Simon Fujiwara on examining the curiosities of capitalism in his upcoming show at Hamburger Bahnhof.
Simon Fujiwara is a British-Japanese artist who has called Berlin home for the last 14 years. His art delves deep into both societal and individual identity structures, politics and narrative making. With solo presentations at institutions including Kunsthaus Bregenz, Irish Museum of Modern Art and Tate St. Ives under his belt, he is one of the four finalists in this year’s Preis der Nationalgalerie.
What drew you to Berlin?
I moved here because space was cheap and I loved that there was no advertising. In London, I remember walking up the steps to Piccadilly Circus and there were McDonald’s ads on the back of every step and I was reading every one of them. I’m so sensitive to visual materials and get very distracted! When I first went to Berlin’s own Picadilly Circus, Alexanderplatz, I was so amazed to see all these empty billboards in the subway station!
And why do you think you’ve stayed so long?
Berlin has a huge art scene and so many forms of art production. There’s talks and performances on every minuscule about production and what making art means. I think that’s really different to, say, New York for example, where things are very centred around the gallery scene. One thing I do feel sad about here is that sometimes you go to galleries and there aren’t that many people.
What will you be showing at Hamburger Bahnhof?
At the centre of the exhibition is a work called “Likeness” which stems from my ongoing project around Anne Frank. It’s a production of a wax figure of her in dialogue with a robot that is filming her. The result is an endless loop shown on a double screen while the figure of Anne Frank is set seven metres beyond the screens. It’s not live. Essentially you experience her both as an object and a picture. It becomes almost forensic because at one point you see the whole machine.
Why Anne Frank?
To be clear, it’s not a way for me to relate to Anne Frank, but to speak about capitalism. I went to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and noticed the wallpaper looked exactly as I knew it from the photos but it was very fresh. I was told architects had found an exact match of the original wallpaper and it was deadstock from a GDR factory. The Anne Frank house is completely wrapped in German wallpaper! I thought that was interesting because it breaks this ideology we have about this pure place and it sets it in the real world which is full of compromises. There’s something very uncanny about rebuilding her hiding space. And I thought this is just another example of where we are today, where to make things interesting we have to merchandise them. To survive, Anne Frank now has to exist within a capitalist logic: there has to be an Instagram account for the house, she has to have Facebook, celebrities have to visit. But when it gets to the life story of this mega victim, you start to feel a real dissonance.
Can you tell us more about your show’s “The Fifty Shades Archive”?
It’s a small library containing over one thousand copies of the book Fifty Shades of Grey. I once saw a Twitter post from Oxfam where they were asking people to stop donating the book because they had so many copies. I was interested in it anthropologically because if you ask anyone “do you think extreme wealth divide is a problem?” they will say yes, or if you ask “do you think women should be treated like objects?” they will say no. Yet, the book was sold to the tune of 100 million copies!
You will also show one new work: two giant guillotine earrings! What is it?
It’s based on these earrings that were made during the French Revolution. They are gold, with the revolutionary cap on top of guillotines and the heads of the king and queen hanging from them. Women were heavily involved in the revolution, but these were sold at a time when they were completely banished from the political arena. So there were these ridiculous earrings made of gold to celebrate a revolution that was to overthrow a king and queen for overspending, and they were made for women who weren’t even allowed to partake in public meetings. So they’re really strange objects of merchandising around this terrifying moment in history. I’ve made 2.5 metre high gold-leafed versions of the earrings. They’re very ‘extra’ and will open the show.
Preis der Nationalgalerie 2019 Aug 16-Feb 16 Hamburger Bahnhof, Mitte