Awakening the Prehistoric Self
Takakazu Takeuchi blows soap bubbles at various places across the world and photographs the sceneries reflected on the surface of the bubbles. They range from nostalgic Japanese pastoral scenes to German churches surrounded by trees. In London, where I first met him in 2010, I remember helping him blow bubbles in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts and being warned by a security guard. The reflected view of each place distorted by the membrane of the soap bubbles is captured and preserved in the photograph. Vivid colours are woven from the light bouncing on the surface of the soap bubbles to the light that refracts and enters the inside of the membrane which is then reflected on the other side. Takeuchi once said, “What we see is always on the surface, covered with a membrane of meaning, and thus we cannot see the substance”. This made me overlap the multiple reflections of the soap bubbles on the hollow and thin membrane with a society that seems to be made up of papier-mâché, decorated with beautiful lies. As I live my life alternating hope and despair with the unfounded information overflowing on the Internet and in mass media, I somehow lose track of where I stand.
Since presenting the installation titled “I Could See Well in Ancient Times” in 2015, Takeuchi has been incorporating the world of our distant ancestors, which was rooted in hunting and gathering, into the theme of his works. At that time, in order to survive, one had to heighten senses of the whole body to find animals and fruits. When hunting at the risk of their lives, they were expected to not only “see” their prey well, but also cooperate with their fellow hunters in harmony. The food they brought back was equally distributed within the tribe, so there were few conflicts of authority. In ancient times, I would have been able to see the world much more innocently than I do now and would have been able to communicate with my peers without relying on words. That’s how I mythologize myself in ancient times.
I don’t think that Takeuchi’s works encourage us to return to primitive times. However, I do think that through his works, he is seeking the physical senses and sensibilities of ancient humankind, which we have lost due to the benefits of civilized society. In his co-authored book, An Encouragement of Retrogression, martial artist Hidetoshi Mitsuoka describes our excessive dependence on modernized technology as a “crazy situation”, as stated below.
There is a sensitivity that makes us feel that this crazy situation is normal. That is why, if we want to question the root of life, we have no choice but to try to ‘retrogress’ in the coming age and look deeply into our own senses.
(Issho Fujita and Hidetoshi Mitsuoka, “An Encouragement of Retrogression”, Shobunsha, 2017, p. 6.)
Like Mitsuoka, Takeuchi may see various aspects of modern society as a crazy situation and practice his own kind of ‘retrogression’ with an eye toward prehistoric times.
In addition, Takeuchi’s previous work has focused on time as a circle, as opposed to the linear concept of time in daily life; he has been developing works using soil, leaves, and plants which remind us of circulation since the 1990s. Moreover, in an attempt to explore deeper into time and the world of the unconscious, specifically on the theme of sleep, he has taken photographs of his own sleeping postures with long exposure and has created a sleeping person using soil. These works capturing the world distant from the linear time of everyday life seemingly reflect the sense of discomfort that Takeuchi felt while working in Germany after graduating from art school in Japan. It was his criticism of Western modernity, where verbal definitions are absolute.
However, in the writings of Bruno Latour and Robert McFarlane, we are recently hearing interest in the earth and underground world from art professionals living in Europe. Through numerous discussions and criticisms about modernity, which is twisted like the multiple reflections of soap bubbles, we may possibly be in the pursuit of deepening our understanding of time and the meaning of life. Now that society has been shaken by the Corona virus and death has become much closer, what is the meaning of life? To explore this question, one approach is to confront the soil and the underground world and conceptually touch the depth of time. We can also refer back to the time before the first person ‘I’ was declared in the Medieval Ages and the Modern Age, and even further back to the Agricultural Age, when the Chinese character ‘I (私)’, originally meaning ‘private farmer’, was born. The prehistoric ‘I’ who lived in the Paleolithic era, in a hunting and gathering society, may give us some input to reconsider our humanity.
Assistant Curator, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum Hayato Fujioka