In his book Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival (2014), David Pilling observes; “the idea of thinking about Japan as different from anywhere else, including Asia, is seductive. Yet there are many reasons to reject this notion. Those feelings that Japan moves to rhythms incomprehensible to most outsiders have reinforced an almost morbid sense of separateness. Although if we look closer, much of Japan’s supposed ‘essence’ turns out to be a relatively modern distillation”, manufactured in the interests of nation-building and maintaining political power in the region. A deliberate construction towards a Western audience that roots itself in traditional Japanese culture in order to establish an idea of 'Japaneseness'; an identity which separates them from the rest of Asia, but has now lost most of its original meaning.

The image of Japan, saturated by clichés of an impenetrable and technologically advanced island nation with very defined cultural subjects—such as bonsai, sumo, kimono, sushi, fugu fish, Yakuza, salarymen, video games and cosplay—developed with early post-war anthropological literature such as Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946), which was commissioned by the US Office of War Information. A Western viewpoint with such influence it affected Japanese conceptions of themselves after being translated into Japanese in 1948.

Upon Pinckers’ arrival in Japan, none of these preconceived elements seemed to be culturally predominant. This conflicting experience resulted in him deliberately searching for and constructing these cultural stereotypes, creating staged scenes influenced mostly by existing images created by foreigners, such as Jeff Wall’s A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) from 1993 or Werner Bischof’s Japan from 1954.

The title of this series is a reference to a work by American postminimalist artist Richard Tuttle in which an arrangement of strings is placed on a rectangular floor based on Ryoan-ji, a Japanese garden containing fifteen stones placed so that it is impossible to see all of them at once from inside the garden.

Two Kinds of Memory and Memory Itself was produced in Saitama Prefecture for European Eyes on Japan / Japan Today vol. 17 with the EU-Fest Japan Committee and the European Capital of Culture 2015.

Research and Production by Victoria Gonzalez-Figueras

Reference texts & reviews:
Colin Pantall, Foto-Forum exhibition catalogue, Bozen/Bolzano, Italy, 2016
Cassidy Paul, TIME LightBox, online, 2016
Munemasa Takahashi, European Eyes on Japan vol.17, Japan, 2015