a conversation with arthur j. huang,

I discovered Arthur Huang’s work in the first meeting of Tokyo Humanities Café, July 2017. I became fascinated by his work and methodology instantly. A couple of months ago I was able to interview him.

Arthur J. Huang is both a scientist and an artist, currently living in Tokyo. About his art he says the following:

“My work focuses on the everyday whether it is waiting for a train, sitting on a bus, walking, eating, sleeping, or grocery shopping. These are activities that we all do but do not always think about afterwards. […] We spend much of our time reflecting on the ups and downs of life, but most of our time is spent occupied with these common everyday activities. Exploring the everyday is an opportunity for me to discover a different perspective on our lives as human beings in this contemporary world.”

1 / You combine your job as a scientific investigator with being an artist as well. At first glance, your ouvre seems directly influenced by this much more rational part of our life that is being a scientist. Do you agree? If you do, what aspects of your job as a scientist affect in your art? And does it happen the other way round as well?

I would certainly agree that my studio practice has been influenced by my work as a scientist.  When I entered graduate school, I was making biomorphic abstract paintings that attempted to recall works by Kandinsky and Gorky without incorporating my work as a scientist.  While in graduate school, I discovered the history of conceptual art and artists whose works resonated with the process of scientific inquiry.  On Kawara, Sol LeWitt, and Hanne Darboven are three artists I discovered during graduate school whose works and practices remain touchstones for me.

While I have training and experience as a molecular biologist, my studio practice primarily integrates the methodology of scientific investigation rather than actual scientific experiments into the creation of work.  I am interested in the accumulation of information that I subsequently analyze and use as a basis for new and continuing works.  Some of my projects take place for a fixed period of time, usually one month, during which I explore a particular theme and/or medium to see what insights I might yield from that idea or experiment.  Other projects are indefinite, but incorporate the notion of daily practice into them.  The Daily Drawings Project and the Memory Walks Project fall into this category.  Working simultaneously on small and large projects allows for an interplay between the projects to create unexpected dialogues and discoveries to take place.

The work I do in my studio practice provide many opportunities to think and solve problems creatively which help to expand my thinking when it comes to approaching scientific projects and problems.  However, I believe the overall influence is stronger going from my scientific practice to my studio practice.

2 / Nowadays, in contemporary art, art and science are so interconnected that sometimes is difficult to decide if a piece of art is more related to one field or the other. As an artist and scientist, how do you think this relationship is going to evolve? Does a limit between these two fields exist?

I think the relationship between art and science in contemporary society is an exciting and inspiring development.  I remember seeing Exit Art’s “Paradise Now” exhibition in 2000 about artists exploring biotechnology and thinking that this is the beginning of art and science coming back together.  What I remember from that exhibition as a scientist and artist is how I wanted there to be more integration of scientific knowledge and art history in the works.  Since that exhibition, I have seen the development of vibrant science/art communities around the world along with artist-in-residence programs at various scientific institutions.  The works of contemporary art that explore scientific research in the biological sciences, artificial intelligence and artificial life have begun to ask deeper questions in the 21st century.  I believe that art has an important role in asking interesting and thought provoking questions about the current and future state of scientific research and its impact on society.

In general, artists are able to work with and think about ideas from lateral and vertical perspectives to synthesize their responses.  As more in-depth exchanges and conversations continue between artists and scientists, I think the distinction between expressions of art and science will also continue to blur.

If there is one thing I would like to see in the development of dialogue between art and science, it would be a more balanced exchange of ideas between the arts and sciences.  While contemporary artists have a great interest in learning and exploring various fields of scientific research, I would very much like to see scientific communities take a stronger interest in the role of contemporary art in scientific research and society.

3 / As a foreigner living in Japan, how much of Japanese culture and society’s way of thinking has influenced your work? What are some of the characteristics that you have noticed in Japan’s contemporary art scene?

One of the most visible influences on my work while living in Japan has been the notion of “ma” which can be thought of as space, breath, and/or pause.  The influence was not necessarily a conscious one, but the result of absorbing numerous exhibitions of traditional and contemporary Japanese over the nine years that I have lived here.  The presence of “ma” can be seen in the composition of my individual works and installations.

The prevalence of art festivals throughout Japan has been one of the most interesting aspects of the Japanese contemporary art scene.  These festivals take the form of annual, biennial, and triennial festivals which focus on local artists with an emphasis on community, land, and forms of social practice.  There are, of course, larger art festivals which incorporate the range of local, national, and international artists.  Most of these art festivals take place in non-urban areas with a desire to revitalize areas outside of Tokyo, Osaka, and other large cities in Japan.

4 / Your ouvre is mostly inspired by the awareness of our everyday memories, those that we are used to forget easily. How did you end up focusing part of your art in taking into consideration these memories?

My interest in these easily forgotten everyday memories began when I was in graduate school.  Between my first and second years, I drove myself across the United States from Rhode Island to California for the summer.  During the course of these week long drives that bookended my summer, I found myself with an abundance of time for introspection and began to think of ways to make the that time more “productive”.  I began documenting various aspects of my road trips as a means of documenting these in-between moments which then led to my first body of work incorporating everyday memories.

Since then, I have been exploring these moments in my daily life in response to the realization that significant portions of our lives are spent “in-between”.  If you sum up all those in-between moments, they add up to significant number of years in over our lifetime.  We usually think upon and remember moments at point A and point B and the actual physical and mental experiences of going from point A to point B gets lost in the shuffle.

Living in Tokyo has made me especially aware of these moments of transition.  My primary modes of transportation are walking and public transportation which have allowed me to be more fully inhabit those transitions.  This creates an increasing awareness about the environment around me and my own thoughts.  I want my studio practice to reflect my awareness of those “in-between” moments.

While in graduate school and shortly thereafter, this interest in the “in-between” stemmed from a desire to make the most of my time and cope with notions of mortality.  Currently, my interest in inhabiting and experiencing these transitional moments is the most important thing for myself and my studio practice.  I am constantly trying to find ways to create meaning and make discoveries for myself in relationship to my everyday life.

5 / As you say in your website: “Exploring the everyday is an opportunity for me to discover a different perspective on our lives as human beings in this contemporary world”. By exploring the everyday, how has your vision of the contemporary world changed? Do you think by taking more into consideration this perspective we, as human beings, can understand better our surroundings?

My exploration of the everyday is a lifelong work in progress and my thoughts about the contemporary world have been a cyclic process of discoveries and rediscoveries.  It is hard to put clearly and succinctly into world my vision of the contemporary world, but I believe that a physical and mental awareness of our immediate surroundings, experiences, and thoughts give us an opportunity to make sense of our lives.  I realize that this is a vague and opened response your question as I see the discoveries as individual and specific.  Speaking for myself, I have a growing sense of the importance of my immediate surroundings, experiences and relationships in how I life my life as an artist, scientist, and human being.  The world around me provides me the tools to navigate the larger world more thoughtfully.

 

Arthur’s website: https://arthurjhuang.work/.

Photo credit: Arthur J. Huang.

Interview originally published in Spanish in ArtMatters.

Thank you Arthur for your kindness and positive feedback.

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