Dialog in Common

Ayumi Matsuzaka: On Meaningful Participation

Ayumi Matsuzaka [AM] is an artist (working with installation, performance, public art, participation) based in Berlin.
pressEmail interview with Markuz Wernli Saitô in May 2007.

Shelter for drug-addicted women

The Dream Collector (2006): Local residents in Saigon receive custom-tailored bed sheets...

In 2006 you realized with Alba Navas Salmerón and curator Motoko Uda in Saigon a participatory project named The Dream Collector: You provided 41 individuals with customade bed sheets, in order to sleep on them and tell you about their dreams...

How did you approach people in Saigon and how did you introduce your project to them?
What's the role of the participants during this process?

AM: [...] I went to local cafés and lunch tables at outside restaurants and introduced myself as Ayumi in my poor Vietnamese language (I took a language class in Berlin). Most of them had no problem to talk with me as individual smiling and small woman. Then, after we stopped the general talks, I gave a Vietnamese explanation letter about the project since most of them do not speak English and my Vietnamese does not help. Of course I could accept any kind of answers from them if they like to participate or not. Normally I do not use e-mail or mass-communication mediums since I like to start with individual relations.

How often did you meet with the participants and where did you meet them?
AM: In general, three times in total. First, we learned to know each other and made an appointment when I could visit their house in order to give the bed sheet. Second, I visited their house and asked to show me the sleeping place. We cut the textile together fitting to their bed or sleeping space. Then I made another appointment to listen to the dreams. Third, I visited them again and asked if it is possible to listen to the dream on the bed or sleeping space. Depending on the situation Alba had her own participants and I had my own ones. Even when we visited their house together (for some reasons), only one of us talked to the participant since our ways of communication were often different.

Where do you see the art in this project — maybe beyond the embroidered bed sheets?
AM: Oh! There might be many answers for this question. It is open for each participant and it is not possible to be defined by me as an artist. Please ask my participants. — Markuz, do you think the embroidered bed sheets are artworks?

Now that the project is completed, what do you think remains for the participants and the community in Saigon — besides the bed sheet that they received?
AM: This is my wish that each participant and I had an experimental relationship together.

Shelter for drug-addicted women

... and tell the artist about their dreams which are consequently embroidered in the fabric.

What were the challenges, the learning, the surprises for you and Alba?
AM: My challenge was to understand each participant's point of views of her/his daily life. I decided this after I arrived to Saigon. I saw many young boys at a night art event. There I felt that some Vietnamese young generation might be hungry to receive any kind of "foreign cultures" and "new and non-official art scenes" from foreign artists. I decided on not offering "foreign" or extra "western" smells to them. I felt that the society has two or three groups in Saigon. One group we can obviously see is "foreigners" including us, who bring new free thinking to local side. The other group is then the locals including young people who seek new thoughts from outsiders. When I started my project, I tried to put my standpoint on the between or hopefully local side.

How? I wished that if the project goes to succeed or not is up to these young boys who must understand I do not suggest any correct goals of the project. At the exhibition, participants might have expected super "artsy" exhibition but what we saw together was their bed sheets with their original writing cords, words (including English mistakes) and drawings. For the third people who did not participate, the context of the bed sheets were not so interesting. However this is a kind of traces that each participant accepted my personal request and supported / or be patient to make me understand each stories and words. These efforts – the time and energy – could not be shown visually on the bed sheets. But I wish my participants received some message from me what I wanted to do with them.

How and why did you arrive at this kind of participatory art making?
AM: I guess this is my personal curiosity about a moment an unknown person finally shows her/his honesty/ sometimes hidden character to me after an experimental relationship. Well, my art works are not some "outcome" from my creativity. It is more like "income". I am interested in receiving a kind of energy and open-minded thoughts from new people through my art process. Also it is my pleasure to create unexpected directions together.

I am researching the fundamental mechanism of society. I am especially interested in constituting elements of particular networks and trying to make them visible through art projects. How one person can connect to other people? Why we need a community to live? My questions are related to basic relationship of human beings on an individual level.

Ayumi Matsuzaka who graduated from the Public Art and New Artistic Strategies program at Bauhaus University in Weimar, works internationally on a wide range of public art projects, but uses a conceptual artist's sensibility. Her work emphasizes the relationship with its participants and the community it takes place in an effort to have art truly connect with its immediate environment.

externalAyumi Matsuzaka's website