So you had been to Japan with the “Traveling exhibition” in your bags, and while staying around, you meet the right people to collaborate with. How do you see the Japanese underground scene?
I think that they are quite linked to each other, people from Kyoto If they come to Tokyo to make exhibitions and people from Tokyo If they come to Kyoto or Osaka to make exhibitions, I don’t know how is in other parts or more far away, but from what I could see they all know each other and have contact with each other, so i could say that there is a pretty nice network among a lot of underground artist. And I think most of the them do not really manage to live out by art, but they do fucking amazing stuff. It’s really a crazy, good scene going on in Japan actually. Also there are a lot of places where they can show their art.
Its kind of similar to the European scene, if you are in the underground, it’s pretty difficult to make a living out of your art but as an artist you are still connected to other people and that’s how you make things together. It’s like struggling but still managing somehow. Some people manage to make a living out of their art but very few, it’s the same as in Europe.
A couple of years ago, also in Japan, young people realize that they don’t need to work 100 hours in a week to make a living. That they could work just normal and besides that do their art, their life, as it is possible to live with less money, we don’t need so much money. Why should I be a salary man with …. yen every month, I don’t need all that money so I can work 2 days or 3 days in a week then I can just paint or do the stuff which I like. For me, more and more people told me that: “I stop working so much, I don’t work 6 days in a week anymore, I just work 3 days in a week, I don’t have so much money anymore but its ok. then I do art work or I do what I want to do.” That’s cool, it’s really nice.
At the level of these society that we are working with, it’s the most important thing, specially when younger people realize that, so that’s cool, that’s the first step. We understood these way from before here, but about Japan it’s a big difference because it’s an island. In the Europe, we are surrounded by many other countries, so if the people want to do something, all the underground artist in Europe are having facilities to a network of happenings all around the same continent. It’s like If they want to go to a D.I.Y. zine fair to sell the their work, they can go to Switzerland, they can go to Germany, or also from Germany to England, its easy. But in Japan, if you go out from Japan, you are in the sea. So is much more difficult to make people understand that actually you can travel for these things.
Some friends who are working with the exhibitions, they had been to South Korea to join a book fair. And they said that they seen so many Japanese people there. So these means Japanese people also start going out to other countries for the their art. That’s cool, it’s a slowly expanding process.
Did you see some specific things over there?
They have their own esthetic, that’s why I really always loved when i discover Japanese music and after I discover Japanese contemporary art, I mean underground music and arts. That’s what i am speaking about. I always thought about it like wow, fuck, this is new, When i saw Melt Banana playing in Paris for the first time, 20 years ago. I was what the fuck is this! something completely new !! But actually it was maybe not new, It was more pushing what’s existing to a new level. Mixing it with so many influence from the west, USA, Europe, then with the Japanese touch which is something belonging to that culture and I had no idea about it. Now after these travel I have little bit more idea about it, so they were pushing it to its new in the way that they like, and It’s not really new but for us its new.
For the paintings and the other arts is also same story, it’s like psychedelic style and new school underground manga mixed with traditional Japanese painting and mixed with western culture or whatever as well, in the end its something really special. It’s not stealing but to take influences from all over the world, or whatever they could see because of the internet or whatever, mix it with traditional or new way of making Japanese art. like this manga things which are destroying itself completely, instead of making it as a super beautiful manga face, they are making it something like buooorrrrr.
It’s like art bruit, like Japanese style art bruit, mix with manga, mix with Japanese traditional style, mix with whatever. But of course they had access to things more than other asian country since before, they had much more internet, a lot of Japanese students study in USA or western Europe because they had the money to do it, so they got more influences. If compare to other eastern asian countries, its more develop in a way, and they had their own style, like new school traditionalised. So I’ve discovered many great young underground artist in Japan actually.
Please tell some episode that you’ve been living over there!
