Stack Until It Falls Down
Stack Until It Falls Down (2020)
Stack Until It Falls Down was composed by Aki Onda in May 2020 during the lockdown of the COVID-19 crisis. The Fluxus-type score instructs a simple gesture and its repetition. The action of stacking, reflected in the video, suggests activity in our lives or maybe life itself. It’s a recurring cycle that culminates in a potentially unfortunate fate. Stack Until It Falls Down was shot at Hurricane Point – a little known place along the Brooklyn shore of the East River. As one of a few places along the river where two currents meet, Hurricane Point developed as a small island made out of the drifted debris from Hurricane Sandy. This location communicates with the harsh reality of life, and Onda’s simple gesture becomes a metaphor or poetic response to the unprecedented times. The video was made with Brooklyn-based artist and filmmaker Moko Fukuyama and sound designer Daniel Neumann.
Composed and performed by Aki Onda
Video by Moko Fukuyama
Sound by Daniel Neumann
Commissioned by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA)
Video by Moko Fukuyama
Sound by Daniel Neumann
Commissioned by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA)
The Meditation We All Need, Text by Rosemary Sissel, REDFINE, USA, 2020
AKI ONDA INTERVIEW WITH KRISTAN KENNEDY
Aki Onda is an artist and composer based in Mito, Japan and New York, NY. Kristan Kennedy is Artistic Director and Curator of Visual Art at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) in Portland, OR.
KK | In our studio visit back in January, you mentioned that making art or making your art, was “almost like a game, in which you can create time as you wish”. I wonder how that sentiment rests on this new work, Stack until It Falls Down/Then, Repeat, and how it might “create time” by simply existing.
AO | I do believe there are many different types of time. The one we are most familiar with is absolute time which progresses at a consistent pace and is measurable. However, we perceive time in a much more elastic way, and it is an important element to play with when you compose a time-based artwork. The idea and title of Stack until It Falls Down/Then, Repeat came to my mind during the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic and the obligatory quarantine that consequently trapped us. The world felt as if it was collapsing, and it was a radical turn in my life. Somehow it was a lesson for me to adapt, to let go, and to think about what really matters. Although I had to go through a financially precarious situation as I lost my income for the foreseeable future, my mind was calm and I felt strangely comfortable amid the storm. I thought about the times I spent in cities like Rio de Janeiro or Manila where social, historical, and political constructions are complex and at times messed up but the people there seem to have a great attitude about their life. There are people all over who experience this kind of calamity on a daily basis… and yet we go on. I also talked to my friend Samita Sinha(1) who just returned to NY from India before the lockdown. She was studying Baul(2) tradition there, which was a deep experience for her, and she described the situation in India… she seemed to share my experience of this time. The action of stacking something was, for me, some sort of karma or recurring cycle that culminates in a potentially unfortunate fate, but not in a negative way and just as a part of nature. Perhaps this work suggests a sense of eternity.
KK | I did get the feeling while watching your video, that your performance, the resulting temporary sculpture and the site became a kind of clock… or maybe some kind of timepiece that is more mutable and changing. Recently Erin Boberg(3) told me that a cool Physics teacher of hers told her “Time is noticing change.” As the piece progresses your gloves start to tear, the water rises. There is one moment I felt the sound took over and became an ominous “image” but only because the screen went black and all that remained was the faint sound of a siren in the background. These are things I noticed and they felt to me like nods to loss, fear maybe?, ruptures in time and danger? Can you talk about the accidental and intentional in this piece and how they might form meaning and additionally I wonder if you could talk about the choice you made to use the natural sounds of the site, instead of scoring the film with your own original composition.
AO | Around the beginning of May, the words “Stack until it falls down, then repeat” came to my mind and I made a score. That was the starting point. Then, little by little, I figured out how to compose all of the other materials. However, the process itself grew organically. There were a couple of other possible locations until I focused on Hurricane Point. Choosing the location led me to decide not to use my music. There was already a rich tapestry of sounds there — waves from two directions interfering, the engines of frequently passing ferries, the cheers of people hanging out on the shore, the hustle and bustle of the city noises drifting from far away, the different types of birds singing etc. I thought that’s more than enough. Another reason was the idea of this video was more related to performance art rather than music. Maybe Vito Acconci(4), Bruce Nauman(5) type, including their sense of absurdity. As for the siren, it happened to be there and the audio engineer Daniel Neumann(6) caught it. No intention… but this might hint or even suggest some meanings as you pointed out. When I work on a project like this, I don’t try to create something purposefully. I set up a situation that generates the content and meaning naturally. In other words, I try to hear all things the environment says and edit those. I like taking this sort of a holistic approach where conceptual, emotional, and existential aspects are all interconnected and inseparable. This process tends to fetch hidden, internal and intricate layers that weave together seamlessly.
