Jan 22 2021

Incalculable Conversations: Kensaku Kakimoto’s “TRANSFORMATION”

by Duncan Brotherton

*This is a sponsored post.

Installation view of KENSAKU KAKIMOTO’s Time Tunnel 01Sep from the Time Tunnel series, 2020, UV inkjet print on fabric, 200 × 200 cm, at “TRANSFORMATION,” Gallery ON THE HILL, Tokyo, 2021. All images courtesy the artist and Gallery ON THE HILL.

Even with 2020 in our rear-view mirror it still seems like 2021 is going to be a lot more of the same; as I write this in the second week of January, it has just been announced that Tokyo is going into a second state of emergency in an attempt to flatten a third upward rise of Covid-19 cases.

Located in the Shibuya area of Tokyo, Gallery ON THE HILL purports to offer a view of “something new” to local Tokyoites and international travelers. Filmmaker and photographer Kensaku Kakimoto is holding “TRANSFORMATION” here until January 24, 2021. His artistic activities reach beyond the superficial and seek to reveal to viewers things that can neither be seen nor felt; the extraordinary step of making the entire exhibition a virtual experience in addition shows he practices what he preaches. The work on display offers glimpses into the great shakeup that is still quaking the world we know, and we can all see it regardless of where we are.

It’s been over a year since I first heard about Covid-19, but “TRANSFORMATION” is the first exhibition I’ve come across with a theme so closely tied to the coronavirus. I must admit, I did not know what to expect. Through an email interview, Kakimoto mentioned the pandemic has greatly affected his regular work. “I had time to think with the downturn, so I started wondering how all the photos I had taken could be reinterpreted. With the help of [my collaborators] Luke and Piotr, we were able to devise a way to feed an AI all my photos, their context, and news related to what was happening during the pandemic, like overburdened hospitals, lockdowns, America’s presidential election and the issue of racism that happened in 2020. I have no idea how the AI thinks, but its incalculable workings seem natural. It’s extremely interesting because it’s essentially artificial.”

Installation view of KENSAKU KAKIMOTO’s (left) Trimming 056 and (right) Trimming 048, both 2019, giclee print mounted on aluminum, 150 × 225 cm, at “TRANSFORMATION,” Gallery ON THE HILL, Tokyo, 2021.

The pieces from Time Tunnel are hauntingly beautiful, with a rare quality that sets you on edge. Essentially, they’re just images created by an AI trying to express itself to Kakimoto using the language he has fed it. They contains glimpses of things you know you have seen—a reflection of clouds in water, a road against a mountainous skyline, or an underwater precipice—but upon closer inspection the images dissolve before your eyes, leaving you with nothing but a feeling that the AI is trying to communicate.

The new Trimming series is also on exhibit: large flat areas of color and texture in strong visual contrast seem to play on the edge of meaning. This series is self-inquiry into the things around Kakimoto and his way of capturing something beautiful from the mundane.

Installation view of KENSAKU KAKIMOTO’s TRANSLATOR series, 2016– , at “TRANSFORMATION,” Gallery ON THE HILL, Tokyo, 2021.

Previously exhibited here in 2016, the TRANSLATOR series offers the closest idea of how Kakimoto sees through his camera lens. A gentle quietness is captured in the moments of these picturesque stills that harken back to an idea of life before Covid-19.

TRANSFORMATION has been made possible with the support of alt.vfx, a leading visual effects and post-production company, and the science team Luke Bubb and Piotr Stopniak, who usually work with Kakimoto commercially. Bubb states his role was in the machine learning processes and virtual gallery space. “I see his work as the poetry of life, slices of story words and moments usually lost; Kensaku brings them together with a sense of calm, and a timeless truth is revealed.” Stopniak mentioned that they spent many months in conversation before arriving at the practical aspects. “In contrast to his commercial work, Kensaku’s photography is almost instinctual. Transformed by artificial intelligence, they make us stop and look at the act of looking itself.”

Installation view of KENSAKU KAKIMOTO’s “TRANSFORMATION,” at Gallery ON THE HILL, Tokyo, 2021.

The virtual exhibition was set up not only so people would be able to visit without physically traveling to the gallery, but to reflect the nature of the art on display. It’s an interesting experience; you are a digital avatar strolling around a non-physical space with the chance to speak to other avatars and drop emojis in front of the artworks.

Kakimoto states that there are two visible worlds. “The first is the physical world we see stretching out before us. The other is the world we capture with our hearts and our soul; things may look the same, but meaning and sentimental value change over time.” 

In Japanese there are two words which can be translated as “touch”; one is sawaru (to physically touch something), and the other is fureru (holding the greater meaning of “to come into contact with”). Kakimoto hopes visitors experience the idea of fureru. “I hope my exhibition offers a chance to pull out the things we may have closed up within ourselves in 2020 and perceive them in a different light.”

Kensaku Kakimoto’s “TRANSFORMATION” is on view at Gallery ON THE HILL until January 24, 2021. The virtual exhibition is viewable here until March 31, 2021. Please see the gallery’s webpage for current information on visiting hours in light of Covid-19.

Duncan Brotherton is a designer and writer based in Kyoto. He is involved in various readable forms of media and ran FLAG (Foreigner’s Live Art Guide), a bilingual art guide showcasing contemporary art in Osaka, from 2009 to 2015.

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