A white space. The morning light has just passed. Atmospheric sounds of Brian Eno’s New Space Music fill the room. The sound of boiling water. Hajime Mizutani, a current Kuenstlerhaus Bethanien resident, welcomes me to his studio and invites me to a Japanese oolong tea. His studio is very clean. There are no brushes, no paint stains or any traces of creative artist chaos. The interior is reduced to a minimum: a desk, a single green plant, two chairs and monumental wall-filling charcoal work on paper. All the energy in the room seems to point to that main wall. The paper is rumpled and formed into something I can’t quite specify. The charcoal marks are random and yet you somehow feel an invisible order. For some, it might resemble a mountainous landscape or a churning sea lost in infinity. For Hajime Mizutani, it is a pure act of expression and his very personal answer to the world around him. Encountering Hajime Mizutani’s work has an impact.
It’s a concrete embodiment of the energies he feels and expresses. When you meet him in person you understand how important this is to him. Contrary to his gentle way of speaking, his monumental paper installations are somehow loud and captivating. They have the modernist notions of the creative self but expand them by adding contemporary urgency. Mizutani wants to illuminate the world overlooked in everyday life through the language of encounter. Suddenly the self and the other, man and nature, dissolve.
Which of these elements – space, air, fire, water, earth – would you choose concerning your practice or yourself, and why?
I think it would be air. Although we can’t see it, it certainly exists. Also, air is constantly moving and is connected to everything in the world. Similarly, my work is the story about visible, invisible and an ever-changing existence.
Your work is about experience and expression. Tell us about the ‘Hajime Mizutani filter’, your way of experiencing the world.
I would like to keep on being an alien wherever I am, whether I am in Japan or in a foreign place for a longer period. I would also like to keep thinking seriously about expression. For me, this is art/life and my work is the manifestation of this attitude. For instance, I have the following perceptions:
Every element that composes the world keeps changing. It never stays in the same state. The scenery we encounter is always one-time-only.
In other words, all sceneries are always miraculous moments.
And I am one of the components that make up the miracle while I keep on changing. I think each act of perceiving, like seeing and listening, is an expression that comes from myself and is directed towards myself. No one looks at the same scenery as mine. According to this assumption, life as an alien in a world different from one’s home country is full of opportunities for thinking about the structure of a lot of expressions we are used to.
There are cases that are a matter of course for me but not a matter of course for a foreign country, and vice versa. I would like to carefully verify each one of these matters.
You have been staying at Künstlerhaus Bethanien since the start of the year. How has Berlin and this surrounding environment influenced your work?
Actually, I don’t know how my surrounding environment has influenced my work yet, but my work should have expressed it through my body. I think we are influenced not only by the factors we can recognize but by so many factors that cannot be recognized. I create my work as a materialization of myself; thus the work keeps changing with such influence.
Daily life in Berlin and at Künstlerhaus Bethanien has been very exciting and busy. One day I saw a performance by Sasha Waltz, a contemporary dance choreographer. I felt as if the performance was a model of the human condition and I was so surprised.
I felt the bodies and movements of the dancers were an emotion of life itself and my associations were with Greek mythology by Apollodoros and Greek sculpture.
I also felt that the venue, the Berliner Staatsoper, was modelled after the Acropolis in Athens.
During the last scene, one of the female dancers danced vigorously and shouted loudly. I was so impressed.
Also, these fulfilling days in Berlin are giving me a fulfilling time for the progress of my artwork. I feel this is a time to focus on feelings. I think about myself. It is a time mixed with several things I am experiencing in Berlin and Bethanien and I feel this connects to a strong belief in my art. My time in Berlin has been full of impressions and ideas, yet it has only been six months so far.
A feeling of wrongness that I feel from climate change, lifestyle habits, a changing political landscape, and the way of thinking about sex is still mostly accumulating.
Your process of working is very repetitive and meditative yet very labour-intensive. Do you consider yourself spiritual and how does this feed into your work?
Though I don’t know if I’m spiritual, I agree that my work is repetitive, meditative and labour-intensive. I think that a repetitive, meditative and labour-intensive state is strongly connected to an experience I had last month when I walked along the Berliner Mauer. I gave myself some rules for this walking. One was, “I must not take a photo”. Another was: “I must not stop except to take a rest “.
I did this because I felt the necessity for a kind of meditative state. Though I wanted to have thinking time about borders and a border as a real wall, the experience was actually repetitive, meditative and labour-intensive. I know repetitive and labour-intensive situations create a meditative state. I wish the beholder could understand my process of working by seeing details of my work and re-experience a similar process through their eyes.
In other words, I expect they experience a meditative state by encountering repetitive and labour-intensive nature.
On the other hand, my process of working needs huge concentration. I probably cannot create my work without a kind of meditative time. This meditative state is necessary for thinking deeply about something but also for perceiving the surroundings and their condition acutely and clearly.
Why did you choose to use charcoal for your large-scale drawings?
Firstly, one of the important elements of these charcoal drawings is that they directly express my movements. Therefore I need a medium that can act as an extension of my hand or body. Also I feel that any colours except black are elements that disturb the expression of an action. In comparison to other drawing and painting tools, charcoal has a great material quality.
It is very physical and isn’t easy to metamorphose into an imaginary space on a picture.
Furthermore, there is the Japanese culture of calligraphy, which is also a form of artistic expression. It expresses movement based on an attitude, thought or the spirituality of the calligrapher. So you could say that my charcoal drawings have an affinity with Japanese calligraphy.
Is there a book or author you are reading or in general that stimulates or inspires you?
I have brought a Japanese version of “Grimms Märchen”, “Das Gefängnis der Freiheit” by Michael Ende, “Propos surle bonheur” by Alain, Marcel Duchamp: “The Afternoon Interviews” and “The Story of Art: Pocket Edition” by E.H. Gombrich and about 20 Japanese books from Japan.
On your website, I found this poetry piece. Did you write it?
Overhead the clouds
Look to me like rippling waves;
Were the fishers here,
‘Which is sea, and which is sky?’
I would ask, and they’d reply.
No, I didn’t. That is the title of my work showed at Setouchi Triennale 2013. I extracted it from The Tosa Diary (Tuttle Classics) by Ki No Tsurayuki, William N. Porter. Ki No Tsurayuki was a poet who lived in the 9th century. He wrote that poem about the feelings he had when he crossed the Seto Inland Sea by boat. My show at the time was at the island in the area of the Seto Inland Sea. I superimposed his poem on the concept of my work.
Please tell us what you are currently working on and what you are looking forward to in terms of exhibitions this year?
A white cube is something that moves the expression present in this white cube to the foreground. Even if there is no artwork in the white cube, space itself is beautiful enough and through spending time there, anybody can probably understand that the white cube is full expression.
And the white cube also moves my existence, which is one of the components making up the scenery, to the foreground.
I live in a white cube at the moment. The wall and ceiling of my studio that is also my living space are painted white. So I and the condition of my life feel like artwork. An artwork is an object of criticism. This situation means that I can clearly see details of my living, my actions, the scenery outside the window and how this all inter-relates. I would like to enjoy this situation.
And my exhibition in October should be a special result of those feelings and expressions.