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apexart :: Absences :: Jasa McKenzie
apexart - Nagoya, Japan
organized by Jasa McKenzie

July 1 - July 22, 2018

4 Chome-38 Nagatoicho, Nakamura-ku, Nagoya,
Aichi Prefecture 453-0803, Japan
Thursdays - Sundays, 1 - 7 pm

Opening Reception:
Saturday, June 30, 6-8 pm

Featuring work by:
Chen An An
Maura Terese
Atsushi Watanabe
An Open Call exhibition.

Chen An An, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 2016

brochure pdf
press release (english) pdf
press release (japanese) pdf
original proposal pdf

Saturday, June 30, 2018, 5:00 - 6:00 pm
Artists’ Talk
On the occasion of the opening reception for Absences, artists Chen An An and Atsushi Watanabe will discuss their artistic practices at large and their artworks in the exhibition.

Saturday, June 30, 2018, 6:00 - 8:00 pm
Absences Opening Reception
Absences opening reception at N-Mark.

Sunday, July 1, 2018, 5:00 - 7:00 pm
A Presentation on the subject of mental illness by Professor Hiroyuki Oae
Professor of Clinical Psychology at Nihon Fukushi University, Hiroyuki Oae, will deliver a public presentation, providing a general introduction to the subject of mental illness.
Absences explores the concept of absence and its relationship to various experiences of mental illness, directly and indirectly. The exhibition features works by artists Atsushi Watanabe, Chen An An, and Maura Terese. The artists portray a sense of distance or isolation from something, somewhere, or someone—an absence that is either physical, mental, or emotional. Whether drawing from first-hand experiences of mental illness, providing support to an afflicted loved one, or observing mental illness in society at large, the artists all convey a feeling of absence in their works. Mental illness often feels isolating, with the afflicted person often withdrawing into themselves. Similarly, those close to someone experiencing mental illness may feel a disconnection from the afflicted, literally—when the afflicted removes themself from social situations—or mentally, when the afflicted person becomes distant emotionally, or departs to a different mental state. The impact of mental illness in greater society is evident from the staggering absence of those who lose their battle with mental afflictions every year. Art's intersection with and exploration of mental illness lends further depth to this portrayal of absence.

The inspiration for this exhibition began when I walked into a conversation about mental illness between friends. Three of my close colleagues were having a discussion about perceptions of mental illness in their areas of origin: China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. One friend with a history of anxiety described the difficulty of conveying this experience to her parents, explaining that the concept simply didn’t compute. The other two were in strong agreement, adding that they didn’t feel they could bring up the topic in their home contexts, citing that it makes people uncomfortable. My friends discussed how many people are afraid to associate with those who have a reputation of experiencing mental illness, for fear that they could “catch” the affliction. One friend described to me that a person’s strength of character is perceived to be directly linked to her or his mental health status. She told me that one common thought about someone experiencing mental illness is, ‘“You’re not sick, you’re weak,” which was the original title proposed for this exhibition. What they described was very different from my experience with the topic in the context of the U.S., and prompted me to conduct further research.

My friends’ description of the perception of mental illness in Eastern cultures deeply impacted me. They further suggested for me to research the subject specifically in the context of Japan, and I discovered reports that confirmed its high suicide rates in comparison to other industrialized nations. Although the United States and Western cultures certainly struggle with the appropriate identification, support, and treatment of mental illness, this was the first time I had heard personal accounts of the severe stigmatization of mental illness in other cultures.

Drawing inspiration from this perception of mental illness in Eastern cultures, the exhibition provides a platform for artists who have direct or indirect experience with mental illness. The subject of mental health is considered a taboo in many Eastern cultures. Presented in Japan, a country with one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world, this public display on mental illness seeks to challenge this avoidance and encourage open conversation on the subject. Art is an important mediator in this project, creating an approachable entry to a subject that is not normally discussed in public.

Absences Chart

Nagoya was selected as the location of this exhibition because of its large number of colleges and universities, which account for Nagoya’s large percentage of young adults and college students, the age group that tends to be most affected by mental illness in Japan. Young adults in Japan have the fastest growing suicide rates, largely due to the pressures of school and beginning a career, making it the number one killer of the age group. The exhibition is presented at N-mark, an experimental arts organization that regularly supports young artists. Absences emphasizes the importance of mental health, especially for young adults as they embark on periods of major self-development. The context of the city of Nagoya offers a fertile ground of conversation-stimulating approaches to views and experiences of mental illness and absence.

