Navigation and Trajectory

10:00am-6:00pm, October 24 — December 13, 2015/ admission free

KAMO Akira


Documentary of phenomena and imagery
Oil on canvas, size variable, 2011-2015.
photo: YAMAMOTO Tadasu

Survival and Documentary through Paintings

HATTORI Hiroyuki

KAMO Akira’s painting installation is composed of many paintings of different sizes and proportions, depicting various elements constituting our society. Nightscapes with high-rise buildings, magnificent mountainscapes, social events and incidents, ordinary scenes, and portraits of anonymous people are among the paintings subjects. The installation consists of not only images of the places Kamo has visited, but also a variety of images circulating in his life including information he sources from the internet.

While each painting exists as an independent artwork, Kamo places them in his particular way, incorporating them into an assemblage of paintings. He does not frame nor display them in an orderly manner to show them as separate artworks, but overlaps them three-dimensionally and places them in succession. By doing so, Kamo connects the separate events and scenes and presents them as one unified documentary.

Kamo arranges many seemingly unrelated images successively. Paintings of tsunamis and rubble caused by earthquakes hang below paintings of high-rise buildings at night, right besides them, paintings of landscapes with beautiful forests and mountains. Standing figures also appear among these images. The way these separate moments, events, and sceneries come together, acutely, reminds us of our contemporary lives. That is to say, many of us live in big cities and work under the lights of those high-rise buildings. At the same time, many of us hike up the mountains or surround ourselves in supposedly beautiful landscapes in our leisure time. While we are doing those activities, catastrophes devastating enough to destroy people’s living environment occur, caused by natural disasters such as earthquakes. When the Great East Japan Earthquake happened, many of us must have looked at the television and internet, eager to follow the status of the great tsunami and the course of the accident at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. This illustrates how we experience things not only first-hand through physically going to places, but also second-hand through the media sources; the internet and television. Kamo makes paintings of the fragmented images, circulating in his daily life, and reconstructs them by cropping and layering them just like how windows are arranged on a computer screen. This is how Kamo uses paintings to document an uncertain reality.

We can see Kamo’s thoughts and interests by focusing on the individual paintings, the way they connect as well as the details in the each painting. Kamo said that he started this series of paintings based on his experience of the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The earthquake happened and he felt it was not a time for him to be painting. He went to the disaster stricken area to work as a volunteer, and by chance, he found himself painting on garage shutters. In the end, he came to realize “it might mean the same to live as a person and to paint.[1]” The painting installation Kamo presented at ACAC conveys this very realization. We focus on a part of the installation, where a painting of a harsh snowy mountain ridge and a painting of piles of rubble are hung next to each other. The two paintings have a similar composition but are completely different in scale and subject matter. As the title Documentary of phenomena and imagery indicates, Kamo depicted the piles of rubble as a concrete phenomena and the sublime snowy mountain as mental imagery, while presenting them both as documentary seen through his eyes.

As if the paintings were placed according to some kind of timeline, they spread from right to left as the viewers progress through the exhibition space. At the very end exists the largest painting, depicting a scene of magnificent snow covered mountains existing beyond a vast snowy plane, and figures marching towards them. In this painting, the viewers can find a statement expressing Kamo’s current attitude. Kamo concluded his statement for his solo exhibition in 2012 with “Trying not to forget both life and art come from death, I will honestly live out my bugged daily life with paintings.[2]” In other words, the viewers can see Kamo’s will to endure, from the fact that in the largest painting the figures in the scene continue towards the snowy mountains.

However, once the viewers look into the details in this painting, they can clearly recognize that it actually shows a critical situation in the current society of Japan. The line of figures, to the right side of the painting, are silently marching towards the mountains, all dressed in military uniforms and carrying weapons. Moreover, a figure, on the left, is engulfed in flames, burnt and suffering and another figure, a little beyond, is dressed in a white protective clothing or some kind of space suit. This alludes to the fact there are many social issues confronting us, such as a set of security bills passed last year, continuing global disputes between nations, persecution of minorities and unresolved nuclear problems in Fukushima. Kamo’s painting shows how closely these events are related to us and also expresses how little a mental distance he has to these events. Considering that this painting was made during Kamo’s stay in Aomori, some viewers may be reminded of the Hakkoda Mountains or the incident that happened there[3] upon seeing the painting. Through documenting the present moment, by capturing both concrete phenomena and mental imagery in his paintings, Kamo demonstrations his determination as an artist, after the earthquake, to face the many pressing issues in our society and to survive despite oppressive circumstances.

The fact Kamo chooses the slow media of painting, as his way of recording rather than using photography or moving images, shows his attitude as an artist to go back to the original documentary position painting once held. Through his paintings, Kamo wants us to remember that we are fellow members of the post earthquake society, and to survive by using our current circumstances as the means for creativity. Bringing the separate events and places together as a unified experience in his work, Kamo makes us recognize that events in our lives and acts of creation are one and the same. In the end we can only survive honestly and simply through continuous creativity.


[1]. AC2 Issue 17 (Aomori: Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, 2016): KAMO Akira’s interview.

[2]. Excerpt from KAMO Akira’s statement for the solo exhibition with . at island MEDIUM, 2012

[3]. Japan Self-Defense Forces continue to conduct trainings in the Hakkoda Mountains. The Hakkoda Mountains incident happened in 1902 where a group of Japanese Imperial Army soldiers got lost in a blizzard on the Hakkoda Mountains during a training exercise in snow. 199 out of 210 participants died in the incident.

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