in his photos that he puts together. Borderline it maybe, but strictly balanced in his reflections. It is evident that the output intrigues him, and to us observers. Nonetheless, this was easily highlighted elsewhere in a form of exhibition. 

     It was the process he went through in his path of producing his work of art that was given attention to.

     During the workshop, Yutaka shared his fascination and his internal dilemma on Japanese contemporary culture. Western cultures seem prominent and seemingly replacing Japanese very own culture in their daily lives as Yutaka puts it, they do not carry the strong Japanese image from the past anymore. They do not wear kimonos and yukata everyday, don traditional Japanese hairstyles to work, they do eat sushi and sashimi but not as a staple dish as I have imagined. But the nuances of their roots nevertheless could be felt, in the world assimilated by the western culture. These were evident in his photography subjects. The fusion of external culture and root identity were translated into the montages made by Yutaka. He shared the print-outs of these montages with the workshop participants and asked us to make our own interpretations of the montages by cutting them and collaging them on the walls within the halls and compounds of Lorong Kekabu. There was a certain ritualistic value around this activity, as if it was up to us on how we would merge these subjects, representing the subjects contemporary cultural roots. It is this plethora of cultural fusion that makes him feel adrift, lost in between the colliding of two worlds. Somehow, his roots and Japanese identity calls upon him from deep within. As one of the Malaysian participants, I could relate to these conditions. Living in a multicultural nation means that we are constantly being exposed to so many cultures, even if it is just coming from the major ethnicities within our Malaysian roots, the melting pot of colourful cultures.

Otak Jepun Yutaka Inagawa

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Otak Jepun Yutaka Inagawa - Installation View

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     In these digital montages Yutaka made, we could see the utmost care and attention to detail he had put into them. There was one montage in particular of a goldfish stacked together on itself, and from the image of the very goldfish, it is evident that Yutaka had isolated it down to the very detail. Every creaks on its tail and bumps on its body were cropped sharp and clean. This is the process he went through with all of his images. I pictured him sitting, basking in the light of his computer screen processing all of his photos for many hours, in a small room, junk food on the table and a sleeping mattress underneath it. I imagine the image of an Otaku, equivalent to a ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’ in the western world. 

     When we speak of the Otaku culture, Akihabara street would come to my mind. Obsession towards anime, manga, AV girls and pop idols are imminent. To Otakus, their world were built around these fascinations and nothing else matters. From my observation however, what Yutaka did in his art making process and his approach may seem to belong in Otaku culture but at the core of his practice, he is not. 

Otak Jepun Yutaka Inagawa - Workshop

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     He as an artist and his meta-observation towards himself doesn’t allow him to have blind obsession, either internal or external. Perhaps the understanding of the Otaku culture was generalised by my own self-imposed ideas of it, subjugated in a restricted view of a much larger, bigger picture.

     Part of me was trying to understand what is inside Yutaka’s head as he produces his art the way he does. He sees this images inside his computer as a form of digital data bits, as he prints them out, he calls these printed montages a material of itself. Most would simply calls it digital prints. Digital, as I understand it from him, exist in a different plane than our reality. Even though the images were from our surroundings, when it becomes something that are represented by digital data, it becomes some sort of parallel, a mirage of our world. It seems real, but not quite so. When the images are intertwined, twisted and processed in different layers of digital data, it becomes a rather extreme manipulation of our mirage world, multiple planes of mirage within the digital planes. The details of his montage sometimes were replaced by equivalent technological counterparts, cctv as eyes, binoculars on top of human heads, and limbs with utensils attached. They speak of the imminent extension of our human body and our own capacities. As this condition extends to the Japanese culture, it mutates the culture into an entity out of a collision, with debris and bits of other external influences as parts of it. This humours him of course, but he is also disturbed because this is a dystopian now that becomes his norm and our reality. I did say I was trying to understand his mind, and now it becomes clear to me that he has accepted the truth to his material in use, and might be the cause of the chain reaction he talked about, with profound end points that speak of the truth on our reality plane.

he took great care in his productions, reminiscent of how a Japanese would treats zen gardens, tea ceremonies, origata and origamis.
Otak Jepun Yutaka Inagawa - Workshop 2

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Otak Jepun Yutaka Inagawa - Catalogue

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     Malaysia has and will always be indebted to Japan as she is a role model, an exemplary in nation-building and her indirect contributions to Malaysia. We have always looked up to Japan in many ways; her technological prowess, her determination, and her citizens’ discipline. But all these remain as a conceptual idea in the minds of Malaysian people. The picture we painted of Japan is far from reality. Our top brass brought in this amazing perspective, unfortunately just as a vessel as we pour in our own ideas of what makes a Japanese, Japanese. Sadly, we are clouded by these ideas we brought upon ourselves and lest fail to understand why a Japanese do things the way a Japanese does. Our leaders may understand why things came to be, but we are lost underneath the big ideas of it. We do not understand the workings of a Japanese mind and the way forward is to learn, for us to understand better, and to be educated by the lesson learned. In this program, it has shown to us once again that Japan has always supported human development and cultural exchange, being the big entity that ushers developing nations under its wings towards civilisations.

     Through Otak Jepun exhibition and workshop, young Malaysian artists have been given a new perspective on Japanese culture and its mind pattern. In Yutaka’s art making process, he took great care in his productions, reminiscent of how a Japanese would treats zen gardens, tea ceremonies, origata and origamis. The subject may be of pop-culture but the patterns remain the same. It was all about the great care for the process, and that was just it. Nothing more and nothing less. With this, it is generous of Onomichi City University to be supporting this publication, exhibition and workshop. It helped to wash away the generalisation of Japanese culture by educating young Malaysian artists, through facts and experiential learning. Japan, being a muse to us, has never really had a chance to represent themselves on this level because we have always got the paintbrush to ourselves, and we even painted their images in broad picture, never down into the details. It is only sensible for us to return the paintbrush over to their own rightful hands, so they could paint an accurate, much better picture of themselves.