Keisuke Otobe on image-making like a DJ: ‘Instead of scratching music, I scratch photographs’
In this month’s ‘through the lens’ profile, Keisuke Otobe discusses democratising photography, using a photocopier as a camera, and shooting surrealist furniture for the Wallpaper* Design Awards 2022
For artist Keisuke Otobe, photographs are just a starting point for his artful scanning processes. Having a flexible methodology allows Otobe to say, ‘Beijing is the place where I do my research and get insights; London is my biggest challenge; Tokyo is where my future is.’
Wallpaper*: Describe your style and process
Keisuke Otobe: My style is making images using a photocopier, rather than a camera. I have found different ways of doing it but the most particular way is like being a DJ; instead of scratching the music, I scratch the photograph. So having the physical object doesn’t matter. I just need images.
W*: Tell us about how you brought your way of working to our story on surreal furniture pieces
KO: Cut-outs of the pieces were shared with me, which I printed in colour on normal paper. Then I worked on the photocopier. At first, I was printing on proper professional photo paper, but then I quit because, in the end, I found that the quality was better with normal paper. This way, I don’t have to pay postage and customs because of Brexit, so it suits my work much better.
W*: What is the most interesting thing happening within photography now?
KO: I’m interested in how Wolfgang Tillmans’ generation and the following generations will use photography. Because I think Tillmans combines all the techniques and methods of photography and continues to record them, changing their composition, editing and size as the Earth changes every day.
I am interested in the possibilities of democratised photography, just as painting further developed with the advent of photography. Will a photograph remain just a photograph? Will it remain a tool for recording and memory? The piece I am a sculptor, which I’ve been working on since my visit to Beijing in 2018, is one proposal:
I AM A SCULPTOR
MY MATERIALS ARE IMAGES
BECAUSE IMAGES ARE OUR FUTURE
BECAUSE WE WILL LIVE IN A NEW DIGITAL ERA
W*: What’s on your radar?
KO: Whether I know it well or not, I am mostly interested in art in a general sense, Eastern culture and thought, marketing and strategy, and the future. I am influenced by Yuval Noah Harari’s books and lectures, and also in AI tech and biotech. I am interested in the future of humanity and how we are changing.
I’m also interested in the use of language, so I’m always mumbling to myself.
As a photographer, another artist who has influenced me is Man Ray. I like his experimental artwork, which is not just about photography. I also like Hiroshi Sugimoto’s transformation from photographer to contemporary artist. I also love Anish Kapoor’s phenomenological and poetic space, Rothko’s reds and, more recently, Monet’s paintings when he had cataracts and Cézanne’s apples; that ability to reverse a consequent weakness.
I’m not interested in what the artists did, but how and why they did it. I believe that if science is a way of knowing the world, then art is also a way of knowing the world. I believe in the power of art. For example, Kurashiki in Japan was saved from the American bombing in the Second World War because a young local businessman bought a lot of Western art, including work by Monet, Matisse, Picasso and El Greco [housed in the Ohara Museum of Art].
W*: What’s next for you this year?
KO: It would be great to be able to move more freely, learn more and more about Japanese culture and sensibility. And to keep making more and more works.
If one day I can exhibit them in a nice space, I will be happy. Until then, I’ll keep my roots deep.
As for my personal life, I actually got my driving licence before Covid. So after the pandemic, I would like to travel around Europe by car with my mother, who studied Western art. §