Interview : Kenta Cobayashi
Cobayashi's work is characterized by vestigial digital traces applied onto his images via computer software as a painter adorns a canvas, a form of "tagging" that serves as testament to his existence. He views the vast deluge of images coursing through cyberspace to be a turbid stream constituting a new phenomenon for our times. The moment an image is released into the digital void, it reproduces uncontrollably and wholly irrespective of the photographer's volition. As part of the young generation of digital natives, Cobayashi's work represents a fundamental grapple with the promulgatory power of the internet, and questions how photographers are to respond.
For those that have never experienced your work, how would you describe your process?
I create photographs using Photoshop and similar software. At first when people see my work they assume I edit found photos, but all the work I’ve done up to this point has actually been derived from original photographs, taken using DSLR cameras, smartphones and built-in laptop cameras. When I update my blog, I post a mix of both unedited and edited photos.
What inspired you to use performance and software related technology in your picture making?
I spent two years at a place in Shibuya called Shibuhouse. Shibuhouse is a project initiated by the artist Keita Saito, who is one of the main organisers of the collective and managers of the project. At times a group of up to fifty young people stayed in the house. I lived there with all types of creatives coming and going, from DJs to designers and programmers, etc. Later I started living with a few of the creative people I met there. The jumbled environment certainly had an influence on the way I came to think about my work. I’m interested in collaborating with other artists and creatives, using different tools, getting away from set practices/genres concerning photography and art, to slip out of my comfort zone as an individual. For me - that’s the deeper truth within the medium of photography. I see the photograph as a medium that believes in the existence of a world outside of oneself, as a communicative process with that.
Your first book Friends Forever feels like a precursor to your recently published book EVERYTHING_1. What do you feel you have learnt and how has your practice developed over the past few years?
Friends Forever was published in 2014. Since then, probably the biggest thing was the experience of taking part in several exhibitions. This gave me an objective perspective on the images I developed from the work. It was after a friend of mine died that I made Friends Forever. It was an emotional thing. The concept of the zine is a bit more in line with an objective perspective, looking at what I’ve been doing on my blog and putting that into print. The main theme is ‘fluidity’. The binding is made in such a way that the pages can be rearranged and replaced. The concept is also reflected in the use of a unique ink, which prints colours more similar to RGB. Kohei Oyama of Newfave, designer Tadahiro Gunji, and the people at the printshop all shared their ideas with me as we worked on the publication. It was made in a collaborative way.
In your performance ‘Sound & Vision: The Moving Body’ with Yuuki Takada and Self Publish, Be Happy at Offprint, London 2016. We felt an important step had been taken in terms of a new evolution in this digital age regarding image making. What other technologies have you started using in your work and how do you see these influencing your creative direction?
To put it simply, when I think about my work, I’m thinking of photography today as something that contains both the act of photographing and the act of editing as a single set. The concept of that performance was to show this process of ‘photographing and editing’ in a different form. Still images were taken from a live video stream which were projected onto large screens, where I then edited them in Photoshop. At the same time, there was an aspect of sound making, and an aspect of book making, with photos being printed out every twenty seconds. This form of intervention, creating music while editing so many photos in a short time span (even though the Photoshopped work was no different from what it usually is) resulted in something quite peculiar coming out through the original processed photos and the movement of the strokes. I displayed a video work in a group show New Material in San Francisco, but to create that I used a software that tracks the movement of a mouse cursor, leaving the same handwriting on each frame of the video. For the Islands is Islands exhibition in Japan, I collaborated with a fashion designer and a team that works with virtual reality. 3D scans based on photographs were made into massive CG objects, and they were displayed using virtual reality. When creating something and finding the direction of the work, it’s not so much a question of what kind of person the creator is, but much more about what kind of tools and technologies are being used. Glitch artists have worked on breaking tools in order to break out of the constraints of those tools, but for me I am more interested in a process of superimposition, of overlaying different tools and creative energies, a process of displacement.
How do you feel the audience reacts to your different styles: photography, performance, sound/vision and publishing? As a new media and digital artist what do you feel are your particular strengths?
Going further than photography and art. In many occupations people take into account interchange between different practices/genres. This is something previous generations have (despite the difficulties) opened up for us. For example, thanks to the work of Daisuke Yokota, NEWFAVE’s Kohei Oyama and other artists in their thirties, things are easier for me. They have pioneered a new way of making photographs. I’m open to collaboration in the future.
With regards to technology and values, I don’t feel separate from artists in their 30s. Nothing is specific to me but specific to our generation’s creatives - we indeed have less pressure to handle when dealing with a range of different styles. I would like to go beyond digital art, and would like to do different things with many different people.
Who do you feel has been influential on your photographic career?
I have an admiration for Ryan McGinley’s photographs and also the energy of the youth in New York. I am also intrigued by Thomas Ruff and David OReilly. I would like to intertwine all of the above with Japanese culture, such as video games and Purikura.
Website: www. kentacobayashi.com