KK | Can you tell us more about how you came upon the site and what relationship walking has to your practice? You are currently making a move from New York to Japan, from a city to a more rural area… How has New York influenced your work, what is the relationship of this work to the idea of leaving something behind?
AO | This video was filmed at Hurricane Point along the Brooklyn shore of the East River. I recently found a photo I took at the site about fifteen years ago, and there was nothing there. It is said, the small island was made during Hurricane Sandy out of the drifted debris. If you stand by the shore, you can see waves coming from the left side and right side because it is one of the rare points where two currents meet along the East River. This island disappears underwater twice a day, when the tide is high. It’s a magical place, but not so known. The location is also a metaphor for the harsh reality of life. When New York was the epicentre of the COVID-19 crisis I felt as if the devastated spirits of the city were drifting here. There was an ominous sense of death, massive amount of loss… I also thought about Albert Ayler(7), whose body was found floating in the East River and had mysterious death a half-century ago in 1970. His sense of chaos and emotional spirituality echoed with the current situation of the city. I have lived in NY for the last two decades, and I’m in the process of moving to Japan temporarily. My wife and I were planning to move to Brussels next year and then the pandemic happened. In light of the current situation, it is complicated to start a new life in a new continent. We will be in Japan for a year or two to figure out the best timing to move to Brussels. But, now nobody seems to understand what the future holds for us. So, I’m happy to adapt to any consequences. Is this work a good-bye to the city? No, I don’t think so, at least not on any conscious level. I started coming to this city, back in the late nineties, and I fell in love with the cultural landscape. This is the city I started my career as an artist, and I absorbed so much while cruising in its music, film, and visual art communities. I was especially into by the tradition of the downtown avant-garde such as Harry Smith(8), Richard Foreman(9), Jack Smith(10), Ken Jacobs(11), Stuart Sherman(12) and so on, and that helped to consolidate my artistic practice and language. But, I feel it’s time to move on to the next chapter.
KK | I was recently having a conversation with my colleague Mami Takahashi(13) about the concept of Ma. (Ma (間) (lit., “gap”, “space”, “pause”). I wonder if you think about Ma when you make a work, especially in this piece there seems to be a relationship to the gap or space in-between things.
AO | I do have my own way of making the space between notes, and between actions, between moments… I am not sure if this relates to Ma. If there are spaces, it makes possible to sift your view and discover more minuscule details carefully. This is one of the reasons I love the works of filmmakers such as Pedro Costa(14), Béla Tarr(15), and Tsai Ming-lian(16). Though this video “Stack Until It Falls Down” is not as extreme as their works, I wanted to have a sense of suspension and contemplation. Also, the same as their work, this video, or to a certain extent my work, comes from observing life, documenting it, and displaying an inner self in a symbolic way. It’s like trying to open up something at a subconscious level. So it depicts the surface level but there is much more going on at a deeper level.
KK | Your work often deals with how memory lives and fades in our bodies and mind. I am wondering if you could talk about why the action of "forgetting" is so important.
AO | In this context, "forgetting" is not simply something gone to ashes but accepting, releasing, healing, absorbing, and pushing an experience to the point that becomes a part of your body... It is there but you don't feel it at a conscious level anymore... The future is often unpredictable, and we modify or manipulate memory in order to adjust our mind and body to uncharted territory.
1 Artist and composer Samita Sinha combines experiment and tradition to create new forms of performance using voice, body, sound, and space. Sinha combines her voice, grounded in North Indian classical music, with embodied practices both traditional (including Qigong and Baul singing) and contemporary to create emergent forms. / http://samitasinha.com/ Sinha is an alum of PICA’s Creative Exchange Lab and has performed at PICA as part of the 2014 Time-Based Art Festival, and at the South Asian American Arts Festival, Curated by Subashini Ganesan and New Expressive Works in 2018.
2 The origin of the word Baul is debated. Some modern scholars, like Shashibhusan Dasgupta have suggested that it may be derived either from Sanskrit word vātula, which means “enlightened, lashed by the wind to the point of losing one’s sanity, god’s madcap, detached from the world, and seeker of truth”, or from vyākula, which means “restless, agitated” and both of these derivations are consistent with the modern sense of the word, which denotes the inspired people with an ecstatic eagerness for a spiritual life, where a person can realise his union with the eternal beloved – the Moner Manush (the person of the heart). / Das Gupta, Shashibhusan (1946, reprint 1995). Obscure Religious Cults, Calcutta: Firma KLM, ISBN 81-7102-020-8, pp.160-1
3 Erin Boberg is Artistic Director and Curator of Performance for PICA curating and producing PICA‘s performance programs including dance, music, theatre, and multi-disciplinary forms as part of PICA‘s annual TBA (Time-Based Art) Festival as well as year-round presentations and residencies.