Each time while I was doing exhibitions, people who I don’t know came to me to talk. In Japan it was a bit more complicated because of the language barrier but of course always the organizers tried to help me, and I met new people, it’s not all about during the exhibitions, also after the gig’s we go to IZAKAYA (place like a bar with a lot of appetisers in Japanese) and after we all get drunk, suddenly, he or she start to speak by English then I was like: “Actually you speak English !” so then “let’s talk”… Apart the exhibitions the Works shop were also interesting because there you can meet the people in other context and in a different way. I don’t really have specific story but every thing was extraordinary, you have your heart bumping all the time !!!!
Do you have also other ideas where to go outside of Europe with the “Traveling exhibition”?
Indonesia, I was traveling to Indonesia, of course is much more easier when you meet people.
I met people in Indonesia , They said “oh its fucking interesting!”, but I don’t know if they will have money, probably they won’t have money for it, but at least I am trying with this guys in Indonesia, because I can show exhibitions in 4 or 5 different places around, thru the people that I met. So they are probably interested, but the problem will be about money, because traveling to Indonesia with 3 people, it’s like 1500 euro, who gonna put 1500 euro for exhibitions in Indonesia2? where 1500 euro is what they earn in a year maybe.
Another idea is Singapore, people have money in Singapore and if you go one time to Asia, Its not expensive to travel around. The tough point is from Berlin to Asia. So let see what will happen, if nothing works, probably I will go on alone. It’s a pity because other artist cannot come but at least i will show the exhibitions. I just want to go more far away, that’s the idea.
For example what brings you to Indonesia?
For example who is any kinds of artist in Indonesia, for them is very difficult to come to Europe. Because one reason is, that’s almost impossible that they can pay for the trip, also they have no idea about fundings, So It’s not about the things that can come in both directions. It’s just if you don’t go there, they will never know what happens here. Some people go there and make archives on what’s going on musically but if you want to meet people, you must go there. And there are guys who send me records for the shop from there but they are a more state based label, and they are doing tapes as label.
How you get the idea of that?
Once I was in Indonesia for touring and playing experimental electronic music with another friend who had the contact, then I got in touch with who was organizing. They are telling me this guy is doing screen printing, this guy is doing tattoo, so I was visiting screen printing studio in Indonesia and meet the artists from there.
When we were playing, I met guys who told me “we are also doing a screen printing festival” and i discovered that they had very interesting visual arts also. Then I talked a lot with them and I asked I will go to this city, do you know people in this city? Then “yea you have to get in touch with this guy” then we went to this city and so i meet other guys. It’s all going like this. I had contact to guys in Indonesia but I didn’t know if anything its gonna happen.
For example I cannot go by myself to make “Traveling exhibition” in Indonesia, because i know I’m not going sell anything because it’s too expensive for them in their local situation, even if it’s cheap in here. So I will not make any income, of course. It’s fun to make things there, but I must make some balance. if not money, at least the good experience and possibility to make some new project later. I have a friend in Cambodia now, so maybe I gonna go Cambodia, or Japan, to Asia is still possible. If you compare to South America, It’s much more expensive, also that’s why everybody go to Asia for the moment from Europe.
How did you see the Indonesian D.I.Y. Art scene?
Yeah!! There is a lot of beautiful stuff, I don’t know how to say … like traditional Indonesian style… more political stuff engaged with graffiti stuff, It’s not a copy of the European style because when I talked about it with who am I working from there, they said that they don’t have any idea about what’s happening in Europe. So that means they are not copying anything because they don’t know it. They are just doing the their stuff. Of course they are a lot working with the internet as Instagram, posting stuff, sometimes they don’t have computer, but they just have smart phone and they are pretty much into smart phone.
what do you think about underground D.I.Y. artist and their efforts, what is D.I.Y. artists, underground art, and what drives their motivation comparing to the main stream art?
