To artists, the term “local” can be almost derogatory, implying provincialism or lack of international success. Yet widespread international exhibitions and biennials rely on and reinforce the concept of local identity. The recent show by London-born, Berlin-based artist Kasia Fudakowski at Chert Gallery, titled “Local Artist,” poked fun at this paradox. Choosing as a lens the culture of Japan—a nation distantly included in her complex lineage—she parroted traditional Japanese aesthetics through sculpture, video and performance while also referencing the way Japanese culture has been historically assimilated and (mis)interpreted in the Western world.
In the first room, Fudakowski presented the semblance of tatami-mat flooring (all works 2014), made from “local” materials purchased at a nearby hardware store: Styrofoam and wooden beams. Two sculptures featured Japanese characters in neon, forming words most gallerygoers could not understand without learning the titles of the works, which function as English translations. One, named Local’s Local, is an unstable-looking plinth covered in green fabric, on which hang both the neon lettering and crude facelike masks shaped from dry salt dough. The second sculpture is a large white rectangle, affixed by a steel armature to the ceiling, on which the characters for “You will be rewarded” appear in neon. Dangling from the sign are two knitted burgundy socks.
The next room contained various experiments in mimicry of traditional crafts, featuring fractured representations of functional items. You have beautiful eyes thank you (1) and (2) are pieces of woven rattan held to the wall by steel bars. The long, curling, loose ends of the rattan resemble eyelashes—a cutesy reference to anime cartoons. For 1 quarter Kimono (lives and works) and 2 quarters Kimono, half Wicker, (from my mothers side), the artist made wooden cutouts in the shape of kimono patterns, one of which appears to be ornamented with wooden inlay, a traditional Japanese technique. Upon closer inspection, the decoration consists of layers of thin veneer, perhaps a reference to the superficiality of appropriating styles and traditions.
In a projected video titled Japanese Wink, a camera pans across a photograph of the artist wearing a kimono. The camera stops on her face, and she suddenly winks, the photograph having been animated. Her pose and adornment recall artworks from late-19th-century France, when Japanese isolation ended and French artists were highly influenced by the foreign aesthetic, appropriating colors and compositions from Japanese prints and crafts.
Two days before the show opened, Fudakowski recorded a video in the gallery. She persuaded staff from a nearby Japanese restaurant to act as reporters taping a live segment about her exhibition for Japanese television. On opening night, she reenacted the same performance in front of the audience, who were given no information about the event. Immediately after, however, Fudakowski installed a monitor playing an edited version of the prerecorded “segment” in the gallery, betraying the fakery.
During the performance, the artist communicated with the Japanese restaurant workers/camera crew in German, which is the native language of neither party but the only one they have in common. Watching them struggle to discuss the Japanese-inspired artwork using improvised terms and gestures, one realized how languages, linguistic or visual, are continually in the process of mutating, in meaning and form, through contact with others. The concept of local identity is a construction that emerges only through interaction with the global.