A Sense of Freedom
Koki Tanaka at MACRO in Rome

Following the premiere at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Koki Tanaka’s first large solo exhibition is now on view at the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma. The show was completely reconceived for this venue. With the project, Deutsche Bank continues its cooperation with the renowned museum. MACRO previously hosted exhibitions of the “Artists of the Year” Yto Barrada and Imran Qureshi as well as a retrospective of works on paper by Tobias Rehberger from the corporate collection.
“Designate a day on which there are no struggles, no conflicts, and no wars.” “Write a full-length novel before going to bed.” “Memorize all the names of the people living in this world.” A whole list of such tasks is written on the wall at the entrance to Koki Tanaka’s exhibition at the Museo d'Arte Contemporanea di Roma (MACRO). This work is titled Impossible Project. But some of Tanaka’s suggestions can actually be implemented. For example, “Love a friend who has betrayed you many times.” Or “Never follow the dominant opinion; keep plural thoughts in your mind.” It is difficult, but not impossible. “If I only plan ‘realistic’ or ‘realizable’ projects, then I might also be placing a limit on my imagination,” explains the artist. “I mean, we are surrounded by conditions that constrain us – economic or political situations, but also the laws of physics. Instead of allowing ourselves to be constrained by such things, we might be able to free ourselves through imaginative ideas.”  

It is this sense of freedom that characterizes the work of the “Artist of the Year” 2015 and his show at MACRO. The courage to experiment, which also means the courage to fail. This is how Tanaka started his action Free Books. Free Knowledge accompanying the exhibition at the KunstHalle. Via the Internet, he asked the some 100,000 Deutsche Bank employees worldwide to send him a book containing an idea about how “to repair the devastated social bond of equality.” In Rome, a large-scale photo shows Tanaka in front of the KunstHalle handing out sent-in books to interested people and thus passing on the ideas. Despite the restrained response, this action, too, reflects the quiet optimism typical of Tanaka’s works. “In these collaborations it’s always about trial and error,” asserts Tanaka. “But even if we fail a hundred times, we can still achieve something in the end. That’s the only way we can create a better world.” It is this utopian aspect that gives his art its relevance – in a world that appears to to be coming apart at the seams.

Many of the works currently on exhibit at MACRO were previously on display in Berlin. But in Rome the artist combined them in new ways and added other works. The result is a show that is completely different from the premiere at the KunstHalle. In Rome, there are different crosslinks between the exhibits. The changed title, A Vulnerable Narrator. Deferred Rhythms, alludes to this situation as the rhythms of the show in Rome are indeed “deferred.” For Tanaka, an exhibition is not fixed but organic, a social sculpture. A workshop rather than a show. Photographs and very personal texts on support frames placed at an incline in the space and stabilized with sandbags document Tanaka’s actions. Drawings that point to his artistic role models and sources of inspiration and video monitors are attached to wall-filling photographic works. The exhibition is akin to a mixture of installation, laboratory, and archive. The images, sounds, and objects condense into a total work of art.

Among the new works is We Found Something When We Lost Other Things, which the artist created in 2012 when he was in Rome on a working grant. After his wallet was stolen, Tanaka got the idea of placing seven empty suitcases on different street corners. He put an address sticker on them with the request that the suitcases be brought there. Only one was returned. But the artist even takes this in stride. In the text to  this action, Tanaka writes that these lost suitcases are perhaps now being used by homeless people or a theater group he had seen during his wanderings through the city.

Since the beginning of his artistic career, Tanaka has been interested in developing perspectives on everyday life. This is documented by the early videos he shot for the Taipei Biennial. Together with his two assistants, he shows what all can be done with pails, hangers, plastic cups, brooms, and umbrellas apart from their usual usage. The videos playfully explore the hitherto concealed potential of things.

In reaction to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Tanaka’s art has become more political. Instead of objects of everyday use, today he experiments with social relationships. He calls these actions, in which people do something together, Precarious Tasks. Tanaka investigates group behavior, how people negotiate with each other, how they fail and then come together again. “In my projects, the participants wind up in a situation where they really have to think about what collaboration means to them,” explains Tanaka. “These temporary communities can help us gain insight into ourselves.” And then there is utopian potential – thanks to his tasks we not only dream of alternative, more social forms of community, but actually experience them.

Koki Tanaka: A Vulnerable Narrator, Deferred Rhythms

10/1/2015 – 11/15/2015
Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma