Methodology, Poetry and Boundary (2006)
From Catalogue "Ephemeral - a flash for eternity"
KONDO Yuki, Curator, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre
MATSUI Shigeru is a poet. The characteristics of his work lie in his method. Poet and philosopher SHINOHARA Motoaki classifies poetry into three categories from the viewpoint of "traffic" between poems, poets and readers: poetry with fixed traditional forms (sonnet, tanka, etc.); spontaneous poetry that entrusts itself to the passage of time without using any traditional form (free verse, contemporary poetry); and method poetry that looks forward by inventing new rules to follow. He defines method poetry as "poetry that follows the form designated by each poet" and which may therefore be able to communicate with the future "by inventing new kinds of game rules." While calling his poems 'method poetry' and conceding that his work belongs to this category, Matsui creates his own rules and writes poems in a semi-automatic style, "presupposing the abandonment of content based on reductionism." This style owes not only to Shinohara's thought but also to Matsui's active allegiance to "Method Painting, Method Poetry and Method Music (The Methodicist Manifesto)" drafted by artist NAKAZAWA Hideki in January, 2000. Adherents to this Manifesto were active from 2000 through 2004, and aimed at the integration of diverse genres of art such as painting, poetry and music. While sharing the concept of 'Method,' the artists in the movement maintained the autonomy and independence of each genre and sought a "reduction to method instead of style." Matsui was in the movement from the beginning to the end, as a witness of the First Manifesto and as a member of its coterie. His poetry was a reductionist interpretation of Shinohara's method poetry; according to their Manifesto, it is "a row of letters which comes to method itself, prohibiting personalization and absorption. However, real letters which epicize (narrate) lyric will sometimes be alternated scrupulously with other signs." In Matsui's poetry, 'form' is thus an important and ruling element of his poems. "Pure Poem," "Quantum Poem * " and "Simultaneous Parallel Circuit" represent his Method Poem and are the variation of the form he devised so far.
"Pure Poem", which he began on January 7, 2001, was a "20 x 20 grid," as Matsui refers to Japanese writing paper, filled with a Chinese character numbers I, II and III in a regular order. The poet doesn't have to be bothered by his everyday troubles or changing feelings to fill the grid little by little day by day. It is like a daily training routine. When following a rule, it is possible to foresee the outcome even when the poem is not finished yet. Matsui's definition of "Pure Poem" as "a row of letters made by mere meters which were brought about by the links between mere symbols and mere word orders" is also applicable to other work by him.
"Quantum Poem" which he started on January 5, 2002, is a serial work still being published in the e-mail magazine, Itsuka-goto Tojitsu Happyo [Written and Distributed on the Same Day Every Five Days]. The form of this work is also a 20 x 20 grid, this time filled in with the 5 consecutive sets of minimum and maximum temperature forecasts for the next four days of wherever he is as quoted in the weather section on the front page of the "Mainichi Newspaper."
In "Simultaneous Parallel Circuit," which was also materialized and installed in the ACAC exhibition, the form, which is a palindrome, is more closed and self-sufficient. Matsui filled the squares from the top right to the bottom left, as Japanese writers have traditionally done, but with neither characters nor numbers. Instead, the squares are either fully inked in black or left blank to form a palindrome. The form of this work is that the numbers from 1 through 20 are arranged in an irregular order symmetrically with respect to the center, which is the center of 20. The sum of numbers 1 through 19 makes 190. A pair of 190 plus a 20 as the center makes 400. Therefore, no matter how random the arrangement will be, all the squares are justly filled. Is it simply due to our visual art orientation that we are amazed by the discovery of the relationship between the numbers and the grid and read something more in the display than a mere matrix with numbers?
Most poets could not take part in the Artist in Residence program (AIR) at ACAC as a visual artist presenting works of art in the gallery. Matsui's participation demonstrates his singularity. He has not only conceptually collaborated with artists of other genres since early in his career, but also realized his poetry in many kinds of activities other than 'reading,' such as live concerts, performance, dance, walking, etc., also in collaboration with others. While the AIR program inevitably involves communication with various people including other artists, visitors and local residents, the general public tends to consider each artist's exhibit or installation the most important. So expecting the poetry and multi-media collaboration by Matsui to stimulate the dynamic and spontaneous development of AIR, ACAC asked him not only to write poems but also to display the variations of their realization.
In keeping with this request, Matsui contributed in four different ways: (1) the realization of poems by physical spatial installation; (2) collaborative realization including a lecture and performance every weekend; (3) presenting new poems on the web and their same day distribution in cooperation with AIRS, volunteer staff of ACAC, carried out every 5 days (10 times in total); and (4) giving a title to the whole exhibition in consultation with the curator of the exhibition. Exhibitions are basically static. Once opened, everything is settled no matter how busy artists were making and installing previously. However, to make and install objects is neither the final goal nor the most important to Matsui. Every activity listed above is equally important. Therefore, he probably had no break until the whole AIR program was over.
The tangible version of Matsui's poem, "Simultaneous Parallel Circuit," was an installation of 400 folding mirrors on three tables. The tables and mirrors paraphrased respectively a sheet of writing paper and its grid of squares. As long as the medium can be used to form a palindrome and a 20 x 20 grid, mirrors, an e-mail or printed writing paper will do. Nevertheless, the choice of mirrors is related to the "content" of "Simultaneous Parallel Circuit."
