Simon Fujiwara Running the Film Backwards
The Galeries Lafayette Foundation recently featured Simon Fujiwara, a Briton of Japanese origin, as part of their Lafayette Anticipation program. During the six-week residency he worked at a former industrial property on Rue du Plâtre in Paris, a building about to be entirely renovated by OMA, Rem Koolhaas’s architectural partnership. The results: a performance, sculpture, lecture and film produced by the Fondation d’Entreprise Galeries Lafayette on the occasion of the fifth edition of the Nouveau Festival at the Pompidou Center.
His father was an architect, and Simon Fujiwara trained as an architect before becoming an artist. His work has been described as sexual architecture.(1) He prefers the term autobiographical architecture. At any rate, it is certainly mutant architecture. “Architecture is a demon I love and hate. I’ve always played at it while knowing full well that I didn’t want to become an architect.” Yet he uses its resources: the combination of art and science, materiality and narrative. And when asked to talk about his work he describes abandoned buildings in Spain and Greece with ruined columns and concrete reinforcement rods sticking out, vacant spaces that could be filled with dreams by a whole society.
Fujiwara lives off conversations, history and legends. He weaves the thread of his narratives with reality and fantasies, guided by digression after digression. This practice brings to mind Walid Raad and more recently Alexandre Singh. The walls of the room where he worked during his Fondation des Galeries Lafayette residence recall the plates in Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas, but his references reside in the meanders of Instagram. New Pompidou is a mythical history whose form will continue to evolve as long as the artist lives. This project is based on the story of an old love and another about the birth of an artist, and especially the rumor spread by Bernard Blistène according to which its one-time director Pontus Hulten planned to make a mysterious replica of the Pompidou Center. Where, when and in what form remain unknown. The scene takes place in the primordial marsh of
the Marais [the name means marsh], infested with rabbits. Their fur is used to make felt— for instance, the felt that Joseph Beuys’s Plight (1985) at the Pompidou Center is made of. Fujiwara set out to make a double of that other, fantastical Pompidou Center, a replica of a replica.
Concretely, this came down to making a plaster reproduction of a giant metal part of the kind that holds the structure of the building together. It is a gerberette (beam hanger), he explains, deadpan, named after a German engineer (Heinrich Gerber) who worked on Neuschwanstein castle. While the sound of this word might suggest something light, in architecture it designates something not at all airy, a master joint, which makes it one of the crystallizing elements in Fujiwara’s narrative. Here it is a fictional discovery made in some future archeological dig. The sculpture is covered with plaster sedimentation, artificial moss and rose petals. It looks like a precipitant of some strange alchemy. Fujiwara does not hierarchize the various forms he uses. “Everything I do is performance art,” he says. Appropriately, at the end of six weeks of work, to present New Pompidou to the public he staged a performance whose subject was the story of the sculpture he had just made. Like a rite of passage it ended with a procession, almost on Mardi Gras, an infernal saraband led by a new Harlequin. On the wall was a danse macabre image, along with photos of medieval gargoyles, nineteenth- century engravings and a Paleolithic ivory sculpture, half-man/half-lion. Accompanied by the trumpets playing Wagner’s Parsifal, the new piece was carried to the Nouveau Festival venue. In Fujiwara’s work, just as during carnival, all inversions are permitted, the truth is never certain, and yet, he declares, “I love the truth because we need it. It’s an idea and a construction, like a lot of things.” A few days later he gave a talk at the Pompidou Center that was somewhat different than the performance. His practice, he says, “is the opposite of how a film is written.” First he conceives the images and then he writes the scenario. The video New Pompidou follows the same narrative arc as the performance, but it is more elliptical and oneiric, narrated by Nouveau Festival director Bernard Blistène in an Ircam recording studio. For Fujiwara, this is a way to once again confront the Pompidou Center as an institution, and infiltrate it. “I am wearing a mask, but since I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know what I’m trying to hide.”
EMBODIMENT AND DISPERSION
Somewhat similar to New Pompidou, though obviously in a very different context, the video Rehearsal for a reunion (2012) also shows its own making. It depicts Fujiwara’s reunion with his father whom he had not seen for twenty years. The artist plays himself and recruited an actor for the role of his father. He asks the actor to make a ceramic tea service using, as the model, one made by the British potter Bernard Leach whose work symbolizes the reconciliation between the East and West, and then break the original so that the copy is all that remains. Little by little the actor comes to understand what’s being asked of him. The audio and visual tracks are sometimes out of sync. “You’re being told that you’re being told a story. This emphasizes the fairy-tale dimension and this becomes a question of belief.” Fujiwara often says that he is his work, its embodiment. In Studio Pietà (King-Kong Complex) (2013), for example, he plays the role of a movie director to reconstitute a lost photo of his mother in the arms of a man at the beach, at a time when she was a dancer in a Beirut cabaret. He discusses the production of the image with an interlocutor who is none other than himself. The dialogue includes reflections on racism, sexual identity, exoticism and terrorism. Likewise, in the video The Mirror Stage (2012), recounting the young Simon Fujiwara’s discovery of art, his character is split between the adult artist and a child who is supposed to play the role of Simon age 11. The telling of the story by several voices explores the idea of a diffracted identity.
HUMOR, EROTICISM AND MELANCHOLY
Among the images in Fujiwara’s work is that of the museum, New Pompidou obviously, and Museum of Incest (2008), a performance about a fictional museum that examines humanity’s erotic origins. “My work involves a study of museums, of their ability to make products for museums. The world would be better off without them but there’s no present without a past and so far no one has come up with a better idea.” The images are often tinged with a discreet but sharp humor. The subject of ruins reoccurs in the video Phallusies (2010), the story of the disappearance of a mysterious stone fragment that was found in the Arabian desert and provoked a panic there because of its phallic shape. In 2010, for Frozen City at the Frieze Art Fair in London, Fujiwara made fake ancient ruins. Finally, in a new romanticism vein, somewhat like Hubert Robert’s Vue imaginaire de la galerie du Louvre en ruines (1796), New Pompidou shows the ruins of a museum: “The building had to be cleaned every day, and today it’s falling apart. It’s a world after life,” says Fujiwara. But even this melancholy is tinged with eroticism, as he emphasizes. During the performance the museum is paired with a “highly sensual” rabbit pelt, as he puts it. The museum is a body whose skin seems to have been turned inside out to exhibit the muscles, and the beam joint is one of the building’s organs brought to light.
Translation, L-S Torgoff
(1) Francesca Boenzi, ”Sexual architecture,” Mousse, no. 20.
« The Mirror Stage ». 2009. Vidéo. 27’ 41” « The Boy Who Cried Wolf ». HAU1, Berlin 2011 (Court. Tate ; Ph. M. Lieberenz). Mixed media, dimensions variable