agnès b. Librairie Galerie at K11 Art Mall is currently hosting a solo exhibition of the Japanese artist Mayumi Watanabe titled Send in the Clowns. The exhibition was curated by a well-known figure in Hong Kong — the actress Karena Lam.
Two years ago in August 2016, at the very same venue, Karena curated an exhibition for the Japanese calligraphy master Inoue Yuichi. Collaborating with the venue for the second time, Karena is no longer content with simply curating, she also helped with decorating the venue, sourcing material, as well as using her own connection to invite talented artists to participate in the project, including the dancer Abby Chan and TVC director Maisy Choi. The artists interact with Watanabe’s works to create an extravagant artistic collaboration across 2-dimensional, 3-dimensional, moving images and dance performance.
The day before the exhibition opening, we had the privilege to meet with Watanabe and Karena at GALERIE BOUTIQUE to learn more about their preparation process. In this exhibition room of less than 300 square meters, its walls are all covered up by white curtains, which, in fact, has magnified the vivid color in Watanabe’s paintings. Against this white backdrop, the paintings exude a sense of quirkiness.
「就像大家常常提到的『In the eye of the people』，每個人看一個作品的時候，都會有自行演繹的方法。」作為策展人的林嘉欣，她回憶起當初看見渡部小姐作品時的感受，說：「看著她的畫，腦海裡不期然地響起腳步聲。」說著時雙手還忙不佚地敲打手上的文件夾，模仿著她腦海中浮現的踅音。
Mayumi Watanabe was born in Osaka prefecture. She has been active in both local and international art festivals ever since 2007. Her wide range of works includes illustration, painting and sculpture; the artist also had her book Onomatohair published in 2012.
Watanabe has never received any proper training in fine art. After graduating from a design school, she has been devoted to exploring her path in art. She said, her parents were usually not around when she was a child, therefore she spent a lot of her time on drawing and making handicraft at home. Upon graduation, she completely devoted herself to art; she was lucky to receive high recognition from the more established artists, and soon gained international recognition. Perhaps it was her experience of creating art alone without anyone teaching that makes her works simple and yet full of imagination. Watanabe said, “I don’t want to make things too straightforward or rigid. I wish to create simply a hint for everyone to interpret on their own. I create my works in a minimalistic way without much refinement, so that the viewers can be given more room for imagination.”
The sense of child-like purity can be easily seen in Watanabe’s work, but a closer look would reveal a hidden obscurity. Take her Send in the Clowns as an example, the series was inspired and named after the song from the famous musical A Little Night Music. The musical was themed around the loneliness and cruelty hidden under the superficial glamour; such an idea is a perfect representation of the sense of obscurity.
“I agree. This is a rather dark series of work. Viewers feel it this way mainly because of the lack of facial expression on the portraits, the color tone was simple but with a dull touch. The reason for why I didn’t give them much expression was exactly like what I just said, I would like to keep it simple. Instead of giving the characters a vivid facial expression, I would rather let the viewers feel different things from the expressionless faces,” explained Watanabe.
“The saying ‘in the eye of the people’ implies everyone would have their own interpretation on the same piece of work.” said Karena, the curator, when recollecting her first encounter with Watanabe’s works, “Looking at her work, the sound of footsteps just lingered in my head.” She even tapped on the folder she was holding to imitate the phantom sound she heard.
“Natural” is perhaps another core concept for understanding Watanabe’s work.
“I like the nature a lot. I enjoy experiencing every of its details — a pebble by the road, the sound of leaves when being blown by the wind, the pattern of wave — I tend to feel everything in nature from the bottom of my heart,” said Watanabe.
“She took a boat to a beach on Lamma Island the other day without my company,” Karena said jokingly. During the first few days of Watanabe’s arrival, Karena brought her for a ride on the star ferry. They had dim sum in the traditional Lin Heung Tea House, visited the small local shops and historical shops. The two gradually developed a mutual trust and understanding. However, sightseeing was only one of the many things that Karena has arranged for Watanabe.
Based on the artistic concept of Send in the Clowns, Karena invited the contemporary dancer Abby Chan to choreograph a dance; the piece was then shot into a video by the TVC director Maisy Choi. The intense piece of background music with an industrial beat was paired with repetitive and somewhat agonizing movements. The whole video is so strong that makes the audience hold their breath.
“I personally enjoy watching dance performance very much. To me, dancing is to demonstrate a concentrated form of emotion, it is to candidly express love and hatred. I fell in love at the first sight when seeing Mayumi Watanabe’s monologue. Back then, I was already exploring the possibility to let video art interact with her work. Therefore I met with Abby Chan and Maisy Choi to show them her paintings. We then started to work on the choreography and the video itself.”
Karena lightheartedly said, many of the ideas were not communicated with Watanabe until they got materialized. It was very lucky that she was happy to approve all the ideas. I asked Watanabe, who was sitting next to me, what does she think about having extended works based on her own works. She replied in a low voice, saying, “I think this form can perhaps allow my work to reach a greater audience. The form has gone beyond my initial understanding and imagination on the topic, I am truly glad about it.”
Karena curated Mayumi Watanabe’s exhibition two years after curating the Inoue Yuichi exhibition; in between, she also published an essay collection. I asked Karena if she had a plan to devote herself to the field of fine art, and how she treated all these new opportunities.
“I am thankful for the chances to dream at this stage of my life. This is, however, not my major focus; I am an actress after all. Art is where my passion lies. Language, photography and other forms of art are nutrients to me. These are the things that I am fond of. Therefore I would not define myself as a curator. Art is part of my life, it is a daily necessity like my everyday diet.”
Towards the end of the interview, I asked if Watanabe had any particular theme or idea that she endeavored to express throughout her career as an artist.
“I am never keen on making myself known. Everyone has their own way of thinking, their preference and their sensation. What makes me different is that I would turn my thoughts into some kinds of work to share with others. I never boldly present my work as if telling people ‘hey, this is something I created’. I prefer to leave it for everyone to feel themselves,” replying in a sincere voice, Watanabe said, “be it positive or negative comments, all I want is to simply create a space for people to think.”
agnes b. GALERIE BOUTIQUE
Date: From now until April 8, 2018
Location: Shop 119, K11 Mall, 18 Hanoi Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon