Originating in the Far East but living and working in London, artists Ronin Cho and Kentaro Yamada sit in The Woodmill’s studio discussing tea, shiny things and the relationship between technology and craftsmanship in art.
s|A: Can you give spilt three adjectives that best the character of your work?
KY: Three words? I think it’s experiential and it is trying to be simple. Experiential, simple and poetic.
RC: Three adjectives?
KY: Sex, drugs, rock n’ roll.
RC: It could be yeah, but for my work right? The thing is, I’ve never really thought about adjectives. Simple direct and electrified.
s|A: Are there any lables that suit your work?
KY: As in like a kind of genre or category?
RC: Sculpture or that kind of thing?
KY: I don’t think so. Art!
RC: Yeah, well I would just say sculptural objects with a kinetic, kind of aspect.
s|A: Or is there a lable that people try to give you that you would not consider to be appropriate for your work at all?
KY: Yeah. I think that in the past, I was kind of haunted by this kind of ‘new media’, ‘interactive media’ lable. But I’ve started to escape from it, so it’s kind of okay. I think one of the things I was thinking, just today, was how wide our skills are in terms of how you know, we do wood work. We know how to cut wood, right?! But we also know to program a microprocessor.
RC: I mean as long as people can see my work as sculptural objects and also if they can notice it as having motion, or being interactive or that kind of thing, it’s fine.
KY: But it’s not fine if they don’t!
RC: Because that’s kind of the main part of the work.
KY: Can I ask you a question? (to Ronin Cho)
KY: In terms of moving parts and interaction; do you think it helps viewers enter into the work or…?
RC: Yes, because with some of the works, interaction is the main part, like the core theme of the work. Yes, I think that it’s necessary to show it to viewers.
KY: So it’s kind of like an entry point for viewers to engage in a work?
RC: It could be an entry point, but it could be just everything.
s|A: Would you say that is similar or dissimilar to yours?
KY: I would that it’s not similar. I kind of started to think that interaction is actually doing the opposite. If it is not carefully done, it can also reduce the intellectual interaction in a way, because it’s like “ah that’s how he does it, cool.” Whereas if it’s like not moving it’s like “what the hell is this?” then one’s thinking about it longer right? So that’s sort of what I felt. I mean, it can work in a really simple way…there are those sorts of interactions.
RC: Yeah I sort of agree with that, because in a way, when interaction is so difficult it can distract people from understanding the work. That’s why I am trying to make everything very simple.
KY: Yeah, I mean there’s a good thing about interaction too, because obviously that kind of work, it can make anyone, from kids to older people laugh or can communicate on some very simple level. I guess the question is, is that what you want? I guess there’s a time and place for it.
RC: Interaction could be an entrance to the work. For example We Know This But We Just Don’t Know How To Show It. When you come close to it, you trigger the work and you interact with the hand, you can feel some how that there is a relationship, between you and the door, you and the door and the hand.
s|A: Do you think the way you go about making your works and the medium you use are key factors in determining how people will interpret and understand your work?
KY: I think that all art is a bit like that.
RC: The thing is; I don’t want to freak people out by showing mechanical parts and computers, because normally when people go to exhibitions or galleries, they expect to see those things. In the beginning I try to hide all the mechanical parts in my work. Also there’s a reason why I use wood in my work, as a kind of human material and I thought that this could kind of reduce the impact of the mechanical parts and the computers, and technical things. Also I like to distress the work, because normally those kinds of things are very shiny and well finished. But I am kind of against that.
KY: Yes, my answer would be that if it wasn’t like that then I would consider it not to be art.
s|A: So do you think that something like painting has become almost redundant?
KY: No, I don’t really think so. I think painting has a different kind of aesthetic experience. But the materials you use, in terms of communicating ideas and experiences you want to create are definitely… you kind of choose materials for a reason.
s|A: What was your first work of art? What was the first work you created, that made you realise you were an artist?
KY: I’d say, apart from when I was little, I always used to paint and stuff. I don’t know, I saw some of it the other day and it was actually quite good, I really liked it! When I was in art school, the piece Schlong was kind of like a big jump, because it was obviously something like what crazy people do, you know? And I guess I sort of tried to do something that I was kind of scared of and then people really liked it and so that was the first thing in a way.
RC: My approach is quite different to Ken’s approach, because I’ve been working in the area of design for so long and I always have a brief or objective or an aim and a client. I think not working for clients, is art. My first work was English dickhead and when I made that I thought yeah this is art!
s|A: So why this piece in particular and not any piece before? Is it only because the other pieces were for clients?
RC: If you intend the work to be an art work, then you have to manage and direct it and you have to aim it at an audience. It’s all kind of different, maybe I am acting like too much of a designer. Art work also has to be managed and directed.
s|A: What were your motivations for starting to make art? What were your motivations for making art instead of design?
RC: My initial motivation was frustration! I have been working in the design field and I felt that it doesn’t last long enough and it’s only saying shallow things, it doesn’t really do anything cultural.
KY: What do you say to people who are graphic designers and architects, who are kind of doing, almost avant-garde art work?
RC: I mean, there is a kind of difference in the message and then there is process as well.
KY: I guess I think, why art and not experimental designer? Or are you an experimental designer?
RC: Because it is from my experience. I can see lots of people making graphic design things and this is artistic, not art. A poster could be art but that’s only in a particular context.
KY: Yeah I guess, maybe it’s about now. It’s also about time and it’s the vision of art. Obviously, you didn’t have to think like this when you are studying Bauhaus, but they didn’t have clients either, they had like government or something.
RC: It’s more about myself. And the reason why I am making art is that I hope my thoughts can be transferred to other people. Making and showing my art work, is my medium to transfer my message.
KY: Why did I become an artist? I think that it was just an accident at first. I thought, maybe I want to study design and then I thought no actually, I want to do art. So I did art. But why I keep doing it, I just think it’s something that matters. I like to share and communicate ideas too. It’s probably not going to change the world or anything like that, but there’s at least that possibility. It makes it worth doing, you know? The possibility that it could communicate to people, that’s probably why I do it.
s|A: What inspires you?
RC: I think inspiration is a myth, in a way. I do get inspired when I see a really great show or when I see a really great film and other cultural activities. I am a really normal person. I think that everyday life is inspiration. It’s very simple. Sometimes when you use the internet and you find something and you think “ah, this is something and I should make work out of.”
KY: Inspiration is such a strange thing, is it motivation or is it something that sparks an idea? They are very different things. What is inspiration? I don’t know…
RC: It could be both. Something can give you an aesthetic inspiration.
KY: Obviously. Sometimes if you meet like a really nice girl and you want to show off your art or something. That could be your inspiration right?
s|A: But that’s also motivation.
KY: But I wouldn’t say that is artistic inspiration, so it could be anything really, like great food, conversation. I think for me, it’s mostly having great conversation with great people, or having great dinner.
RC: I think in my case, when I am sitting at home and doing nothing. That inspires me.
KY: Really? It’s definitely traveling, for me. It’s not always about the actual thing going on there, but the fact that I am having a different perspective and experience gives me some kind of kick I guess.
s|A: Which artists have had a major influence on your work?
RC: I am quite influenced by Tim Lewis. Most of them are sculptors, like Erwin Wurm for example. I think Tim Lewis is definitely my biggest influence.
KY: It is a difficult question. I do not really get inspired by artists; I could say who I respect. You could probably say that there is some relationship to Fluxus artists, which is because of the kind of content I am dealing with. Or people like Yoko Ono, because of the cultural background and the content she is dealing with. If you ask me “who do you think is the greatest artist?” I would probably say Marcel Duchamp. It’s not that he really influences my work, but in a way he influenced everything.
s|A: To what extend your cultural background does influence your artistic process?
KY: I spent half of my life in the east, and half of it in the west. My mother was teaching tea ceremony and my father worked as a pottery teacher. Those kinds of things obviously affected me. Daily life it affects me very much. I learned what they learned. I think it’s the mix of both cultures.
RC: Korean people are really excited about new technology, shiny and fancy things. So they do not really look back on old history and culture. It is in our tendency to always be more advanced. That’s why when I was in Korea; I was always very fascinated by design and design culture. Then in 2006 I started studying Graphic design at Central St. Martins in London. There were so many people who still used screen printing and letter press and all those traditional techniques. In the beginning I did not understand why they were doing this, because you can do so many things with a digital printer for example. But then I started to look closer at those techniques and of course you see, or at least you feel, a difference between the digital and the more physical things. So I started do more physical things with wood for example.
s|A: Kentaro, what is typically Korean about Ronin’s work?
KY: Koreans are more direct, straight, a bit louder than Japanese and somehow his work is a little bit like that as well. Maybe it is more statement driven than my work. I mean Korean and Japanese History is very different. Korea has been invaded several times by China or Japan. You kind of have to say what you want otherwise you get killed. Meanwhile in Japan it’s more about “Yeah, let’s have some tea.”
s|A: Ronin, what is typically Japanese about Kentaro’s art?
RC: He never really explains clearly. That is maybe the biggest difference between me and him. I think maybe it really comes from his background. It is more about rituals, which are more important than the result. In Korea the process of doing things is very important as well, but maybe the result is even more important.
KY: Ronin, do you think this is a recent phenomenon?
RC: They are both important in Korea, process and result. Yes, but maybe it is a contemporary phenomenon.
KY: That is maybe the reason why Korean artists are doing better than the Japanese. In terms of making a statement within western art, because you cannot really be ambiguous in western art. That is one of the reasons why I want to collaborate with people and discuss my work, to have those aspects in my art as well.
s|A: Being close friends, do you influence each other’s work?
RC: I am learning a lot from Kentaro. He is kind of a role model for me, like an ideal. He thinks about things, I never really think of. Sometimes I think that my art is quite selfish. Kentaro’s work is more open, that affects me.
s|A: Both of you also use very similar materials, such as light bulbs, for example.
RC: That is a coincidence.
KY: The material in this case is not so important. It’s not that we both work in wood. We do and we don’t. We both have a strong technological background. Our approach is quite similar in a way. We both say that we do not want to be designers, even if we work as designer’s part time; this is a quite useful background to have. Then there is this approach of craftsmanship. We cover a lot of ground in terms of things that we are able to make. I can make everything from prints to computer programs and wooden sculptures. I try to concentrate more about what these media actually can do for my work.
s|A: What would you say is the difference between your work and the work of European artists using similar materials?
KY: For me it is definitely the content, the way Yoko Ono approaches her work for example. Ronin talks about technology and shiny things, I can relate to that as well. In Japan, as much as Korea it is important. I grew up playing Nintendo. I had all that kind of technology as a kid in the eighty’s. That is maybe also a reason why I moved away from it. It was easy for me to move away from this attitude.
s|A: Ronin, Tell us a little but about Homage to Old Rug Makers.
RC: For the carpet I use light bulbs. And the light bulb represents for me the whole culture of electricity. We cannot live without it. And at the same time we are not aware of how fragile it is. It’s like breathing air; we are not always aware of breathing. So electricity nowadays has become very important, like breathing. You can step on the carpet, as a base for daily life something very natural to have, you never really realise that you have it. So the carpet is something everybody has at home and something very common. You step on it, without realizing it. My carpet is very fragile, if you step on it, it will break.
s|A: Kentaro, can you tell us something about Everything Comes In Waves?
KY: It is a continuation of my past works. I am interested in making experimental work, where the light becomes a sculpture in experimental matter. Basically I am trying to create this pattern of breathing. I had this experience, when I looked after my mother who died. I saw a relationship between breathing patterns and light patterns. Light goes away and dies; art in comparison of life. Like Woody Allen, who always talks about life and death and people ask him why he does that. He answers that it’s the only thing he can think about, that really matters. This light sculpture is also very beautiful and sublime and on the other side, death is not a beautiful thing at all. It’s a topic people do not talk about much in this society.