KEN MATSUBARA, Paper in the Wind, 2015, movie, book and projector, 29.7 × 39.3 × 5.2 cm. Courtesy 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong. 


Ken Matsubara

10 Chancery Lane Gallery
Hong Kong Japan

Memories can connect individuals when experiences overlap. In his latest exhibition at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Tokyo-based multimedia artist Ken Matsubara is displaying “Repetition” (2014)—a series whose title is also the name of the show. The entire series comprises 11 video installations presented in the form of a book, of which nine are included in the exhibition along with four other smaller objects with a moving-image element. Together they explore an interpretation of life as a system of repetition and showcase the artist’s penchant for utilizing antique objects and incorporating their embedded histories into his works.

Each of the nine books in “Repetition” is spread open and placed on a music stand. Pasted on each of the books’ left pages is a vintage photograph the artist either found by chance or pulled from his personal archive; meanwhile, on the right pages is a looping video showing recent footage he recorded of the same location where the corresponding vintage photograph had been taken. In one of the book installations, titled Oura Tenshudo Church (2014), an old snapshot of a group of high school students, taken in 1930 during their fieldtrip to Oura Tenshudo Church in Nagasaki, Japan, is accompanied by a video showing a dark silhouette of a Virgin Mary statue from the church, standing against a blue sky. With the tranquil scene of clouds passing by and plants swaying softly, one would not readily guess that, in this video, the artist is referencing a bloody historical incident that took place in late 1590s Japan, surrounding the ban of Christianity. Twenty-six Christian missionaries and converts were persecuted and executed by crucifixion at this site, because they had refused to disavow their religion. In 1865, the Oura Tenshudo Church was constructed by a French Catholic priest to commemorate these martyrs, and the statue of Virgin Mary had been sent to the church from France for the occasion.

KEN MATSUBARA, Oura Tenshudo Church, 2014, movie, mixed media and music stand, 24 × 30 cm. Courtesy 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong.

KEN MATSUBARA, Statue of Liberty, 2014, movie, mixed media and music stand, 24 × 30 cm. Courtesy 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong. 

In another work that alludes to conflicts from world history, Statue of Liberty (2014), whose video component features a blurry vision of the iconic statue as seen from a boat, tells of postwar refugees moving from Europe to the United States throughout the 1940s. Nearby was a more personal example of remembrance, entitled Kamakura Beach (2014). Through a 1952 photograph, Matsubara shares an intimate memory of his first visit to the beach, while an adjacent video tries to convey the freeing feeling of letting the ocean’s waves touch one’s feet—an experience that is undoubtedly familiar to much of the audience.  

Unlike the photographs among the nine works, which all include figures, Matsubara’s videos are mostly vacant, comprising footage of landscapes, buildings or interiors. They are the artist’s attempt to reconstruct certain moments from the past. Evoking common memories, the videos, though muted, allow viewers to supplement the scenes with sounds of blowing winds, howling waves and singing birds from their own imaginations, and thereby enhance the viewing experience. Matsubara’s series was inspired by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who wrote in his 1843 book Repetition that “repetition and recollection are the same movement, just in opposite directions.” For the artist, the videos looping infinitely is an imitation of the process of remembering something from the past.

KEN MATSUBARA, Loop – Scale Box, 2015, wooden scale box, movie and mixed media, 28 × 32 × 20 cm. Courtesy 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong. 

Exhibited along the book series are four other multimedia works by Matsubara, placed in the inner exhibition area of the gallery. In Paper in the Wind (2015), a video of a levitating piece of paper is projected on the cover of a gray, vintage Japanese book. By observing the movement of the piece of paper, one might perceive the presence of wind. Another quietly poetic object is Loop – Scale Box (2015), a rectangular wooden box also with a video projected onto one of its surfaces. The video shows the never-ending action of glass vessels falling on the ground, shattering and then filling the space with glass fragments and powder. The clip then rewinds, restoring the broken pieces to their original state.

The “Repetition” series, which comprises the main works in the exhibition, features certain settings being repeated—albeit across disparate artistic media and from two different points in time that are sometimes centuries apart. What happened to those people after the photographs were taken? Have they, or their children or grandchildren, revisited the sites? And if so, what is their story? Such imagined lives and experiences enrich the juxtapositions in Matsubara’s installations and disclose a dialogue that, in his words, “[fluctuates] between the past and the future.”

Ken Matsubara’s “Repetition” is on view at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong, until November 7, 2015.