Interview by Esther Moerdler with artist Tamara Kametani
Q: What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you? Has it influenced your work today? If so, how?
I can’t quite remember what the first memorable work was, I didn’t have the most straightforward path into art. I remember reading Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others in my first year studying photography in college that had a huge impact on how I saw images and visual culture in general. Shout out to my tutor Roberta McGrath that introduced me to so much of the important writing. It made me realise that there was so much more to photography than I knew at the time and It continues to be a hugely important piece of writing to me, one I often return to. Reading that book was definitely one of those coming of age moments that set me on the path that I’m on now many years later.
An artist whose work I’ve admired for a long time is Jenny Holzer, I love how she approached public space and dissemination of work. Her Truisms are essentially timeless and remain so relevant even today 40 years later. She’s definitely one of my art crushes.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration for your works? Has it changed over time?
It’s a cliche but really it’s the environment I’m in. When I lived in the US my work referenced issues that were a lot more relevant there. When I moved back to Europe in 2015, the European refugee crisis was at its peak and it was all over the news. I wanted to understand it more so I started doing loads of research, really just for my own sake of figuring out what the hell was going on. I suppose the inspiration really comes from the desire to reflect on the times I happen to be living in, it’s kind of a challenge. How can I add anything to the conversation everyone is having? I wanted to be a journalist when I was younger but I learned that there wasn’t ever just one truth, so I gave up on that and became an artist instead! I’ve always been fascinated with the news. We tend to become obsessed with certain news stories, but they can often be quite superficial.
Q: You received your MA at the Royal College of Art in Contemporary Art Practice, Public Sphere – do you see any differences creating art for an in-person public versus an online public?
I always like to imagine what the viewers might see when they see my work. It’s a kind of exercise in figuring out whether the ideas I’m trying to get across are indeed accessible. There are plenty of artists out there that don’t like to think of the audience when they make the work, but for me it’s important to think of these encounters. Saying that, there is a certain level of consideration you wouldn’t want to go beyond, or else you might end up making something only because you know the public will respond well to it. I have no interest in that. The work I am making for For the time being is the first online only show. It’s interesting to think of the potential audience reach, but I don’t think it’s affecting the process of making the work per se. If anything, it’s the platform on which the show is going to be hosted and the fact that the work will be viewed mainly on smartphones. People will see it for a couple of seconds during their morning commute or when they’re bored at work. I am more interested in these other elements outside of my control that will surround the work. When people come to a gallery, that’s usually all they’re doing- looking at your work, you have their (almost) undivided attention. That is not the case with social media. People will be doing whole bunch of other things, my work will just pop up for a brief moment and then disappear. So the question that interests me here is: what can I do with those few seconds that I get?
Q: In your works The sea stayed calm for 180 miles and Jungle 2013-2016 you use digital imaging to interrogate the refugee crisis – how do you see these forms of digital imaging affecting our perceptions of our global surroundings?
Both those works- The sea stayed calm for 180 miles and Jungle 2013-2016 were done using footage from Google Earth. We have tools at our disposal nowadays to be able to see almost any place on Earth, which is incredible. At the same time these images aren’t raw files and they are moderated and certain areas (i.e. military) blocked out altogether. I spent hundreds of hours on Google street view and Earth over the past few years and it continues to fascinate me, but I do take what I see with a grain of salt. We have became accustomed to having virtually any information available to us at any given time but it doesn’t necessarily mean it affects our outlook on the world. We all pick and choose information to support our arguments. There are people out there that believe the Earth is flat, and no image of the Earth will change their mind.
Q: For this project you’re looking into how history is made and collective nostalgia – How has social media affected your view of society and societal memory? How do you view the phenomenon of social media news circulation in general and as it affects your everyday life?
Everything moves faster now. The new technology made 24-hour news the norm and we learnt to rely on it. If there is something happening on the other side of the world I now expect to get updates in real time. That wasn’t the case 10 years ago. There are huge news stories that after first breaking out get turned into memes almost immediately. Everyone will be talking about it and sharing it online, but give it couple of days and most people will have already moved onto the next thing. Our attention span is short. I do love memes however. I’m thinking of the recent example of the first image of the black hole that was released couple of weeks ago and all the memes that followed. My news feed was full of them for like 2 days, and then we moved onto the next thing. But I don’t think that moving on necessarily means not remembering, only that we consume information at a much faster pace. It’s possible that if you showed me the image of the black hole with a couple of the memes in 5 years time I will remember and the process of remembering might trigger a sense of nostalgia.
I suppose I was lucky to be already an adult when social media came around. I am aware of the digital trail I am creating and I try to be somewhat in control of it. I mainly use social media as a tool to keep on top of what’s happening and what my peers are up to, but also news but trends as well. I do follow Kim Kardashian, she’s the queen of social media after all.
Q: For you, what are the primary characteristics that differentiate an image-based artwork from the everyday domestic photograph when both exist inside a social media platform? What differentiates a common image from an artwork when both exist within the digital stream of information that is the social platforms and the internet?
The question really is what makes an image “art” as opposed to just being the “everyday domestic photograph” in the first place. There are so many artists working with archival material that was never thought of as “art” but only as everyday photograph before being re-appropriated. Does it matter if the artist believes the content they publish is art but nobody else thinks of it as art? I think we have to be creative with how we use social media as a tool for dissemination of art and understand the strength of these platforms. Context is hugely important, online and offline. I like to think of Amalia Ulman’s Instagram performance as a great example of how we fail to understand art when we encounter it on a platform we generally don’t associate with art. It’s elitist, and not particularly forward thinking.
Q: Do you think the increasing availability of virtual and augmented reality will change how we produce, view, and interact with works?
Yes and no. Although there is definitely a huge interest in VR and AR works at the moment (myself also currently working on a project using AR) with people willing to queue for up to hours to experience it, when they only spent 27 seconds on average looking at a piece of art. This in itself is an interesting phenomenon. Audience is alway craving new experiences, and VR and AR works certainly do provide that. Art using any new technologies always faces the danger of being reduced to a gimmick and there is plenty of VR art around that’s just that. You can’t rely on the novelty of the tools you’re using to deliver on the content.
At the same time, there is an analogue resurgence, with lot of people using film cameras, polaroid and 16mm film. I think people will always be drawn to works made by hand, I don’t see paintings going anywhere anytime soon.
Q: What do you want people to take from your work in For the Time Being and in general?
I’d like to think of the work in For the Time Being as a way to stop people momentarily in their tracks. Maybe throw off and confuse a little. I can’t control much beyond that.