Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Heart Rocker - Shiro Masuyama

In June 2014 the Engine Room Gallery welcomed an installation by Japanese-born artist Shiro Masuyama. Over the past 11 year Shiro has engaged in a range of residencies worldwide, including Korea, Berlin, New York, Barcelone and IMMA in Dublin, and has exhibited widely in Japan, the UK, Ireland and Europe. The Heart Rocker is an installation based on the artist's experience relocating from Berlin to Belfast. The exhibition runs from Thursday 5th June to Saturday 28th June 2014.

The Heart Rocker
North Belfast, May 2011
Mixed media installation

Since 2004 I have been based in Berlin, but I have recently re-located to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland and has been site of sectarian conflict for many years. Catholic and Protestant communities have fought against each other due to the historic territorial and religious divisions between Ireland and the United Kingdom. My current location is situated close to a political border, or what is known in Belfast as a “Peace Line” which divides the Catholic and Protestant areas.
Recently, I was annoyed and angry to find dog shit in my front garden. This incident re-occurred repeatedly and led me to throw the offending shit into the street. I felt as if the dog was taking advantage of my personal space by entering through the gate without my permission. I felt invaded. After calming down a little, I realized that my actions corresponded to the aggression perpetuated by both sides of the conflicting parties in my city.
The enigma of the eternally present dog shit made me seriously consider whether I could develop a simple action to prevent its re-occurrence while also reflecting on my identity as a Japanese outsider.  There are mural paintings everywhere in Northern Ireland.  They present strong political messages from both Catholic and Protestant points of view. I decided to create a mural banner against the relentless dog shits attacks and I hung it on the wall of my house as my political message to the public of Belfast. I dealt with the dog shits like metaphorical landmines; people step on them unexpectedly and Northern Ireland is a land that is scarred with bombs that sporadically induce fear. This led me to make a video which shows me disposing of the dog shit while wearing a forensic suit.
The film entitled "The Hurt Locker"*, which got the Best Film Award in the 2009 Academy Awards, is about the US military working for bomb disposal in Iraq.  When I googled the film title in Japanese, I found that most Japanese people misunderstand the title as The Heart Rocker as Japanese cannot pronounce or hear the difference between "L" and "R".
My project pays homage to The Hurt Locker, as it reflects not on my identity as Japanese man, whose status and position within an English speaking community is deeply affected by my mispronunciation and by how I look. I feel that these factors have determined me as an ‘outsider’.

* "The Hurt Locker" is directed by Kathryn Bigelow. The film won Best Director, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay in 82nd Academy Awards

Measuring the height of Napoleon's Nose
Cave Hill, Belfast, November 2010
Fishing rod, Thread, Weight

Cave hill is a landmark in Belfast that is known locally as 'Napoleon's Nose' * because its outline from the ground as you look up at the hill gives the impression of person's face lying down. While living in north Belfast I was intrigued to make a site specific project based on this land face but first I had to figure out the dimensions that I would be working with, so I invited two friends to assist me in measuring the distance from the tip of the nose to the upper lip with a fishing rod.

* Napoleon's Nose is said to have inspired the famous novel Gulliver's Travels.

Napoleon’s Nose is Bleeding
Cave Hill, Belfast, Unrealized Project
Tarpaulin sheets, Pegs

Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland and has been site of sectarian conflict for many years. Catholic and Protestant communities have fought against each other due to the historic territorial and religious divisions between Ireland and the United Kingdom. Since I relocated to Belfast in 2010, I have started thinking about politics more often as an artist who has always worked with social context as a Japanese person working outside Japan, mainly through residency time. In my experience the conflict is never ending to understand in Belfast as well as Northern Ireland, I just wonder how local people think if our landmark of Belfast city, “Napoleon’s Nose” starts bleeding. And I just wonder if this project can be any chance for local people to think about their city again as positive place to live - as a space for art, a space for thoughts and ideas to form. I feel my idea and its realization will inspire and be received well by the local people, in a fixed and incidental way both artist and non-artist joining together through one site-specific artwork.

The Guest House Cork, Feb. 2013
The Engine Room Gallery, Jun. 2014

My Artist Residency at The Guesthouse is my 14th residency in my art career. When I participate in artist residencies I feel pressure to get proper outcomes during my stay. The co-directors, Mick and Irene’s house is located near The Guesthouse. Though there is some distance between The Guesthouse and their house, they can see The Guesthouse from their window. Sometimes I feel like they are watching whether I am working or not.  As I have my own pace to work I made the sign to let them know my situation. When I worked for art, I put the sign “ART ON” in my window. By turning “ON” upside down I put “NO ART” in my window, when I was sick of art.
As I wanted to donate this site-specific work to The Guesthouse as well as to the next resident artists, I made the sign with an alternative use. As The Guesthouse only opens to the public at specific times the sign also works on the entrance window to show whether events are on or not.
At this time I reproduced this work for my solo show in The Engine Room Gallery to represent in the small white cube in front of the window site-specifically.

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