Art, Education, Getty Center, Miscellaneous

What #isamuseum? Artist Sam Durant Has 5 Questions for You

Artist Sam Durant

Artist Sam Durant

What is a museum? It can be many things, depending on who you ask—and who does the asking. Artist Sam Durant is asking all of us this question for his newly launched project What #isamuseum?

The project is part of the Getty Artists Program, in which the Museum’s Education Department invites an artist to create and implement a project each year. Sam’s work takes on social, political, and cultural issues, engaging subjects as diverse as the civil rights movement, Southern rock music, and modernism. And now, museums and museum visitors.

An anonymous response from www.isamuseum.org

An anonymous response from www.isamuseum.org

Visitors to the Getty Center will see Sam’s questions through July in unexpected places like walls, floors, tram windows, and Cafe napkins (yes, you can even clean the crumbs off your face with questions). The multi-colored squares give the Center a stylish splash of color for summer, in sly contrast to the thought-provoking questions they contain. Arrows point toward the Museum Entrance Hall, where you can add responses at an iPad station and see others’ loop on a monitor.

One of many questions asked on the Getty's tram

One of many questions asked on the Getty’s tram

Visit isamuseum.org or @isamuseum to see how others have responded to Sam’s five questions, then add your own (anonymous) thoughts:

Questions from www.isamuseum.org

Questions from www.isamuseum.org

A response to Sam’s questions can be anything: an answer, another question, a random thought, or nothing at all. The simple presence of questions changes the experience of visiting the museum; it adds a question mark. “I am seeking to open up the visitor’s experience,” as Sam puts it, “to larger and ongoing inquiry about the function of culture in their lives.”

So, let’s begin the inquiry: What #isamuseum to you?

Sam Durant with #isamuseum questions

Sam Durant with #isamuseum questions

 

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      A Chat with Photographer Tomoko Sawada

      A conversation about Japanese matchmaking traditions, self-portraiture, clothes, and identity.

      When did you start photographing yourself?
      I began making self-portraits when I was 19. It was an assignment for a photography class. I can’t even explain in Japanese why I liked them so much. It was instinctual. It’s as if I knew that this was going to be my style, that this is what I wanted to do. And I’m still doing it because I love the self-portrait, but I don’t know why. 

      What themes are you exploring in your work?
      I’m interested in the relationship between inside and outside. If you wear a sexy dress or if you wear kids clothes or casual clothes, people treat you differently. Even though you are you no matter what you wear. It’s that relationship that makes me think. 

      My new work is from when I was living in New York. When I was in New York, people didn’t think I was Japanese. Sometimes they thought I was Korean or Chines or Mongolian. Even Singaporean. It was funny, when I would go to the Japanese market, they would speak to me in English. When I went to the Korean market, they would speak to me in English again. I don’t seem to look Japanese outside of Japan. I was surprised because I think I look totally Japanese. It’s funny that people’s points of view are totally different.

      Could you talk a little about OMIAI, the series that represents a traditional Japanese matchmaking technique.
      OMIAI is a tradition that is somehow still working today. Usually, there is a matchmaker and photographs are exchanged before meeting. If both sides are interested, they can meet for lunch or dinner accompanied by their parents and steps for marriage proceed from there. In the old days, some people chose their marriage partner just through photographs, without even meeting each other. 

      When OMIAI was exhibited in Japan I saw people making various comments in from of the work. People would say things like, “she looks like a good cook; surely she would prepare delicious meals every day,” or “ this girl could be a perfect bride for my son,” or “I can tell she would not be a good housewife,” or “she’s such a graceful girl; she must be the daughter of a decent family.” Comments like that. 

      What was the process of making that work?
      I gained 10 pounds before I started taking the pictures, and in six months I lost forty pounds, because I wanted to look different in each photo. I wanted to change the way my legs looked. 

      Every weekend I went to the hair salon and put on a kimono. Then I went to the photo studio on the street in Japan. I would take a picture and then change my clothes to western dress. Then I would go to the studio again the next weekend. 

      Did you tell the photographer how you wanted it done?
      I told him I was an artist and wanted to make photographs with him. I told him to think that each weekend new girls would show up to make the OMIAI. I didn’t want him to think of me as the same girl who came every weekend. He understood the concept. 

      We had fun. While he was taking pictures, his wife would tell me how to lose weight. She gave me many tips.


      Tomoko Sawada’s work is on view at the Getty until February 21, 2016 in “The Younger Generation: Contemporary Japanese Photography”

      02/11/16

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