As discussed before, the form (or method) Matsui devises is both the poem's style and its content and it is the ground of what he thinks a poem is. Matsui's form (method) is concerned with the universal opposition of content vs. form that every work of art inevitably embodies. This is consistent with his belief that the origin of form (poetry) lies in divine poems (ancient Japanese poems). The divine language of gods communicated through earthly intermediaries was the prototype of poetry, in the East and the West. It was messages transformed by particular measure, repetition and grammar. People have recognized divinity and otherworldly magical power within this specialized language. Matsui considers from the "Methodicist" viewpoint that a divine poem is "a row of letters made by unusual meters which were brought about by the links between unusual symbols and unusual word orders." Considering the essence of ancient Japanese verse lies in its stylized language and is the ground of poetry, he believes that poetry is an everyday language transformed in accordance with an unusual form: this is exactly what makes a poem a poem. Of course, every expression has some kind of form or style. However, form is everything in Matsui's work. He claims to abandon content, so the form of his poems is present for its own sake without being subordinate to content or subordinating content. When form is the essence and content of a poem, its realization has to be by mechanical, regular, mathematical music and walking rather than by human voice that easily gets emotional and sentimental.
During this exhibition, Matsui realized his "Pure Poem" by performance several times. Each interpreter applied the combination of numbers 1, 2 and 3 to his/her equation so a variety of interpretation and realization was possible. Besides, since the poem is free from empathy and personal feelings, each performer could take the rhythm and form into themselves and let the mechanical rhythm dominate him/herself, akin to the way in which primitive religion and music can move people into a trance. The performers go beyond the initial concept of the act and acquire freedom almost forgetting about the poet Matsui.
If the poem by Matsui has priority, the performance belongs to the poet so performers will be expected to realize his poem faithfully. However, if an artist of another medium desires to realize Matsui's poem, it will be a prerequisite for that artist to agree with Matsui's ideas if he/she is to be able to realize his own idea through Matsui's poem. When what the realizer shares with the poet is a reduced, conceptual form instead of personal feelings and emotion, they can get closer and the boundary between them becomes thinner. This is why Matsui's work seems to lie on the boundary between poetry and other art genres (aside from the validity of the boundary).
Is the form used in the poetry of Matsui really "form for its own sake?" Content of his poems is already there and unified with form that derives from poems of ancient Japanese gods. The use of mirrors in his installation was not a random choice. One of the characteristics of his form is its association with mathematical and astronomical theories and periodicity. These are the laws of the universe and a numeric wonder beyond human understanding. As in "Pure Poem," a form is used by the poet and the poem is realized by somebody else following the rule of the form. Is it like the Creator of fractal structure observing fractal phenomena taking place all over the world? Such pursuit of universality is also featured in other works as well: the mechanical representation of weather forecasts in "Quantum Poem" that shows the temperatures, which are calculated virtual reality, as well as their record, and the combination of numbers from 1 through 20 in "Simultaneous Parallel Circuit." The rows of mirrors suggest how we see reality. We can get only one view of reality (reflection in the mirror) at a time from a certain standpoint and angle. Each mirror represents only a fragment of reality in a moment, so they are equal, 'simultaneous and parallel' whether open or closed. Besides, reality is outside the mirror as well regardless of the framework with which we choose at will to view the world. "Simultaneous Parallel Circuit" is therefore about the existence of the framework into which we squeeze reality to understand it and also aims at presenting the "pure world," the world unaffected by any preconception.
Where do rhythm, pattern and form in our artistic expressions of music, poetry, dance, etc. come from? We cannot create them from nothing. As in the application of the golden section to many things around us, we have consciously and unconsciously noticed, discovered and used the periodicity of body and universe. Arts may have abstracted these principles of the world into various forms. The most effective among them may have been the art of language, namely poetry. This is probably because poetry easily enters our bodies not by sight but through reading aloud, chanting, listening and understanding. Claiming that dance, walking and music are more suitable than other media for realization of his poetry, Matsui may be seeking such a connection between the human body and the rhythm and patterns of the universe. As he mentioned on various occasions, he is asthmatic and links his attacks to the weather. He experiences a feeling of being dominated by the rhythm and periodicity of nature, of being controlled by cosmic power and having freedom only within the limits of this power. Is it similar to the awe that women feel toward their menstrual cycle and the superiority that they feel by passing it naturally? We see the structure of the universe's control is layered twice or three times here as the cosmic rhythm, the ground rhythm and personal rhythm echo one another. This brings ecstasy and intense self-consciousness at the same time. This may be similar to what a psychic medium feels when a god descends on her. Matsui's very consistent pursuit of form derived from the origin of poetry is thus absorbed into fractal structure.
This sensibility resembles the works of conceptual art such as "Date Painting" by KAWARA On. Why Matsui is dedicated to poetry and word systems, such as on writing paper and palindromes, is probably because he considers language or the like necessarily existed first to articulate and make the world understandable even if no letters were used. We see the poet attempt to construct a system universally applicable and restore poetry's primitive effect or power. Moreover, he also regards the issue of form as "the restoration of the authority of poets." It is not the restoration of authoritarian power but the confidence in the inherent power of poetry and letters. Besides, it is his criticism on the contemporary poetry scene including merely introspective 'pseudo-poetry' crudely written but prosperous everywhere. Poetry has always been there along with various scenes and movements throughout history. It has affected us essentially and fundamentally rather than as a messenger for somebody. His notion of the responsibility of poetry has become a strategy since he began "Pure Poem" inquiring what poetry was and is. His awareness of the problem makes him a genuine poet and keeps him working right on the boundary with different media.
(Translated by YAMAKAWA Sumiko)