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We don’t have to please God in any other way than to be brutally honest. Bono

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Kyun Chome - VM - Kaori Homma

Kyun Chome: Dilemma in Making Smiles

Missing the Point

by Kaori Homma

At a glance, Kyun Chome’s work Dilemma in Making Smiles (2015) might not appear as an art work relevant to this weekly meditation. It shows no sign of symbolism or allusion to Christian iconography. It simply looks absurd, reckless, sensationalist or to some art connoisseurs as art work without real craft.

Kyun Chome is a young artist unit consisting of Eri Homma and Nabuchi, emerging after the 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Fallout Disaster and in the process of gaining their place in the contemporary art scene in Japan. Given that only less than 1% of the population is Christian in Japan, Kyun Chome has had very little exposure to any Christian tradition or worldview. However, before you call this article a heresy, please just stay with me a little longer to find out why I am writing about Kyun Chome’s work for this meditation.

Dilemma in Making Smiles is a video piece made up of three frames. The first two frames each depict a blind-folded person. You cannot see their facial expressions. The portrait format immediately reminds you of images seen on the news or of clips from films: sharp lighting on the subject against a dark background, perhaps suggesting an interrogation room. Yet they are not totally tied up. Their hands seem to be free and they are concentrating on something which is not in the frame.

When you look at the third frame, a strange picture emerges, while the hands of the two people clumsily feel their way to make what looks like a child’s picture of a face. But the face does not make sense, as one of the eyes is replaced by a mouth, the ears are in the wrong place, and it has two noses. It is nonsensical. If not careful, you might dismiss it as yet another one of these clever, but no so funny jokes. The subjects on the screen are calm and collected and moving quite purposefully, yet making a really bad job of it. The frames change a couple of times and different pairs carry out a similar attempt, each time without succeeding. There is no narrative nor developing plot.

As you sit in front of this work showing repeated actions in the darkness, you may suddenly realize that this is us. This is what we are doing, to ourselves and to this world. We have been repeating this act of absurdity. No matter how much we wish and desire and try, we are in the dark, traveling awry through history as it unfolds itself in front of us. The more we try to fix it, the worse it seems to get. We are looking at a sobering accurate depiction of ‘sin’, very close to the original Hebrew Old-Testament concept of ‘being blind and missing the point’, portrayed by young Japanese artists who do not have a particular link to Christianity.

Kyun Chome’s work does not show you the way out from this perpetual pointlessness. Kyun Chome’s reservation to offer easy answers, however, is a fitting response to this grave human condition. We are increasingly seeing the cracks in the securities we have built for ourselves. Our commerce, culture, political frameworks, science and technology, religiosity and moral frameworks are showing strains. The ferocious rapidity in which things are going out of control is palpable, not just in far flung places in the world but ever closer to home. 

And yet, precisely this human history of meandering and failing is the means by which God has chosen to carry out the remedy. Why this seemingly ineffective route was chosen remains a mystery to us. But it is clear that this is exactly what God has been doing with or without our knowledge, and we are implicated in the story in which the cross and the resurrection have intervened 2000 years ago. It is clearly not a quick fix and defeatism is not even an option. We are placed in this turbulent time with an awareness of our own misguidedness, in need of redemption which cannot be attained through our own effort. This awareness will not allow us to scapegoat ‘others’ as a cause of today’s ills, but it will force us to reflect on our need of redemption, not self-remedy.

The world is groaning all around us and we are facing a real question: how should we then live?

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Kyun Chome is a Japanese Artist duo, coming to acclaim since 2011 by winning the Okamoto Taro Award. Their work was featured in an article published in 2015 by Arts Review, see http://artreview.com/features/2016_future_great_kyun-chome. Their own website is http://kyunchome.main.jp/english.html. The images are © Kyun-Chome.

Kaori Homma was born in Japan. She received her BA in Fine Art at the Tokyo University of Art and Design. Later she moved to the UK and completed a MA in Fine Art/Sculpture at the Chelsea School of Art. Now Homma is based in London, exhibiting internationally. She is an Associate Lecturer at the University of Arts London. She is also co-founder and coordinator of Art Action UK, see www.artactionuk.org, and an active member of All Souls, Langham Place, London. Homma’s works can be seen at http://www.kaorihomma.co.uk.

ArtWay Visual Meditation October 9, 2016