Accessories as a political issue?
ARTIST STATEMENT/ POSTCARD PROJECT OF THE HOUSE OF WORLD CULTURES 2007
´Is it possible to bring my neighbors together to decorate our monstrous living high-rise at the Platz der Vereinten Nationen, Berlin? This building is a home for 220 households. There are the building’s original residents and the late-comers. The former residents are predominantly ex-SED members, ex-secret police people, and other privileged citizens from the time of former East Germany. The latter are seekers of relatively low rents who have moved in quite recently. The two groups do not mix and regardless of the large number of its residents, the building always seems uninhabited from the street. How can I make this place more alive?´ (Yuka Oyama)
´One day I sat in my atelier, looking out onto the street, where everyone seemed to be grey, neat and clean, and felt a sudden urge to throw a spanner into the works. It seemed to me, then, to be senseless to be sitting there quite alone, finishing an accessory meant to perfect the appearance of a human body. I longed to design things more specifically for the individual, so, in 2002, I began with my interactive accessories performances, my accessory quickies.´
Bulky installations tied to the back and to the head, tennis racquets fanning out like wings, and further, flatter hair accessories to complete the picture! Sometimes the accessory-quickies look playful and light-hearted and sometimes more like an affront to convention. After all, Yuka Oyama makes her artefacts out of the refuse of consumer society. In using such materials of dubious appeal, she sets forth the tradition of 20th century artisans who devised ‘artful accessories’ in reaction to the growth of the accessories’ industry and mass wares. In abandoning accepted forms and materials, Yuka Oyama has taken the radical step of using refuse for accessory installations. Her works are showy and expansive like her tightly filled plastic tube made into a necklace and girdle (for Naoko Kanezuka from Tokyo), her trailing gown of bags and nets (ASQ AGAIN), her prickly head accessories of barbed wire, and her garland of rosy shoulder pads. Such works may be dubbed ‘accessories’ or ‘works of art’ but they also reach out to other domains.
Questioned about these allusions, Yuka Oyama replies: ‘No, they are not really my cup of tea. I’m just interested in many of the arts. Lots of things inspire me and call for expression. I just choose a problem and then try to solve it artistically.’
AQs (accessory quickies) are made off-the-cuff, out of bands, sticky tapes and refuse, and are used to decorate visitors as accessories to exhibitions, though not perhaps accessories in the normal sense. They are separately asked to sit down in front of a mirror, then are questioned by the artist, who only after deep scrutiny embellishes them aptly. The results are zany clothes’ installations, weird hair trinkets and cranky necklaces. Viewers may wonder if they can really be worn. ‘They are made for the moment only,’ says Yuka Oyama, ‘and time and again it’s amazing to see how baubles can change wearers. That’s why I’m so interested in accessories, since even more than clothing they tend to express the personal. Accessories let wearers change their appearance and can be chosen deliberately with an end in mind. They are also practical,’ she adds, laughing, ‘since if wearers happen to feel overdressed or out of key with the occasion, they can easily take earrings and necklaces off.’
Yuka Oyama is not fussy about her materials and just uses whatever comes to hand. On first thinking of accessory performances, which she has since held in Japan and in various parts of Europe, it was clear to her that she would lack the time and money for long-lasting and costly materials, yet she wanted to work with as many clients as possible and to share their inspiration. ‘After all, the more numerous the clients, the more numerous the ideas.’ This led to research into art-recycling and to the finding that all refuse refers not only to its former owners but also to localities and to social trends. ’In one place in Japan, for instance, it occurred to me,’ she says, ‘that school items are soon thrown away for being dated. In this place the flurry of change is an acute social problem.’
She was also surprised by the outcome of her project ‘Kaeru-Bag’. This means ‘bag to be handed back’; since visitors took museum-bags home, where, according to instructions, they filled them with refuse for the project. On having sorted the things out according to their materials, Yuka Oyama often chanced to beautify visitors with the very things they had brought with them. Both she and they were amazed.
