Hotel New Osorezan

Interview by Christina Chua
Images courtesy of Ota Fine Arts
Photography by Wong Jing Wei

The artist hovers over his rather bare sketchbook, something he seems to use only secondarily while most of his notes are jotted mentally, quietly. He has replaced his well-worn New Balance sneakers with a pair of disposable slippers obtained from his hotel room, a small comfort to the long hours of installation that stretch ahead of him. The gallery is strewn with tools, odd implements, some of them still spilling out of a backpacker’s rucksack. With shows in Manila, Vienna and Bangkok following this exhibition in Singapore, Umeda Tetsuya is certainly accustomed to being on the road.

And his work is just as ephemeral, specific to its own moment in space. By repurposing everyday products, electrical appliances, and opening up the gallery walls themselves—the ceiling ducts, raw wiring—Umeda shapes his own elemental systems of sound, light, water, gravity and electricity. We sit down with him as he prepares for his exhibition “HOTEL NEW OSOREZAN” at Ota Fine Arts, Gillman Barracks.

Hotel New Osorezan

To begin quite simply at the beginning, how did you start your art practice? What are your roots?

I went to film school because I love movies and watching films. I didn’t study fine art. But I did want to do something different from my classmates. Back then, club culture was very alive in Osaka so it was easy to organise events by ourselves in clubs, and for very little money. When my friends started to put things together, they asked me if I could do something. I wasn’t a musician or a DJ, so I began to do performance. And since I didn’t have much money, I would make things from trash—discarded objects—straight off the street. I would create physical effects, actions that were completely unexpected, and almost like a joke. People were surprised, so I continued.

I started to join big music festivals in Osaka every year from 2002 to 2007. Members of the audience took notice and invited me to hold exhibitions.

Did you see your work change according to these vastly different circumstances?

Of course. I see my work as a process. It always changes according to whether the audience or space is big or small. I allow it to flow with the current, otherwise I would come to a standstill. At a music festival, I’m known as a musician. At a performance event, they call me a performer.

Although you’re known for work that involves sound, live performance and installation, what matters the most to you?

I am essentially creating aural situations based on a relationship between sound and the physical space–they are not created out of an image. My work is a product of what I sense in relation to my spatial surroundings and the sounds that I hear and create.

Having said that, I do not downplay visual and other sensory elements in my work. There exists a very natural connection between our visual and auditory senses, and I am simply igniting a trigger for those senses to connect. Physically speaking, sounds under 20Hz are not audible to the human ear, but these sounds do exist and their presence can be felt. Our imagination can also enhance sound, like in silent films, where audible sounds aren’t actually featured, but silence itself can add to the experience presented.

Read more in The U Press N˚4 (Singapore edition).