Shiro Masuyama, Borderline Project, 2013/2014

Shiro vitrina

This is not a museum vitrine – it is a kind a table top at the front window of a caravan which

Shiro interior front

Shiro Masuyama filled with collection of objects that supported the metaphor of Irish or British cultural memory. I almost said identity – erroneously-  that would overlook the energies of norms and antinorms responsible for narration of our histories, memories and participatory citizenship.

Shiro dolls and figures

 Irish kitsch, British kitsch, Irish  craft and design, British craft and design (both could come from China these days!)  are allocated always half of what space there is.Does the installation glorify the divisions between groups of people? Is there a moral message which Masuyama tests on viewers/visitors?

Shiro cupbaord figurinesEbrington413

Writing in his blog ( he shows awareness of the intention slightly wriggling out, skidding to another concept.  Most important, he writes, is the response of the visitors, viewers. Yet, when he positioned the caravan on the real borderline between the Republic of Ireland  and Northern Ireland  the responses were mute, and rare.  He tailored the idea of divisive cultural norms too near the lived levels, there was not enough distance between what the people deeply felt(rightly or wrongly ) about their OTHER and this partly entertaining installation of objects, signs and symbols.

Shiro red bus green bus

Red doubledecker, green doubledecker – successfully point to some shallow symbols and signs of divisive norms. It reminds me of the dismissive  comment Alexander Calder addressed to David Smith who disowned his metal sculptures after the new owner repaired their painted surfaces. Calder laughed : Smith’s art was in that think layer of paint only? In analogy: so your identity is that shade of green or orange? Or that religion or the other?  In earlier societies indeed the signs and symbols were useful pointer to friend or a foe, but today? Humanity faces problems whose solution depends on collaboration, co-operation and sharing.

A digression to illustrate that felt absence of distance(a gap for some trust)  matters: I gave a slide show and a lecture on medieval crucifixions with movable arms to a group of Catholic believers.  When they saw a slide of  the one from Perpignan, they  became animated and moved.  In the discussion that followed, I was told that the memory of touching and kissing the wood – a holy relic for them –  evoked religious feeling towards the object on the screen.  Similar responses could happen to non-religious objects, if they hold enough of memories connected to actual life.

Shiro glasses and Mrs Brown

Indeed, not every object invites strong reaction. Some create a juxtaposition that is simply comical – the TV character, Mrs Brown, is  watching you!

It is therefore significant that one of the cognitive  shifts of the original intention Masuyama describes in his blog as a result of living in the caravan includes  concerns with  economizing resources like water and energy.

This borderline between the multitude of objects as signs/ symbols of divisions among people’s cultural memories   and  the Earth resources for life is, in my view, the most important issue raised by this installation.

Using the simple symmetry as a rule, everything in the caravan  is divided into Irish and British  – whatever it is. The door, the beds, the glass cupboard holds Irish glass on one side and British(English) glass on the other. All then about division, borderlines, separation.  At one point only, the subject twists: there are two almost exactly similar boxes of Monopoly. In that particular part no real or symbolic difference between the Irish Monopoly game and British Monopoly game is visible. I find that a salient point of subversion of the initial intention that governed most of the interior.

Does it work as art? Yes – it harvests some known  (museum, shops) versions of installation and   makes ordinary somewhat not so ordinary, however, its value lies in unexpected shifts of attitude, like the one Masayuma singled out above. Turning from the past to the future.

During my visit of the caravan, a memory  surfaced of  one room cottage in Eastern Slovakia, in a Roma settlement outside the picturesque  medieval city of Bardejov. The women asked us to have a look inside their one room (detached) houses, to show off their collection of objects.  In this particular room there was just one piece of furniture, a chest of drawers. Its top was densely covered by  beer glasses, wine glasses, water glasses,  ashtrays, small plates,  small figurines etc. All collected from pubs and trains and unannounced visits to other people’s houses, mostly via an open window.

A Harvard psychologist Shelley Carson names that phenomenon “cognitive disinhibition”, and claims that while it makes a person disorderly, it leads to openness and high creativity.

Shiro Masuyama certainly shares disinhibition, but not the cognitive one. His cognitive control  straight jackets the idea of borders and  divisions  into the known narrative. Some people (perhaps those already open to a change) found it “thought provoking”.

Art is needed  and valued  for renewing sensitivities imprisoned by that kind of historical narrative, and for freeing people to ask unpopular probing questions addressed not just to that narrative but to the future  which does not exist.  Focusing on making the future  requires courage, because what is not yet, is as full of uncertainty as it is promising greater freedom.

I resolve to promote this caravan installation  as a space to rethink what is inherited.

“It is this space of trust that enables dialogue to unfold. Dialogue is a group of people freely reaching a place and verbally exchanging thoughts in a present and immediate way whilst listening, not only to others but also to themselves with others, then coming together and exchanging again, and after having left, coming together yet again. Such gathering is never spontaneous; still, it must be proposed.”

–Esther Shalev-Gerz, The Trust Gap (2013)


Images courtesy of Shiro Masuyama.

January 13, 2013.

About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
This entry was posted in essay, review and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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