Walking the Jungle in one’s Mind, Personal Cosmology, and the Ecology of Interconnectedness

Curator and artist Seiha Kurosawa. Photography Lily Shu.

An early childhood memory … that’s a difficult question. It was only when I was a college student that I got to see museums and artworks. Before that, I was in a rural village in India and I didn’t have the chance to see anything cultural. The first biggest kind of encounter with contemporary art was when I visited Israel and saw Anselm Kiefer’s work at the Tel Aviv museum. I was a young adult at the time and it was surprisingly moving and strong, even without understanding the full context. The other thing, which is not about encountering an artwork, happened in that small rural village in India. I was volunteering doing art with kids. The village was very poor, without good infrastructure. The children didn’t have art materials, they got into fights between girls and boys before starting doing any art. These kids were also farming, and helping their parents, they were living in extreme conditions and art came last. But eventually, when they started concentrating, I saw the opposite happen, that art empowered their lives and the quality of it. I was just a teenager, but I realised how art, as a fundamental power of making, the way these kids engaged with it, through very simple drawings of chicken and houses influenced me to start in the field.

Temporarily, I say that I am an artist and a curator, as I don’t know yet how to describe what I do. When I was a student I was making films and movies, then I had the chance to work in a commercial gallery in Tokyo. I was looking for something that would be in-between those two activities: art making and gallery work. I learned about this field called curating, the university established a new department dedicated to it, and actually named it at such. I studied, started working as a curator, and travelled around the world. I started feeling like expanding the curatorial narrative and the languages it uses. That perhaps, it didn’t have to be limited to exhibition-making. I came back to video work, and in 2018, I made a film as-an-exhibition about painter Isson Tanaka, who died in the ‘70s and who never had a solo show during his lifetime. After he died on the island of Amami Oshima, Tanaka was known as the Japanese Gauguin. The approach for the film was similar to that of making an exhibition—rather than that of a documentary. It’s a sort of installation with a dual screen, called Dokkyaku (Lone Visitor). One side shows the painter’s life poetically, without narration, and on the other side I used the Haiku written by Tanaka. It was quite experimental, and included a field recording, with the sound of that tropical island and sceneries painted by Tanaka.

As a curator, I work on film-exhibitions with other artists. Beyond selecting artworks and artists, my approach to curating is to dig deeper into an artist’s life through a visual narration that is part of the curatorial narrative, and through collaborating with other artists, which also becomes a conversation between artistic and curatorial practices. My basic interest is new ecological awareness in relation with art. Another film I made is “Desiring Unspeakable Entropy”, in 2019. It is also a dual screen installation, on which I collaborated with two Japanese artists about the sacred but industrialised Mount Bukoh. This film is about a city called Chichibu, where there is this symbolical and sacred mountain in a limestone mining site, that is also known as the birthplace of Japanese geology. I made a research about the city, its rocks, stones, and former sea creatures—from when it used to be an ocean. It’s a sacred place, but it also has been exploited for cement. It’s a very special city.

I always collaborate with artists, I find more within the dialogue with them, and artists need a curatorial dialogue sometimes in return. I am a curator who’s trying to expand the methodology. Not everyone understands me but it’s progressing.

Seiha Kurosawa. Talk on “Dokkyaku (Lone Visitor) and Japanese painter, Isson Tanaka. Fukami – Une plongée dans l’esthétique Japonaise. Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild Métro, Paris. 2018

I am currently working on the Thailand Biennale. The project is directed by Yuko Hasegawa, and I am working with Vipash Purichanont and Tawatchai Somkong as co-curators. We are focusing on how we could make a new capital, not in the neo-liberal sense, but thinking of a new form of capital. It would not only be for humans, but also to be shared with animals, forests, etc. Actually, as part of the biennale is the Nakhon Ratchasima Zoo, known for saving Thai cranes from extinction, and reintroducing them into the wild. The biennale was postponed several times, so now we also focus on the current situation, and hopefully it will happen this December.

I am more of a big picture person, and not that much into details. I start from a broad mind-map, then I think about the particulars. I often go back and forth, reframing and detailing. I am more intuitive, I see phenomena before contexts. 

I spend a lot of time in nature, often jungles: for instance my research in the Amazon rainforest or in Oshima’s tropical island. I like very, very old rainforests, I challenge myself to understand them in the mystical sense, where the fundamental structure of the mind happens in relation to nature. That’s the way I can connect, say, a tree to an artwork and to curatorial narratives.