Of course normal gallery are into business, if I offer the “Traveling exhibition” to a normal gallery, even if they like what they see, they gonna ask: how much money we gonna make!?
but the problem is that for example with screen printing, you are not gonna sell screen printing by 5000 euro, so they will not make money out of selling screen printing for 40 euros or even for 100 euros, and if they will not make any money they cannot do it. It’s understandable in one way, because that’s how main stream galleries work, on the another way that’s just the way it is, you don’t do it, just because you want to do it.
So this way that you do is completely different from the normal gallery way, somewhere between DIY art scene and contemporary art scene, isn’t it?
Yes, Its also a financial thing, even people with less money, less income, if they really see something great, they are like “fuck shit! I want to have it”, and they don’t need to feel that you have to work for the next 2 years to get it. For example the stuff what I deal with, “I can buy it, if i don’t go out 3 days or in the next 3 weeks”. because it costs 40 or 50 euros. So it’s cool. that financial part is also quite important, it’s a part of this things. It’s something completely different to the normal contemporary art scene, let’s say.
Even if its 50 copies, all the people who I am working with, they don’t want to be part of contemporary art, and some of them manage to live from their art, also they are not exhibiting in the museum or famous gallery to make a lot of money, they don’t even try to apply for funding, but they manage because they move their ass, and they are believing in what they are doing and some people are supporting them. Of course, it’s a lot of work.
They go to some book fair or art fair for which you don’t need to pay 500 or 1000 euros, usually you don’t pay because its free or you just have to pay something symbolic like 20 euros or something like these, and the people (customer) come there and support the artists while getting some artworks. It’s about that anyone can buy a painting at least one time in a month, without getting completely broke because of doing so.
Art is not just for a few chosen one’s, or some investment for some collectors who want to get a higher price than when you buy or something like these bullshit. (Then maybe 20 years later in the museum or something.)
It’s a business part, on the other hand this expensive way of dealing it is that so many people will be able to see it, maybe sometime also for free (because it’s in the gallery). Their way of thinking, I don’t know it’s like a complicated story, but obviously it’s just like expensive record (for me). I never understand it. It’s just a matter of who or whats gonna belong to what. If someone buy something for 100,000 euro and he offers it in 2000 places for free to exhibit it then I say it’s good, I don’t know about these general things, I am not in this scene, if someone does that, I say you spend money for someone in a useful way and it makes sense a little bit. I mean everything is questionable specially when someone buy by 100,000 euro a painting to put it on the corridor wall of the office, this I understand quite less actually, this is also a very different world, that I don’t know so much.
So it’s like completely punk way of art dealing that what you do.
Contemporary art gallery which is sustainable, It is because that person is putting a lot of effort to his work, for it to manage to pay the rent and pay himself, and employees and the stuff. It’s a business, just a classical business model, someone do not care about content of what they are selling, and some people are more aware of the content, Also they try, beside working in the gallery, to make talks about the art to promote something else with money that they made, maybe they made a lot of money. But with this money, If they try to promote something else, I think It’s cool.
Some people do that promote younger artists with this money as exclusive for business, some other people are just selling stuff for a lot of money. They are mother fuckers, but depends on what they do with the money and is always same issue.
I don’t say they are mother fuckers because they make money, but I think, unfortunately the more money you get, It obviously gets you more stupid and then more money you want on top. some people manage to chill out and control these, then they can say we make money out of that, but we can do something else, not just making more money, but also support other guys with this money which we made. I think that it’s also nice to do that way, that’s different.
look so many people doing stuff and so few places to show their stuff, then how can you survive?
I am working with only D.I.Y. guys, I have so much respect to this guys because I cannot even imagine how they manage that first to survive, sometimes even to make normal living, like do not care about if I can pay next month rent, because they go from one thing to another and they manage to still keep the places. some people told that I should not care about it too much because if you start thinking too much about I will not gonna pay my bills, rent, food, etc in next month, you never gonna start it. Suddenly they decide fuck it, let’s see what happens. Then you see it happens. in fact, you will meet others who are doing like you. Of course, it’s a lot of work on yourself, and depends on your ego.
