After his first solo show anywhere outside Japan at the White Rainbow Gallery in London, Chu Enoki want to have a rest. «I visited so many galleries during my stay in London as well as Stonehenge, which I had always wanted to see. Now I am reflecting on what I saw, experienced, imagined and felt while I was there and preparing myself for the next step. Until I start working towards the next exhibition at Kongobuji temple on Koyasan mountain from April, I would like to allow my mind to be free spirited and at rest», says the artist who is presenting here a series of his best known works as an installation of his metal sculptures, Kalashnikov and Colt guns, as well as a cannon, which is based on his particular ethos, Life Self Defence Force (LSDF), and Hangari, or “half-shaved head” which are his self-portraits from a performance piece from the 70’s, on show at the exhibition (until 11/04/2015). «A series of documentary photographs of my travel to Europe with Hangari is also exhibited . It has not yet been shown widely in public even in Japan. My ethos, Life Self Defence Force, suggests that we should be responsible for our own lives, without reliance to the state».
You stopped making your weapon-shaped work with the outbreak of the Iraq war in 2003. Your art seems to be a prophetic one, as now, even in Europe, there are battles between Russia and Ukraine. Today, which topics are you interested in? «Yes, it has been said that my work seems prophetic. My work tends to be ahead of time as I capture the feel of an age and develop a vision of the future with deep imagination. The times, which are constantly changing, eventually catch up with my imagination (which is reflected in my work), and it becomes a reality. I do think it is scary. It has been over 40 years since I started making cannons, but I have always questioned the Japanese government’s attitude to controlling information. In our country, information on some particular subjects that the general public has access to, for example in newspapers and other media, can be so limited. Politicians and relevant officials as well as civil servants have been given the rights to keep the full information to themselves, and if secrecy is broken, they may be punished. We should maintain the freedom of speech and expression. Japan, which is not supposed to have armed forces by constitution, has the Self Defence Force, and each time there was a war, Japan has debated how and how much to cooperate with our most important ally, the United States. It was forbidden to produce, keep or sell weapons in Japan before but the current government has gone for a change to allow weapons to be produced in Japan and sold overseas as a business. Most of the Japanese people who have lived in peace since the end of the war do not know that the weapons that were produced in our country are about to take part in international wars and conflicts. I feel the fear of being uninformed. I could say the same thing about the control of information by the government regarding the nuclear accident in Fukushima, even now. It was not caused by the natural disaster but a consequence of human negligence, and must be considered seriously».
I think it is important to pursue the truth even at an individual level and to show critical attitude with imagination. Imagination is important not only for artists but also for the whole public. It is my job to express ideas and raise questions through my works and to show them in gallery and museum spaces, and it is important that people come and see them. In 2003, when the Iraq War broke out, I stopped producing my sculptures of weapons when I felt my imagination from the past had turned into reality and it was no longer just artwork. In the present day when there is so much awful news of war, conflict and terrorism. The opportunity to show my work in London gave me a chance to reflect on my thoughts from when I made them in 2000 in a current context» .
Is your studio looking more like a technical laboratory?
At my studio I think, experiment, polish metals, and do small works. In order to keep my mind unconfined and open I try not to limit my work place solely to the studio. Good relationships with others maximize the possibility of producing my artwork and also feed back into it. It is important for me to find the material that I want to work with, but to meet people at the same time. When I meet people who are relevant, projects that I cannot realize on my own start moving forward. That’s how my large-scale sculptures have come to life. I sometimes produce work with people who have a more professional studio. In a way it is my style to involve others and listen to their opinion and thoughts. Through that process I gain more, and I can grasp art as something even bigger. When I was a full time technical worker at a factory, I had to produce my work in the evenings and on weekends, but since retiring, I do all the deskwork in the morning and work on my art in the afternoon. My studio is on a hill surrounded by clusters of bamboo, a roughly 20 minute drive away from my house in Kobe. There is a dairy farm nearby and you hear birds singing. It is a quiet place. When I work I often leave the radio on just as background music but sometimes I enjoy listening to live baseball commentary».
How is your typical day, if you have one?
«I used to work full time at a factory until I retired 7 years ago, but now I spend my mornings contacting people regarding my work and also reading and filing. When I am producing work, I go to my studio in the afternoon, but otherwise I go for a walk in the mountains or by the sea. When I go to town I visit local galleries and talk to artists and gallerists. It is important for me to keep on seeing people. When I am outside, I try to make my mind relaxed and free, to absorb what I have seen, heard and felt, and also to let my imagination run free. I also frequent a scrap metal warehouse. In fact I was there yesterday. Through looking at what comes in to the warehouse, I see the transition of time and age, and I get inspiration for my work. The encounter with those objects makes me think about what is coming in the future of our society».
Your next projects for 2015/2016?
«From September to November this year, I will be exhibiting RPM-1200 at Kongobuji temple on Koyasan mountain. RPM-1200 is a work of a futuristic town made by building up used industrial metal parts that were given a second life by remodeling and polishing. The head of Kongobuji temple asked me for the work through which he saw the image of Mandala and the world of Tantric Buddhism. In October 2016, there will be my second solo show at White Rainbow in London. I would like to exhibit an installation of gun cartridges to compliment the first exhibition»
By Francesca Pini