Two Truths at West London’s Griffin Gallery brought together six talented Japanese artists and recent graduates working in both London and Japan to form a dialogue about the contemporary art climate and their cultural heritage. Japanese by birth and legacy, three of the exhibiting artists decided early in their careers to move to and ultimately settle in London. The other three are at the beginning of their artistic journeys practicing in their home country of Japan.
This exhibition seeks to understand how cultural displacement may affect an artist’s relationship to ‘truth’. The exhibition title refers to a key theory underpinning ancient Buddhist philosophy: the doctrine of Two Truths. This doctrine differentiates between two levels of truth: conventional and ultimate. Conventional truth is how we usually see the world; a place full of diverse and distinctive things and beings. Ultimate truth is empty of concrete and inherent characteristics; there are no distinctive things or beings. Arguably, this exhibition comments upon the journey most artists take in search of ‘personal truths’, and forms a lively visual discussion of tradition, heritage and contemporary art practice.
The exhibiting artists are united in their pursuit to articulate and interrogate the world around them, each artist having developed a unique approach, reflective of where they call home. Ultimately, the exhibition explores the Japanese artistic communities in both Japan and London, triggering interesting juxtapositions between Japanese custom and contemporary influence. Our Arts Editor Luciana Garbarni caught up with curator Becca Pelly Fry for a brief discussion aside from the on-going exhibition.
How did “Two Truths” find its name?
A key theory that underpins ancient Buddhist philosophy is the doctrine of Two Truths. This doctrine differentiates between two levels of truth: conventional and ultimate (or, relative and absolute). Conventional truth is how we usually see the world; a place full of diverse and distinctive things and beings. Ultimate truth is empty of concrete and inherent characteristics; there are no distinctive things or beings.
The artists in this exhibition represent elements of the world around them, conventional truths if you will, perhaps in an attempt to understand the abstract and undefinable; the ultimate truth. Arguably this is the journey of all artists, but how might the relationship to ‘truth’ be affected by cultural displacement?
Tell me a little about the artists you are working with, could you elaborate on the creative process of selecting the “right” artists for an exhibition so deep-seated in concept?
The three young artists from Japan were selected through an annual prize process, sponsored by Liquitex Japan. I travelled to Tokyo last November to join a panel of judges to select the three winners. Upon my return, my next task was to find three more established artists, of Japanese heritage but based in London. I did this in the way I would usually source artists for an exhibition – lots of internet research, visiting exhibitions and art fairs, and asking around through my networks. What I was looking for was a group of artists with a clearly defined practice that reflected their cultural heritage as well as their decision to move to London when they were at the beginning of their careers.
Itʼs noted that 3 of the exhibiting artists decided early in their careers to move to and ultimately settle in London, while the other three are at the beginning of their artistic journeys practicing in their home country of Japan. Have any of the artists given a personal account on the impact of this creative and cultural crossover on their work/artistry?
Interestingly, Yukako Shibata said that she found she was too comfortable in her home country and left to seek adventure and new challenges. She says she is very happy in London – here is her home now, and she has no desire to go back to Japan. In comparison, Kazuya Tsuji says that he misses Japan much more now that he is not living there – he says he never felt very ‘Japanese’ when he was there, but in the same way doesn’t feel like a Londoner.
Is there a particularly striking difference between the works of the 3-London based and the 3-Japanese bound artists?
I think so, yes. For me, one of the striking differences between the young Japanese-based artists and the older exiles is the energy and vibrancy in the colour of the former. The more established artists have a more subdued palette, the work is quieter and more reflective.
What are some of the most significant differences between both cultures in aesthetic principal or artistic approach?
Goodness, big question! I’m not a social or cultural anthropologist so this is a tricky one for me to answer with any degree of authority… But just from what I’ve noticed, it’s become extremely difficult for artists to make a living in Japan, so they often end up using their creativity in a commercial context as designers, illustrators and manga artists. This means that the artwork in Japan has a more graphic quality to it.
Do you have a personal philosophy on how art should be displayed?
Yes – I believe in giving work space to breathe, and I absolutely never put labels or informational text on the walls. We always provide information, pricelists and such like, but as handouts rather than interfering with the visual storytelling in the gallery space.
What kind of truths do you anticipate audiences who view the works included in this exhibition to find? Within themselves or otherwise.
That is not up to me… That is absolutely up to the viewer.
Exhibiting artists include:
- Kazuya Tsuji
- Yukako Shibata
- Miho Sato
- Yuka Kurita
- Keisuke Katsuki
The exhibition runs until July 11th at Griffin Gallery, 21 Evesham Street, London W11 4AJ
All images courtesy of Griffin Gallery.