How are the musicians?
All the musicians that I see and who manage to make a living exclusively out of their music, without giving the feeling that “I am the best” or showing off or whatever, or don’t have to play exclusively in the big festivals to make a living, even some of my friends who are playing music , it’s like guys, it’s just insane, how can you do it?! They are so strong, so into what they doing, and they manage, I have no idea how I would do that if I am their place, wow respect. It’s the same also with the visual stuff at this point. I have so much respect, I don’t know if I could do that.
It’s just wow, so that’s why I feel keep going and try to show the their work and sell their music, I am not helping much, let’s be honest, I’m trying just to contribute a bit somehow, but it’s not much, of course I’m not making a lot of money, because I’m selling their stuff or whatever its just few sells, not so much money, but I guess that they are happy that I have the their stuff in the shop and that I am doing the “traveling exhibitions” and even if there is not so much money, at least they see that I’m trying to promote a little bit what their doing, that feels like their ok with that. I never heard that ah fuck you are not doing enough, you should do that and that, usually its Ok, thanks, Its cool, it’s nice. We are all one big family you know?
how is the shop running in these situations, for instance how many paintings can u sell in a month?
I have no idea… in the summer time there are of course more tourists. In the best case 20 in a month, but that’s the best best best case. So it’s not much its very few, I don’t know how to attract more people who are interested in buying stuff, I’m not really business man this is my problem, in the other hand I’m happy I’m not strong business man somehow. but obviously could be good to bring new idea, so we manage to sell a bit more, for the shop, also for the people who have stuff here. I have ideas, but not always best idea for it. I am doing what I can do, I hope it helps.
Sometimes people asked me that I can not buy it but who is this guy, can you write it down the name, maybe he want to make something with this guy or whatever, so it’s not only about selling the stuff. It’s about promoting and talking with the people in the shop. Sometimes I can say a little bit more about artist because I know them, like where they come from, what they do, what is the background, how they start it, etc. that’s what people like to hear about artist. Sometimes I can’t say much because people just brought the stuff here, so I have minimum information about it. And sometimes I can say a lot of thing about that guys.
So it’s like a little D.I.Y. art museum? I always have these feeling when I walk in, that is not just a shop but something more like a weird museum here, because of the so many things that you offer, for example is easy for someone just to open a book and it can instantly get lost in there. and you also put some kind of vibration to the shop, that’s the real deal.
Yea nice expression maybe, I hope it does.
Can you point out some curator things, like what is the drive of your collection
I think the main thing is about D.I.Y., for instance I don’t have original paintings besides the exhibitions, but these its other story. What I am selling in the shop in regular basis, it’s a D.I.Y. printed art stuff, someone coming and telling me “I’m doing alone at home, printing, screen printing or copy printing in the copies shop then making my fan zine”. That’s already more interesting, it’s the stuff that people can do it by themselves. That’s the main thing. The statics are other story, of course I have my own taste. sometimes I take stuff which is bit less what I like, but if it’s done in a D.I.Y. way, then I’m taking it in consideration, then I am taking it to shop anyway.
Most of the time people knows already about the shop or before bringing their own stuff they check the shop once. So they know more or less if its fit. If someone is coming and tell me directly what kind of money I gonna make, then I gonna tell that it’s not gonna work, you will not gonna make money anyway by selling stuff in here, You might make bit of money, but not much. if they are thinking exclusively in the income, then it’s not gonna work. How much energy someone is putting in the making the stuff they bring me, this is also in my considerations, but I rarely said No.
Actually I am not a curator, that’s why when I make exhibitions I never introduce myself as curator but I tell I am the initiator or organizer. because I am choosing the stuff but the curator is going more further, I don’t have knowledge to pretend myself as curator because the curator should be more political background or they should know clearly what they are talking about and I don’t know what I am talking about because I don’t have the knowledge to talk like them and I don’t talk anyway. whatever I like I choose to show if it’s done in D.I.Y. way which is different to the usual contemporary art scene.
