Short Story: a conversation with Yurie Nagashima

“…the criteria in art is based on Western culture and history which means that it’s also male-centric.”

Since the very beginning of CHEVET, I have been trying to write every and one of each interview or article published here as neutral as possible. I mean, trying to project an objective sort of feeling so the reader don’t think that it’s just a perception of what I like, what I think and how I see things.

I am not sure of having accomplished the goal.

Since the very beginning of the pandemic year of ours, I have been feeling the need of telling something, of talking using the writing technique as I have never felt it before. Always walking, always in the quest of putting the phrases together—in English, French and Spanish, as my oasis of clearance, considering that this is actually my mother tongue—. I’m not sure of having accomplished that goal either. I wanted to switch things up in my writing self. Let’s say I putting on another cape which would serve as tool to improve as an artist (?), because, in a way, I have done interviews and written about the arts referencing my icons and pop culture non-stop for over 10 years now.

I was also thinking that if we, as the group of people sharing the space on Planet Earth, were experiencing issues in recognizing us as family, this was going to be it: the moment of sitting around the table and start the discussion to solve this out. What we do and how we do it, as in I and as in We.

I could feel Zadie Smith’s words resonating in my head: “Talking to yourself can be useful. And writing means being overheard”. —Is that what I want?–, I remember asking to myself right after losing an already written essay which pushed me outside the bed to not miss anything about the dream, about the perfect choreography of paragraphs in my mind. —I just simply want to let my thoughts get out of my chest–, I ended up realizing months later, still moaning that lost essay and the unwritten text.

In the meantime, and still thinking about family and aims that haven’t been accomplished, I decided to knock on Yurie Nagashima’s door, because she has used the term family, and many others, important ones, of course; to develop her way of art: photography. But also, because it’s simply the right time even though Nagashima was and still is working on the next project. “It’s been tough this year, for me and pretty much for everyone. Most of my jobs got cancelled at first and I lost someone I really cared about in February,” she says. “However, there are some good things that have happened too. This year I published 2 books —Self Portraits (Dashwood Books, 2020) is one of them– and got a photo prize [the Higashikawa Award], my family is doing just fine and my son has started college.”

Photo by Yuri Nagashima, from the book “PASTIME PARADISE”. Courtesy of the artist and MAHO KUBOTA Gallery.

The next interview was answered when the second wave of Covid-19 had come to Japan, “so I’d stay home unless I have a photo shoot for a magazines,” told me Yurie when asked about her plans for the last summer.

Let’s start from the very beginning, what are you doing right now?

Working at home.

Before becoming a photographer you wanted to do films, right? What was the breaking point in your life to feel that film was your path in life?

When I was 15, I went to the cinema by myself for the first time.  With a big screen, I felt like I was a part of the story, becoming someone else.  I liked how a movie could take me away from the real life.  I wanted to be a film director, so I decided to go to art school.

You have had experiences in which you have realized that (through student peers, for example) not having the same cultural background will create a wall while trying to understand your work in certain ways. After more than 30 years of career, is this subject part of your thinking process when creating a personal project?

Yes.  When we talk about that we have to be aware that the criteria in art is based on Western culture and history which means that it’s also male-centric.

Photo by Yuri Nagashima, from the book “PASTIME PARADISE”. Courtesy of the artist and MAHO KUBOTA Gallery.

In a world where movements are playing a significant role, and after studying sociology, what’s your concept of collective?

Though I am not good at taking action as part of a group, I respect poeple who get together for what they want to say.  I think that they are brave.

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I say feminism?

Sisterhood.

Note from the artist: “This photograph is part of ‘I want to be your power’ and ‘not six’. ‘I want to be your power’ was the title of an exhibition and ‘not six’ is the name of the book, but both of them had my ex-partner as main subject.”

What does represent light and distance for you (in your life and work)?

Light…  I’ve never thought about that.  Distance…  I guess I need them both.  

I have also read that you write [Memories of A Back (MoaB), 2009), can you tell me a little bit more about it?

It is a book collecting short stories around ‘I’, the  narrator. It’s her, and the stories are about people around her up until she was 10 years old.  

Can you share a hint of your favorite story out of MoaB?

I can’t chose one!  I wish one day it will be translated for you to find your own favorite.

For you, what would be the difference between an image in real life and the one in a photograph?

Oh, they are diffent like you and your 1:1 figure made out of cardboard.

 What does mean being flexible to you?

Difficult.

What are you going to do right after finishing this questions?

Going to sleep.

Are you working on a project right now?

Yes.  

Which phrase will you use to close this conversation?

Stay healthy and have fun.

Note from Yuri: “The installation is from an exhibition @ Chihiro Art Museum in Tokyo, but the same work was shown in an exhibition you mentioned before, ‘Her Projects – memories of no one’. The piece is called ‘Thousands stitches’. In Japan during WW2, there was this superstition that if a soldier wears a belt with thousands stitches, each stitch must have sawn by different women so he can come home. I wanted to make one by my own to see how it feels like to work hard for that kind of superstition. So, the photos on the right wall are close ups of more than 660 women’s hands and faces. The shirts hanging from the sealing had thousands stitches as well. As I carry on the project, old ladies who have made real ones back in the war, started to tell me how hard it was to survive that period our history and post war time as Japanese women. I recorded it and made a video.”

Thank to Hiroko Suzuki and the team at Maho Kubota Gallery for making this interview possible.

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