Valencia, Spain

Kaoru Katayama

Galería Tomás March

The media’s use and abuse of the concept of globalization have led some people to believe that cultural barriers between countries have completely disappeared. Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth. Among the many who have discovered this for themselves is the Japanese artist Kaoru Katayama, who moved to Spain in 1991. The initial culture clash took place in the city of Salamanca, where Katayama had gone to learn Spanish. To the newcomer, however, language was less a tool of exchange and communication than one of many spheres of misunderstanding. Another involved the Spanish penchant for endless physical contact (kisses, hugs, pats on the back), which was hard to become accustomed to for someone from a country where people keep their distance when they greet.

Perhaps this is why Katayama likes to call attention to the instability of national codes and stereotypes. In doing so, she has availed herself of many different disciplines, among them drawing, installation, video, and performance. In 2006, Katayama conceived Ba-ji-toh-fuh, cuando el viento del este sopla al oído del caballo (Ba-ji-toh-fuh, When the East Wind Blows on the Horse’s Ear). This video projection, whose title is taken from a Japanese proverb, shows the artist herself, clad in black, against the austere background of a concrete construction. A young charro, a Salamancan dancer in traditional dress, tries to get Katayama’s attention, circling around her while playing castanets. Communication does not seem possible: Japanese impassivity is unmoved by Spanish color and gesture. For Technocharro, 2004, Katayama recorded a traditional dance group from Salamanca, but the music in the video is not the sort that usually accompanies their dances; instead, we hear techno rhythms played by two DJs. The male and female dancers, wearing regional costumes, are comically disoriented at the beginning but gradually adapt their steps to the techno beat. Somehow, the traditional and the contemporary find an uneasy common ground.

In Valencia, where she is now based, Katayama showed a video recorded at a bar in downtown Los Angeles called Jalisco, a meeting place for gay Chicano and Mexican men. The title of this piece, Te quiero mucho (I Love You Very Much), 2009, alludes to a famous song from northern Mexico. Though the lyrics of the song clearly reference heterosexual relationships, here they become background music for passionate homoerotic dancing. Finally, inspired by Japanese comics, the drawings in the series “Kotowaza (refrán)” (Kotowaza [Proverb]), 2009, bring together proverbs about animals whose meanings are almost impossible for a non-Japanese-speaking viewer to figure out. Visual language should offer a means to move beyond language barriers, just as physical contact and emotion can bring people from distant regions together—but, as Katayama seems to suggest, doing so is never easy.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.