In dense dramas about personal relationships, politics and history, Simon Fujiwara’s practice explores ‘real-life’ narratives through a combination of performance, video, installation and short stories. Much of his work draws upon his own biography, creating engaging stories, which mix fact and fiction to compelling and powerful effect. Using his family history, he fuses the private sphere with the social realm, blurring reality and storytelling to create a narrative in which he plays the roles of multiple characters: anthropologist, novelist, analyst and eroticist, amongst others. For the Dojima River Biennale, the artist presented a new version of Rehearsal for a Reunion (with the Father of Pottery), after Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada (2011) re-telling the story of a process of reparation and re-engagement with his estranged Japanese father, via the medium of pottery. Fujiwara grew up with his British mother in the remote rural county of Cornwall, in the UK, after his parents had separated when he was a boy. Living only one mile from the small fishing port of St Ives, which was renowned as an artists’ colony in the early twentieth century (and now the site of Tate St Ives museum), he visited the Leach Pottery from an early age. It is only recently, however, that he realised the parallels between his own family history and that of Bernard Leach, known as the ‘Father of British Studio Pottery’. Leach, born in Hong Kong in 1887 to British parents, worked as a potter in Japan and China until he moved to the UK in 1920. By the time of his death in 1979, the studio practice he established in St Ives with his soul mate, Japanese potter Shoji Hamada, had influenced pottery makers across the world. It was Leach’s combination of Western and Eastern sensibilities that initially drew Fujiwara’s attention. In 2010, he journeyed to Shizuoka, in Japan, to reunite with his father after over twenty years of separation. On the artist’s suggestion, with the intention of producing a lasting symbol of their reunion, the father and son embarked upon a pottery course to produce a replica tea set based on the ‘standard ware’ of Bernard Leach, whose work has come to define an ideal union of Eastern and Western aesthetics. The pottery they produced was to act as a symbolic prop in their own tea ceremony, which was, in turn, to be the opportunity for them to bridge the psychological and geographical gulfs of their relationship. In reality, of course, the copies they made paled in comparison to the formal qualities of the Leach originals (as seen in the beer jockey and milk pitcher displayed at the Forum, alongside their perfect models). Following this real-life reunion, Fujiwara scripted a dialogue between himself and an actor taking the role of his father, the video of which is presented as a ‘rehearsal for a reunion’. Here the actor operates more like an analyst, probing a reluctant Fujiwara as to the personal reasons why he is using a reunion with his father as the site for the play they are discussing. As in much of Fujiwara’s works, the narrative is acutely self-conscious, commentating on its own process of unfolding, and thus the artist tells us: “I have not written the end of the play yet,” allowing the rehearsal to stand in for the final, deferred reunion in real-life. The characters talk and drink tea, using the actual pots the father and son made in Japan, but in the end they have to choose between these replicas and the standard ware of the Leach Pottery: should they preserve the idealised version of the East-West relationship symbolised by the Leach pots, or stress the personal bond rebuilt between Fujiwara and his father? They opt for the latter and ritually destroy the standard ware, smashing each item in turn with a hammer.
== Text by Tom Trevor for the Dojima River Biennale 2015 ==