And I don’t like words as I am curating, curator is like “yes I do it because this guy showing blah blah” but I like saying “yes I do it because just I like it”. Sometimes I use the word for the museum because they cannot imagine I don’t use this word, its pain in the ass but I do it because still I want to make things happen.
What is your motivation for treating and participating in the underground arts.
It’s because there is something happening besides the main stream, just something else and I know it, but most the people don’t know it… So my idea is to make it known to the people who don’t know it. So there is something else happening, if you like it, then maybe we try to do something together or if you are an artist maybe you gonna start collaborating with other artists that am promoting.
Most of my motivation is just like… what I am seeing most of the time and which is related with the business culture, I don’t feel it in any way close to me actually. So I have to do something else. I am trying to work with this guys who also share the same ideas of what they are doing. They don’t have prices, it’s not about the income but just about doing what we are doing, we are not thinking about making a lot of money out of it. That’s not their priority.
Of course they need to make a living to live. when it’s about choosing the price they have to choose also. But for instance, in the traveling exhibitions what I’m doing now, I share the decisions with everybody, like how we do? what is the price? Then we agree to make all the same price, sometime some of the artists says a bit more cheaper price, and others say more expensive. But we decided to make same price, so everybody have same chance to sell, it’s not about how much sell, how much is cost. So it is not like someone says this one and this one is nice, but this one is cheaper so I gonna take this one. So then they can take the one that they really like most.
Its a cool idea actually
Yea, its just like I don’t like this money things … how to say … Motivations I see things and I like them, and I wonder how I can help to promote it, which doesn’t mean to try to make people richer, even I don’t think about myself making money out of it. I like it so let’s just show a little bit of it, because it seems like not enough people know about that, let’s try to show to other people than myself. How looks like or what this guys do, then if they can make a little bit of money out of that, and start living out of what they do, they don’t need to do something what they don’t want to do, then it’s fine and then it’s good for everybody.
How do you see the network of underground culture where you’v been, Berlin in our days?
wherever I have been, I think they all share the same sprit, share same idea about making art something a bit more global, more reachable. In Berlin is more easier do things, but there is more competition, of course there are a lot of projects, So they don’t need to share. In other city’s people are into the scene, so they make happening together.
Everybody doing something in the same night, then more competitions. They don’t do it together because it’s like just the way it is, which means it doesn’t really have organizations,
they don’t talk to each other, and there are so many people, then things are too easy, So that’s maybe the difference in Berlin.
There are places with not so many artist, so they work together. It’s beautiful. What I am doing It is not like fuck off , more wondering sometimes if this or this make sense or belong to my world. I’m trying more to shut the fuck up and just do and try in my way, I can’t talk about much political stuff for make things. As citizen of this world, I just doing it as I think. Not about money but I believe so much worth than that.
※ Currently Guillaume Siffert has left Staalplaat and is working on a new project.
(Interview is recorded at 2018)
Guillaume Siffert will be in Japan for around 4 weeks in May 2020 and would love to meet new artists and visit locations interested in hosting the current traveling exhibition! Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guillaume Siffert ’s DJ project DJ Insultor. Recording form the party “REFUGEES ON DANCE FLOOR” in Berlin, starts from analog live set -then DJ sets . World music – hip hop – acid techno – etc -etc , alternative dance mix as over the borders and come back and go again then all to gather drop into dance floor !!
Refugees On Dance Floor
Stateless Multinational Freeform Sound Collective, Japan, Romania, Germany, Poland, Hungary, based on network hubs scattered all over the world, visuals, music, we are still believing the power of art, seriously exploring, experimenting. An imaginary group platform for improvisation, creation, and output. Continue to create and relate with state of freedom, social experiments by art side and subculture side.