Magazine article Artforum International

Simon Fujiwara

Magazine article Artforum International

Simon Fujiwara

Article excerpt

HALF JAPANESE AND HALF BRITISH, raised in a remote seaside village in England and gay, with an education in architecture as well as in art, Simon Fujiwara has a biography that is almost too full of potential for our "glocal," multiethnic, multidisciplinary age. The temptation to read the twenty-seven-year-old artist's practice through his personal life is irresistible, all the more so since his work--which moves among the registers of the performance-lecture, the sculptural installation, and the written word--is almost always ostensibly autobiographical, albeit with a liberal dose of fiction thrown in.

In the play and performance-lecture The Mirror Stage, 2009-, for example, Fujiwara explores his sexual and artistic coming-of-age. In the first version of the piece, presented at last year's Art Basel Miami Beach, a young actor played the eleven-year-old Fujiwara as he encountered British artist Patrick Heron's Horizontal Stripe Painting, 1957-58--the artwork, Fujiwara maintains, responsible for his childhood awakening. The actor hardly spoke, while Fujiwara, who sat looking at a reproduction of the painting with his back to the audience, offered his thoughts on abstraction and sexuality. He discussed the difficulties of staging an internal emotional event: "Because it is only one scene--no drama, no dialogue, no action; no one dies; there is no sex--[it] is, essentially, boring theater." The tentative nature of the play served as an excuse for various digressions and interpretive explanations, turning the piece into a complex exploration of this youthful epiphany.

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Though not based on direct personal experience of the subject in question, Fujiwara's fictional Museum of Incest, 2008-, partly originated in the artist's thinking about his relationships with his own family. The installation--which includes vitrines containing maps, "archaeological" finds, and photographs--is accompanied by a guidebook and, at times, a tour by the artist, which starts relatively benignly by discussing the implementation of his father's actual architectural designs for the physical layout of the "museum" and ends up, in Fujiwara's words, as a "wildly personal portrait of a father-son relationship."

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Fragments of personal or family history and suppressed or not fully understood historical events hold endless promise for Fujiwara. Interpretations and subplots proliferate as if in a kind of hypertext. From a kernel of fact or artifact, Fujiwara constructs a towering semifabrication that weaves together literary, historical, psychological, and political references yet unabashedly keeps returning to what he knows best--his own life story--to reel in the audience's affiliation.

Evidently, growing up gay and visibly "different"--in a house that Fujiwara has described as so filled with souvenirs from Spain (from a time, before he was born, when his parents lived there) that friends called it Casa Fujiwara--set the artist on course to become an ethnographically observant semi-outsider more than ready to imaginatively incorporate into his own biography a frisson largely absent from everyday life. Unlike the previous, late-1980s generation of artists concerned with issues of race, sexuality, and gender, Fujiwara seems to delight in capitalizing on his fortune to have been born into a life that demands both reexamination of what counts as "normal" or "deviant" and further consideration of what a racialized subjectivity might be.

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Even so, he remains eminently aware of the privileged position that his nationality and class have afforded him. The experience of studying architecture at Cambridge University appears to have honed his skills of live presentation and helped him articulate his concerns though a particular combination of writing, lecture, and verbal proposal accompanied by images, models, and large-scale set design. …

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