When Hiraki Sawa learned of his parents decision to sell his childhood home in Japan, he knew he wanted to document the space somehow. So the London-based video artist began filming various rooms. The decision inadvertently became the foundation of Home / 2017-2021, a captivating nine-minute work appearing in the video sector of this month’s Melbourne Art Fair which runs February 17-20 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, South Wharf.
“I started filming, to document or record the space,” says Sawa. “Leaving that house felt a bit like a funeral – I was mourning the loss of my childhood home. Shooting it was a memorial of sorts. I wasn’t thinking about anything specific, just tracing memories of growing up.”
Once his parents vacated the house, Sawa decided to use the familiar domestic backdrop to craft a spiritual sequel to his best-known work, Dwelling (2002), in which lifelike animated aeroplanes crisscross an apartment. Made while still in grad school, the piece reflects his ongoing fascination with the poignancy of individual spaces and the interweaving of outside forces.
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“When I first made Dwelling, I was just playing and imagining,” says Sawa. “The aeroplane motif was about bringing the outside in. I imagined the wall as a boundary and everything beyond as the horizon. So having a plane travel from one room to the other was a means of traveling from land to land. Here I was thinking about planes flying through a space as a way of drawing – tracing time through that space. I was also trying to make something light, trying to access that playfulness from my early works.”
Previously shown in Tokyo and Shanghai, Home opens with various angles of his childhood home (including doorways and power outlets) set to a metronomic tick of rhythm. Soon we see a small aeroplane using a windowsill as a runway to take flight. As the combined engine noise increases, we observe more and more planes, establishing hypnotic patterns of repetition against mundane backdrops of patterned wallpaper.
True to its subtitle, Home spanned four years of creation. That may seem surprising for a short piece that revisits motifs from an earlier work, but it was crucial for Sawa to get it right. “I have tried to remake Dwelling [and] I have failed every time,” he says. “And when I first used the footage from my parents’ home to make an airplane piece, I failed too. I think with this space in particular, it was too emotional. I was just too close to it.”
The piece only began to work once he’d gained some emotional distance from the space. He also made a second version that takes out the aeroplanes entirely but leaves the engine sounds, which Sawa recorded near London’s Heathrow Airport back in 2001 and used in Dwelling. “It became ghostlike, a flight of phantoms,” says Sawa. “I felt like I was letting go, stepping outsie [and] observing from beyond.”
Curated by Nina Miall, the Curator of International Art at Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Video is a distinction cross-section of moving images that allows international galleries to display work remotely. Sawa’s piece is presented by New York’s prestigious James Cohan Gallery and joins a diverse slate of work made possible by presenting partner Subtype.
Though he eventually returned to aeroplanes after a nearly two-decade gap, Sawa has utilised several other recurring motifs in this work, including Ferris wheels and flying birds. But those experiments in motion connect to something deeper for him, even when the setting isn’t as deeply felt as his childhood home. “To my mind,” he says, “the common threads throughout my works are time, place and poetry.”
Next for Sawa is a possible piece about the “garden city” movement, which incorporates agriculture directly into urban planning, and researching the traditional tea ceremony for another piece.
“Often people talk about the ceremony as having a sense of the uniform,” says Sawa. “Where the cups and the teapot and the spoon are placed is highly specific, which is like time and installation. I felt that that precision is not just about habits or following rules, it’s something … more definite. Once you’re in the tea ceremony room, time no longer exists. You’re outside of time.”
See Home / 2017-2021 at the Melbourne Art Fair, presented by James Cohan, which runs February 17-20 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, South Wharf. Discover and buy from new and iconic contemporary artists represented by the region’s leading galleries. Use the code BROADSHEET22 to receive 15 per cent off tickets now.
In partnership with Melbourne Art Fair, you could win a $250 voucher from Subtype (presenting partner of the Video sector of Melbourne Art Fair) along with two tickets to Friday Night presented by Broadsheet, a night’s accommodation at Next Hotel Melbourne, 3 bottles of Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve and a copy of the Melbourne Art Fair 2022 publication. To go in the draw, follow @melbourneartfair on Instagram, tag the friend you’d take to the Fair on the competition post and share the post in a story.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Melbourne Art Fair.