Tetsushi Higashino’s “Unproductive Production Activities” make you question what is meaningful or worthless, essential or insignificant, and through this existential journey, bring you to the realisation that life is what you make of it, and that is where the true understanding lies. Every element can be at once all-consuming and utterly pointless. Such is our world, and the many perspectives that pervade our collective existence. Tetsushi navigates these contradictions and paradoxes through his often self-deprecating and unassuming explorations and expressions.
I think the concept of the statement is not new anymore in art history, so most of them pay no attention actually. However, I just would like to believe in the possibility to transform our daily life into art.
If everything can be art, does art truly exist?
I meant it “can be” and has possibilities, so it depends on each person’s perception or point of view. If someone found anything that catches his/her heart, I would call it art. Because this emotional shift was caused by something in an unusual way or situation. I think art should exist everywhere around us and consider art as an inclusive concept.
What sort of art do you most enjoy? Any artists or particular works that inspire or excite you?
Art around the extended area, preferably unintentional things, which might be difficult to call art in general, often give me inspiration. On the other hand, I also like art made by very simple and clear ideas. I think I got influenced by Yoshiharu Tsuge (Japanese cartoonist), Duchamp, and Dadaism a lot when I started working.
You define your work as “Unproductive Production Activities” (reconsidering the value of trifling things). Is your work truly unproductive? You seem to be doing work that is more tied to our humanity than a lot of other work out there. Why do you think we as a species generally ignore the little things?
Unproductive Production Activities describes my art activities in a self-deprecating way, because I think I have never created anything useful in the true sense. That is why I selected the word unproductive. There is no further intention actually. Maybe art should not be useful fundamentally, so Unproductive Production Activities means art itself for me. I don’t think all people ignore the little things though, I’d like to express just a simple rubbish idea which often seems to be so easy and near-sighted that people give up or reconsider the idea. I agree that my work sometimes mentions our humanity, to be more precise, especially my humanity, however it is just an element of my work, I think.
You mentioned in a statement that you have a skeptical character, and a radical, critical, and negative perception, and so you became deeply interested in meaningless, worthlessness, and insignificance. How did that come about?
The statement that you quoted is an old one and was written more than ten years ago. Maybe I was a bit sick mentally. However, it is right that I have a negative perception essentially and am interested in insignificance. Mainly my work starts from these aspects. How come? I don’t know, maybe I’m a pessimist? I could only say this is my nature and my motivation to make art, so I don’t think that it has stood in the way of my work. One thing I remember now; when I was a little child and learning to ride a bicycle from my elder cousin, a barking dog was coming to us. I was scared and ran away on my bicycle with my cousin’s support. He pushed the backside of the bicycle, ran and ran. In the end, I fell into a river and he was safe. I believed in and admired him deeply, but after the accident, I didn’t speak much with him. Maybe this episode affected my skeptical character? I’m not sure.
Has your work saved you from this negative perspective, or are you still essentially a negative and skeptical person? Do you think you need to be saved from it at all?
As mentioned above, I might be a negative person basically. I’d like to change, but I think it’s difficult.
Some artists create aesthetically pleasing work, but it seems like you reject this and instead search for beauty in banality – have your eyes been opened to the beauty in the world, and thus you do not have a need for aesthetics?
In my opinion the value of beauty should not measurable and comparable. It depends on each person. Of course I also have my own aesthetics though, I think I feel beauty as an ordinary person does, too.
For a skeptical and negative character to spend such a significant amount of time exploring the beauty of the overlooked aspects of life seems ironic. Would you say your character has changed as a result?
I don’t think I have changed yet, but now I might be at a turning point since my daughter was born last year. At the same time, I think I will never change at all. Anyway anyhow, I think I am enjoying my life as an artist and a father.
It seems like a paradox – you are interested in things which are petty or unimportant, but by becoming interested in them, these things are transformed in your mind to become beautiful or attractive and important. When you process this, and repackage it into your art and share it with other people, others also start to see these insignificant things with a new perspective. (Or in other words, when something considered to be insignificant is noticed, does it become significant, and therefore unimportant yet again?)
You are nearly right but not correct. At first, whenever I start my worthless and insignificant project, I am already fascinated with these things. I mean it’s worthless in general, but for me, it’s already important and significant from the beginning. If people notice the importance of little things, I’d be happy. However, after finishing a project, I sometimes, not always, feel it was not important anymore – even for me. This is the first time to feel like that. Then I wonder where will these insignificant things go next? They should be nothing but insignificance. That would be the most paradoxical moment for me. And also, Unproductive Production Activities are a paradox. I am living in a contradictory world and you might be as well.
Do you ever lose interest in things once they become widely accepted as important, or beautiful?
Not really. Because I have never thought that people really accepted my things. I lose interest only when I feel no interest anymore, though.
Do you feel like it’s your role as an artist to show people the beauty around them?
Yes, I do. I would add not only the beauty but also a little fun around us.
Your personal journey seems to be a great source of inspiration. Your personal logs are transformed into art. Do you feel like the average human life holds great beauty and art?
Definitely. That’s why “Every trivial thing can be art”.
Do you think people would be happier if they took the time to notice the little things? Or if we switched what we consider to be important with what we consider to be insignificant?
Hopefully yes. But again, it depends on the person. Someone might think it’s wasting time. I don’t agree about switching. I’d like to see what will happen if we switched, though.
You said your next project is to be a good father. Will you approach this project like your other projects? Do you have a plan for how to achieve this goal or a set of characteristics that you feel defines a good father?
In the past, I considered making art and being a father separately. However, I have realized that I should not separate and it’d be great if I make art with my daughter. Though I have already made art about my daughter, I have no plan for collaboration at the moment, but I am thinking about it positively.
Would you say your interest in kinetic movement and interesting phenomenons around you is connected to childhood? You mentioned that now when you see your daughter’s fascination with things you can understand why you record certain things. Has your childlike curiosity and wonder been retained somewhere inside? Do you think you can keep that curiosity alive in your daughter as she grows up?
I’m not sure if it is connected to my childhood, though my curiosity seems too easy or childish actually. I think it is also my nature and motivation for my activities and I hope it helps to be a good father and my daughter will keep it, too. However, I think all people also have that childlike curiosity in their minds.
What most scares you about fatherhood? What delights you the most?
Loss of my daughter. I don’t even want to think about that. Watching her growing day by day is the most delightful. That’s just like a general father.
How do people generally react to your work? How would you hope they’d react?
Mostly they seem to take no notice at all, and the small amount of others have fun and smile. I just hope they have fun with my work. Hopefully, if I get something that leads to the next, that would be great.
You mentioned that you do not have a philosophy, and you don’t know why you do what you do. However, your work seems quite philosophical in itself. Do you agree that your work is philosophical and that you, by extension, are a philosopher? Have you learned any important lessons about life through your explorations and work?
It can be said that I am seeking the meaning of meaninglessness, worth of worthlessness and significance of insignificance through my Unproductive Production Activities. However, it is just playing on words. So, there is no philosophy actually. By the way, the meaning of my first name Tetsushi in Chinese character is philosophy and history. It’s too academic and heavy for me.
Do you have goals or anything you’re looking to accomplish with your work, or personally as a result of your various explorations?
I think there is no goal. Only if I will be able to keep on doing, I would be thankful.
6 – 13 March: Super Resumption / Reunite, Studio Kura, Fukuoka
18 – 29 May: As-yet-untitled, Art Center Ongoing, Tokyo
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIA KAO.