Yuji Agematsu

Yuji Agematsu discusses his show at the Whitney Museum

View of  “Yuji Agematsu: Walk On A,B,C,” 2015. Photo: Paula Court.

Since the late 1980s, New York–based artist Yuji Agematsu has amassed a collection of photos and detritus assembled from his daily perambulations around the city. For inaugural programming at its new location, the Whitney Museum of American Art commissioned the artist to develop Walk On A,B,C, as well as performances with live sound improvisations that continue his investigations into the overlap between the forces of habit, dislocation, and trauma that structure everyday urban experience. Here he discusses his process and the show, which runs from May 6 to May 11, 2015, in the Susan and John Hess Family Theater at the Whitney.

PRIOR TO THIS WORK I HAD BEEN COLLECTING small objects for years. I don’t own a laptop or a smartphone, so I keep a notebook on me to record the location and atmosphere around objects at the particular moment I find them. Since I couldn’t physically take the shadows and the stains around them, I walked around the city with a camera. I started to shoot pictures around Times Square right before 9/11, and after that the atmosphere changed because of tight security, fears, and the police. People had gotten so nervous, so I moved to walking around midtown, shooting the ground or at people, their gestures, and their attitudes.

For the Whitney show, I started shooting in September 2014 and continued until the beginning of last December, while the new building was still under construction. On Fridays and during the weekend when I wasn’t at my day job, I brought a camera and took photos around the neighborhoods along the High Line area. I was drawn to the density—the vertical contrast between the artificial gardens lining the High Line and the mess beneath it. I divided the area into three sections, A, B, and C. I walk around in circles to see places again and collect things again at the same spot, but since nothing stays the same in the city, the pattern and the point of view change each time.

The photos I made were an attempt to equalize the contrast between the stains on the street and the manicured sections of the High Line. To create the slides of these pictures, I used a microscope and would occasionally layer an image with things I had found. With the microscope I could zoom in on all the flowers and trash to make the details visible but strange. People ask if I manipulate the objects or their shape, which is kind of a boring question to me. Transporting these objects from one point to another constantly changes them, so they’re always being manipulated.

In the theater at the Whitney I project the slides onto several plywood screens in two different sizes. One size corresponds to the size of subway kiosks and maps that tell people where to go while they’re waiting. The other size is based on construction site fences around which growth seems to metabolize. I’m showing my photos using ten analog slide projectors that all eventually phase out of sync with each other.

It’s really important for me to think about the conversion between analog and digital technologies in relation to memory. For example, when I go from this building up to the High Line, my memory is constantly exposing or experiencing both spaces, as if in a layering of film. My memories are constantly being double-exposed. When I recorded cicada sounds from my hometown in Japan in 1997, I remembered the sounds as being much slower than they ended up being on record. The BPM is too fast for me, so for my performances in this installation, I wanted to manipulate the frequency in order to hear the adjustments I make between the natural, the analog, the digital.