Installation view _Desiring Unspeakable Entropy” at Collision point on dimensions_ 35°42’59.0” – N 139°46’07.4”E – 36.0892”AA Ft. The 5th Floor. Tokyo. 2021. Photography Jukan Tateisi.

I recently started yoga, although I never practiced when I was in India. I meditate a little too these days. Before, I could travel to jungles and keep my own ecology by travelling and moving, but with Covid, I found it very difficult to keep my motivation. So I started to wonder how to travel within myself. How can I walk around the jungle in my mind? It’s easy to say, but harder to practice for someone like me, who although feels very close to people’s lives in the jungles, including indigenous people, but has a different cosmology. I believe now is not the time for ideologies, but for cosmologies, and how to co-exist by putting a variety of cosmologies into practice. That’s also why I study yoga and meditation, maybe I could compose my own cosmology, on a personal and curatorial level, from various practices. How to embody it daily though, is a question I am continuously trying to answer.

For fun … I eat and drink with friends. I eat any kind of food, but these days I am trying to be something called a reduceterian, meaning I am trying to reduce my consumption of meat. Besides that, I eat anything, I even tried worms in Thailand.

Ecology is definitely my topic. I didn’t have an art elite education or started my career from an art historical point of view. When I was assistant curator at the Moscow Biennale, I realised that my main preoccupation was something called ecology, I don’t necessarily mean protecting the environment and protecting nature. As I said, I believe we each can build our own cosmology, and this motivation is coming from my experience living in India from 15 to 18 years old, and then moving back to Tokyo. As a phenomenon it was very difficult to understand the two realities, the Indian village and a city like Tokyo, coexisting. It’s a bit schizophrenic. I had a mental crisis, and I was always thinking about a way to integrate both as one identity, not only as a cultural identity, but also in relation to nature. I didn’t know what to do, I searched, including via the making of films. Then I realised it was about ecology, I probably just didn’t know it was named this way. That time coincided with the many discussions about the Anthropocene. I also believe some of the younger generations in Japan are currently interested in reconsidering their relation with their environment.

Timothy Morton’s “Ecology without Nature” is a book that is very relevant to me. I also met him and had a conversation with him. He explains that ecology is not about nature, that we should stop separating nature from us. When you say you want to protect nature, you are saying it’s a different entity from us, yet everything is interconnected.

Shooting in drift ice in Northern Japan. Photography Yoichi Kamimura. 2021.

I am also currently going back to trying to reinterpret Zen, and read Daisetsu Suzuki, who translated zen buddhism literature into English. He also wrote several essays. I am trying to reinterpret his idea of zen, not in the way people did it in the ‘60s, but with what is happening now. He was very aware of what was going to happen through the process of modernisation. Zen can be a bit cliché, including in its relation to the art world, and I usually avoid talking about it, for now.

If I were to record a message for my future self, I will tell my future self “don’t try to come back, even if the technology allows it. Live in the now”.

If I wasn’t a curator I would be a veterinarian or a doctor who takes care of both humans and animals.

Seiha Kurosawa

Independent curator

Tokyo, Japan

Biography:

Seiha Kurosawa is a curator and artist based in Tokyo. He currently works for Thailand Biennale, Korat 2021, as a co-curator.
Through his curatorial practice, Kurosawa researches relationships between contemporary art and new ecological concepts in which the fields of environment, society, and psychology intersect. In addition to producing exhibitions, he also works collaboratively with other artists. He aims to create a new sensual and poetic ambiance that allows the audience to grasp the emerging complex ecology through curatorial approaches, artistic practices, and texts. 
His major curatorial practices include:  World Art Tokyo “Pangaea Tectonics – Diastrophism of Emerging Art / Diverging New Tales” (Art Fair Tokyo 2018, Tokyo International Forum) and “Clouds ⇆ Forests”, 7th Moscow International Biennale of Contemporary Art, (The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, 2017).
He also participated into several exhibition as an artist such as  “Desire: A Revision from the 20th Century to the Digital Age” (Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland, 2019 ) and “Fukami – Une Plongée Dans l’Esthétique Japonaise”, (Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild Métro, Paris, 2018).

Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva

Art critic and writer.

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