In developing the project, the theme of “absence” emerged as a thread running through practices of the three artists in the exhibition, each of which explores a different perspective and experience.

Atsushi Watanabe is a Japanese artist whose work in this exhibition investigates the experience of hikikomori, a term that both describes a particular condition of acute social withdrawal and refers to those who experience it. Hikikomori are people who seek extreme isolation and confinement for notable periods of time. Watanabe’s work ruminates on the emotional scars that result from the feeling that one has lost a place to live in the outside world. His piece, My Wounds/ Your Wounds (2017) consists of a video and sculpture that reflect on his own past experience with this condition. Watanabe explores the struggles of both the afflicted as well as those who care for them. In the video, the artist and his mother smash a small replica of her house with hammers. They proceed to sit across a table from each other piecing the house back together while discussing their perspectives on the experience of hikikomori. The sculpture on display in the exhibition is the one featured in the film. Here it has been reassembled utilizing kintsugi, a Japanese technique of repairing, in which cracks and broken fragments are repaired with gold to highlight the beauty in the broken. Watanabe’s work reflects the absence of the hikikomori from their homes and family lives and, reflexively, the absence they experience of the world beyond the bedroom door.

Chen An An is a multimedia artist from Taiwan whose work explores queer sexuality and self-identity within the complexities of social systems. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (2016) is an installation piece that calls attention to and mourns the loss of the many LGBT youth in Taiwan who take their own lives as a consequence of depression stemming from deep social repression. Chen folds trash bags, a ubiquitous but overlooked material, mirroring a common funerary practice in Taiwan where mourners fold the clothing of the departed. Removing these and other belongings from the home underscores this new absence from the family unit and from society at large. The piece invites the visitor to consider the devastating number of suicides caused by social intolerance and alienation of LGBT youth.

Maura Terese is an artist based in New York City. She is represented by Fountain House Gallery, which supports artists living with mental illness. In her photographs, she uses herself as her subject and portrays characters using costumes, wigs, makeup, and props. These characters represent isolated parts of her personality and personify her continual struggle with mania. By scratching and tearing the photographs, Terese adds an erratic and crazed element to the work. Prescription bottles and the juxtaposition of multiple photos in one composition likewise deliver the sense of a tension between a manic experience against the imposed regiment of medications. Terese’s work meditates on the absence of her sense of self in relation to the consequences of medications intended to treat mental illness.

Absences presents a range of approaches to the topic of mental illness featuring three artists from different countries, inviting a dialogue between cultures and offering perspectives on mental health that viewers may relate to and learn from. Exploring cross-cultural commonalities in the experience and depiction of mental illness further encourages a public conversation on this important issue.

Jasa McKenzie © 2018

Thank you to Isamu Muto and N-mark for the use of the gallery and support of the exhibition. A special thank you to Akiko Ukai, who was an integral assistant to the exhibition, and to Artists’ Guild for the use of their equipment.

Jasa McKenzie is a curator and artist based in New York and Minneapolis. She holds a master’s degree in Curatorial Practice from the School of Visual Arts. She previously obtained her bachelor's degree in Studio Art from Augsburg College. In her practice, she is driven by issues of identity, equality, and social justice. Her recent exhibitions include My-O-My, The Map is Not the Territory, and Femmexplicit Digitalia in New York and Brooklyn. Her work and writing have been featured in Artspeak, Daily Serving, Visual Opinion, and SVA publications as well as her public blog, The New Heroin(e).

apexart’s program supporters past and present include the Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, the Buhl Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Spencer Brownstone, the Kenneth A. Cowin Foundation, Epstein Teicher Philanthropies, The Greenwich Collection Ltd., William Talbott Hillman Foundation/Affirmation Arts Fund, the Fifth Floor Foundation, the Consulate General of Israel in New York, The Puffin Foundation, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, public funds from Creative Engagement, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and administered by LMCC, funds from NYSCA Electronic Media/Film in Partnership with Wave Farm: Media Arts Assistance Fund, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
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