Guest contribution by Satoko Shibahara, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.
“Void/Between”, the title of an essay first published in 2011 by artist Megumi Matsubara is also the rubric of her recent intervention, a site-specific installation at Higher Atlas, 4th Marrakech Biennale 2012.
In the essay originally published in Japanese, 空／間, Matsubara proposes several transliterations for the Japanese word 空間 , read kuukan, meaning Space. The title uses an unnatural syntax, a slash separating the characters ‘kuu ‘ from ‘kan’. With this radical gesture, she quakes our casual and even usual understanding of Space. Her transliterations to English such as “void/space,” “empty/between” and “void/gap” magnifying these two seemingly contentious notions that together indeed make and mean space.
“Presence/absence” is a recurring discourse in Matsubara’s work. What tells you with certainty that something really exists? Does the act of documentation make it so?
Matsubara’s “My Imaginary Lagos” raised these questions. Her photographic oeuvre, made before visiting the city, juxtaposed images of Lagos taken by an acquaintance with Matsubara’s own images of other places. Was this not in fact Lagos as an ‘Invisible City?’ Beyond presenting the uncertainty of documentation, she had revealed the presence of her ‘imagined’ Lagos.
What makes us feel that we have understood a given subject? What are the situations, the things necessary to understand? In 空／間, Matsubara asks, Why do we need to understand things through Space?
Encountering “ Void/Between,” I sensed that I understood, not with my eyes but with my gut. I was reminded of our conversations together, often her words becoming very abstract. I recall trying to make sense of those fragments. In hindsight, I realise with some regret that I was looking for an easy answer, all the while losing sight of the most important thing.
As I stood almost alone in this huge space, the main opera hall in Marrakech’s Theatre Royale, enveloped in “Void/Between,” it felt like she was speaking to me. I imagined her saying, “You know what I am talking about, don’t you?” In truth, she would never say this, besides I could not tell her, it was something I sensed. It was a notion to be understood and shared only through Space.
In fact, what she had made was one small object, a door; yet I was surrounded by “Void/Between.” Its refracted light flickering. It was an immaterial illusion. The strong Moroccan sun penetrating the object became her light. With its presence she was present, with its disappearance, her disappearance. When the wind or sometimes a visitor stirred, her light also stirring. Could this be a relationship of co-existence? Or dependence? A myriad of movements between interconnected and inseparable elements in this chain lattice echoing Matsubara’s words, “In Morocco, there are layers of complexity that cannot be easily understood.”
Morocco is a nation sandwiched between Sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab world and Europe. Geographically, historically and culturally it exists in the “in-between.” How is Morocco defined by these peripheral complexities? In Japan, the notion of Void is historically more rooted than the idea of Space. Could it be that she, a stranger from Japan, is telling us that she found both Void and Between in Morocco?
Time has passed since Lagos was her “Invisible City.” She has since sojourned in three African cities, in Lagos, Nairobi and now Marrakech. As I listen to her talk about Africa, I notice once again that I am learning about those unknown places through the stories of an acquaintance. In an age flooded with information, the strength of her words are not lost. Without a doubt, they are documentation.
I continue to imagine “Invisible Cities”, “Africa” through her lens. Even if I return to Africa, her words and Africa have become inseparable for me; Megumi Matsubara is my Marco Polo, introducing ‘Invisible Cities’ which I myself cannot see.
Satoko Shibahara works at The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. She also serves as an independent curator. Between 2010-11, she was a member of the editorial board of The Journal of Architecture and Building Science, the oldest Japanese architectural journal.
Site-specific installation for the main opera hall of Theatre Royale, Marrakech.
(A door replaced from the original, applied films to 14 windows)
Higher Atlas, Marrakech Biennale 4, Morocco, 2012.
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Megumi Matsubara is a Japanese artist whose practice spans from static architecture to ephemeral situations including installation, sculpture, performance, music and writings. She is a founding member of assistant since 2002.
All images courtesy of the artist.