4 “Any time you do something, you make decisions about time and space. I wanted those decisions to be out of my hands. I could be dragged, carried along by another person, I could be a receiver. I could be the agent of the overall scheme, but I didn’t want to be the agent of the particular action. I could make the ultimate decision that my space is going to change now, but I don’t know where it’s going to go.” – Vito Acconci
6 Daniel Neumann is a Brooklyn-based sound artist, organizer and audio engineer, originally from Germany. He holds a master’s degree in media art from the Academy of Visual Art Leipzig and also studied electronic music composition under Emanuele Casale in Catania, Italy. In his artistic practice he is using conceptual and often collaborative strategies to explore sound, sound material and its modulation through space, situation and media. Curatorially he runs an event series in NYC and Berlin (CT::SWaM) that engages in spatial sound works and focussed listening. / http://danielneumann.org/
8 Harry Smith was an artist whose activities and interests put him at the center of the mid twentieth-century American avant-garde. Although best known as a filmmaker and musicologist, he frequently described himself as a painter, and his varied projects called on his skills as an anthropologist, linguist, and translator. He had a lifelong interest in the occult and esoteric fields of knowledge, leading him to speak of his art in alchemical and cosmological terms. Harry Smith was born May 29, 1923, in Portland, Oregon, and his early childhood was spent in the Pacific Northwest. / https://harrysmitharchives.com/
9 Richard Foreman is a major figure in the avant-garde theater. Founder and director of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, for which he has written, directed and designed over fifty major productions in New York and Europe from 1968 to 1977, he has also designed and directed many other acclaimed theatrical and operatic productions. Foreman’s uniquely stylized theater is characterized by complex interplays and tensions between spoken language and visual tableaux. Distanced from the audience, with actors functioning like objects in a series of still-lifes, his plays eschew dramatic narrative action./ http://www.ontological.com/
10 Jack Smith was an American filmmaker, actor, and pioneer of underground cinema. He is generally acclaimed as a founding father of American performance art, and has been critically recognized as a master photographer. Working in New York from the 1950s until his death in 1989, Smith unequivocally resisted and upturned accepted conventions, whether artistic, moral or legal. / https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Smith_(film_director)
11 “…the world we are now first learning about had best be understood as disposable.” – Ken Jacobs, September 2018 https://www.kenjacobsgallery.com/
12 Stuart Sherman’s influential art practice defies classification. Celebrated as an avant-garde performer, he also worked in film, video, and other visual arts, in addition to writing plays and poems. Sherman was an iconoclastic builder and manipulator of mass-produced bric-a-brac; he used an intuitive logic to purposefully transform objects into rhetorical questions / https://www.eai.org/artists/stuart-sherman/titles
13 Mami Takahashi is an artist from Tokyo, currently based in Portland, Oregon. Using photography, performance, installation and urban intervention, her practice explores the complexities of being Japanese and a woman living in the US. Takahashi is currently the Performance Program Coordinator at PICA. / https://mamitakahashi.art/
14 Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa has moved almost exclusively along a single trajectory, creating a hermetically sealed universe inspired by the marginalised residents of Fontainhas, a now-demolished shantytown on the outskirts of Lisbon. As the neighbourhood disappeared, Costa retreated into the memories of his protagonists, increasingly focusing on immigrants from the Cape Verde islands. In telling their stories, Costa blends fact and fiction in a complex interplay of imagination, history, politics and cinema. / https://www2.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/features/where-begin-pedro-costa
15 Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr is widely considered a visionary. His style has evolved over the years—from early films like Family Nest (1979), The Outsider (1981), and The Prefab People (1982) to his more recent projects including Damnation (1988), Satantango (1994), and Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)—gradually moving away from what he has termed “social cinema” to his more recent, deeply atmospheric films. / https://walkerart.org/magazine/bela-tarr-2007
16 Tsai Ming-Liang (b. 1957) has built a contemplative body of work that ruminates on fundamental experiences of existence. His focus on themes of solitude, alienation, and desire early in his career eventually expanded to explorations of the passage of time, memory, and spirituality later on; Tsai aspires to observe life and, consequently, has put his inner self on display. / https://www.moma.org/calendar/film/5204