Whilst seldom labouring over the contrast between east and west, Yuka Oyama has noted differences. Her performances in Japan for instance have attracted no men over 30, her performances in Italy have attracted men of all ages, and her performances in Austria have attracted in particular elderly men. The Japanese and ‘westerners’ also react to her differently. The Japanese are more aloof, but once they yield are more open to her artistry, whereas ‘westerners’ are more amenable but only to a certain point before reining her in.
Yuka Oyama’s ensembles of accessories are meant to be shocking and to challenge accepted practices, categories and behaviour, to make people pause for a moment of reflection. Though her words are never provocative, the challenge is nonetheless seen. Her AQs are made to match wearers, whose foibles they make visible, even to themselves. She wants wearers to help in shaping them, in order to counter the habit of passive consumption abetted by fashion. ‘It’s really crazy. Everyone wants to look different from everyone else and to have his own visible identity, but then they all rush to the same store and buy the same fashions,’ she says, shaking her head.
She would like accessories to express a person, not his status, unlike the ones normally sold. She works with plain materials which anyone can afford. Crucial to her performances is communication, since few fashion designers still pay attention to personal needs. Both designers and wearers used to survey possibilities separately before meeting and coming to a final decision and Yuka Oyama would like to revert to this custom. Often she speaks regretfully about present-day haste and social isolation and she is keen to hold discussions and ‘invasion of privacy’ installations in private quarters. Nowadays, she says, people seldom sit together and make things. Her ‘love bandage’ is meant to redress this injury. Family celebrations are now thought to be ‘too much bother’, so she asks celebrants to leave their signatures on medical wrist-bandages, as they used to on plaster casts, then she hands the bandages round as souvenirs. It is enlightening to hear her speak of the item of clothing ‘wedding dress’, made up of white sandbags fastened to a hip-girdle and slowing the gait. Western art critics take it as symbolising a reluctance to walk to the wedding, but Yuka Oyama rather implies that weddings are nowadays rushed through by officials with rubber stamps, whereas the ceremony used to be relished at leisure. The slowing of pace occasioned by the wedding dress is meant to counter the haste not the marriage.
And how easy is it to market art accessories made of refuse? As an answer to this question critical to Yuka Oyama*s very survival, she is devising a fashion centre for the House of World Cultures. There, visitors as accessories to exhibitions will not only be embellished but will also be able to do the embellishing themselves. Yuka Oyama is to run the centre and to pay clients a euro an hour, alluding on the one hand to ‘one-euro jobs’ in Germany and on the other to low wages in developing lands. In effect she will be moving along capitalist lines but in the other direction, especially if she manages to export such wares to Asia.
All quotes are from an interview held by the writer (September 2005)
Born in 1974 in Tokyo, Yuka Oyama grew up in Malaysia, Indonesia and the USA. After studying design on Rhode Island she came to Berlin, where she trained and qualified as a goldsmith under the master Heinz Siebauer from 1996 to 1998. In 1997 she began studying in Prof. Otto Künzli’s class at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich and gained her diploma in 2004. She now works mainly as a performance artist.
Exhibition / Installation
“Zweite Haut—Kunst und Kleidung” Museum Bellerive, Zurich, Switzerland
“Right on Time” Dommuseum Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurt
“Sammlung Stehle” Henry Peacock gallery, London, England
“Now and Forever” Luitpoldblock, Munich
“Koru1” South korelia Museum, Finland
“Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial 2003”, Niigata, Japan
“Daikanyama Art Fair” Art Front Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
“Immaterial Jewelry” Schloss Plueschow, Plueschow
“SQaRT—Reclaim the Gehweg” Design Mai, Berlin
“SQaRT” Open Art, Luitpoldblock, Munich
“Craftholics Anonimous” Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, Middlesbrough, England
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
(01 March 07 - 31 December 08)
Contemporary Art from South East Asia
(30 September 05 - 20 November 05)