Artist Talk: Toshihiko Mitsuya »A positive effect on the big gap in the world«

Tosihiko Mitsuya has been living in Berlin since 2009. Born in 1979 in Japan, he studied at Seian University of Arts and Design in Otsu, Shiga, Japan.

Primarily Tosihiko Mitsuya’s sculptures are made from aluminium foil. At the age of five he started creating figures from aluminium and this is still the material basis for his sculptures of plants, animals, and other figures. Lately, he started a series of wall-works on reflective stainless steel plates. With an angle-grinder the artist scratches landscapes based on his own photographs. Consisting of light, shadows, and the reflected surroundings of the space, the viewer observes constantly changing natural landscapes and finds him- or herself in the fluid perspective of the impressionist.

Thinking about the main focus of this year’s ROHKUNSTBAU ‒ “The Beauty of Difference” I asked Tosihiko Mitsuya for his point of view on culture and especially the traditions of the Japanese representation of the natural landscape, as seen in paintings for example, which seem to have had a very strong influence in Japanese art history in comparison to Europe’s.

Kristina Worthmann (ROHKUNSTBAU): Toshiko Mitsuya how would you describe the tradition of the Japanese representation of the natural landscape in general?

Tosihiko Mitsuya: Firstly, I would like to point out that my main work is sculpture and I cannot say that the sculptures are connected to the traditional Japanese natural-landscape idea. However, my flat works are related to them. The style of Ukiyo-e, for example, is well known for its influence on European impressionism. These works are based on print-techniques. I myself was deeply fascinated by the images of Suibokuga. Suibokuga is very popular in Japanese landscape painting. It is the traditional ink-wash painting. The idea is not simply to reproduce an appearance of the subject, but to capture its spirit. It is more important to convey the liveliness of the subject than to catch the perfect representative object or colour. In landscape painting, the scenes depicted are typically imaginary or very loose adaptations of actual views. Also the brush stroke is quite different from European painting.

Kristina Worthmann (ROHKUNSTBAU): What role does the Japanese art tradition play in your own artwork and where do you see the modifications and changes in your contemporary works?

Tosihiko Mitsuya: I think not only my style but also my method is connected to Suibokuga. The compositions of reflections on plates of scratched stainless steel are realized with an angle-grinder. In ink-wash painting it is a self-determined movement in the extension of the black watercolour on the paper. In my works I use the self-perpetuating vibrating movement of the machine to create the landscapes. Also I work with a direct, quick stroke without hesitation and also I don’t hold much on details, not drawn detail.
Depending on the angle of the view, my scratched landscapes look very different and the images are like the fluid caption of a moment. On some parts we can see the back layer, which appears like a kind of hologram, it is hallucinative looking.
According to the natural act of the viewer who tries to find something in the scratches, the motif of work might connect with their own image in their long-term memory. As a result it is nearly impossible that what emanates from the work is a unified and standardized view.

Regarding my sculptures, I think they are influenced by traditional Japanese architecture which is well known for characteristically using wood and paper only.
From ancient times the carpenters knew how to make things without nails and connecting parts. It is believed that the oldest, most famous wooden temple Hōryū-ji was completed by 607.
Study the characteristics of the material to be stretched or shrunk, and make use of its characteristics in order to build it. Aluminium foil is metal, but like wood, it has softness and flexibility, and shows various expressions depending on usage. My sculptures are skilfully rendered using a special technique of cutting and folding aluminium foil into representations of various things. I don’t need anything else.
Taking advantage of the aluminium foil’s malleability and reflective surface, I create sculptures that are fine and supple, while remaining sturdy.

Kristina Worthmann (ROHKUNSTBAU): And how would you describe your artworks in the context of the European traditions?

Tosihiko Mitsuya: Since I came to Europe, I see many historical sculptures existing in everyday life, on the streets, in the museums, institutions, and so on. For example the traditional knight statues, the equestrian statuette. Actually, most of my aluminium figures were quite small. Here, influenced by the historical statues on the streets I started making bigger constructions. So my big sculptures like the knights on horses, which will be shown in ROHKUNSTBAU, are a kind of deconstruction of traditional European sculpture based on the lightness of aluminium foil in comparison to the heaviness of the old statues.
The detailed decorative elements of my sculptures are based on different cultures of the world; for example, the crafts, patterns, and architecture. The reason I use these images is, because I find in them a common sense of your global age based on the highly networked information society. People the world over have the same images because we get the information from the same media, for example, the Internet-world.
I borrow the expression of Claude Lévi-Strauss “The Savage Mind”: I do bricolage with images that have changed, been mixed up, and lost their original meaning, concentrated on a unified and nowadays standardized society. They drift in time. In my sculpture the images are used like a Totem.

Kristina Worthmann (ROHKUNSTBAU): When you read the concept of ROHKUNSTBAU, which personal associations did you make regarding this year’s subject?

Tosihiko Mitsuya: I am a foreigner living in a foreign country. I can notice that the situation of the world is proceeding towards nationalism and anti-globalism. Besides the serious situation we see ourselves, through the Internet-world, we are able to connect with each other all over the world. We have common images stored in our memory. I mix such images into my sculptures; these are standing in light, as a symbol of decayed meaning, using details from many images, without any patina and no glitter, in material that does not have any weight. I’m looking here for common images in “otherness and difference”. I am Japanese: I would have non-traditional roots against the traditional images, which I mix into my sculpture from European or other country’s cultures, such as the knight. But when my sculpture is standing in the light like a mirage without substance, I believe it will have a positive effect on the big gap in the world.

Kristina Worthmann (ROHKUNSTBAU): What do you find “different”? What is “otherness” for you – as a Berlin-based artist having grown up in Japanese culture? In what areas do you see it as enriching for both cultures?

Tosihiko Mitsuya: The world is full of big unexpected differences. I love fishing. I can catch different kinds of fish in Japan. So I was surprised when I went to Denmark to go fishing, the sea was not salty and there were just a few kinds of fish. Germans give names to fish easily. Also they do not know the names of insects. I think it is the difference of culture. Regarding human beings, I try not to look for otherness because I am an “other” in Berlin.