Yoshinori Niwa is known for projects that work as social interventions realised through diverse media including performance, video and installation. In recent years, Niwa has been exploring the idea of value and exchange through our daily behaviour in public space. Through such self-explanatory works as Exchanging Between Turkish Lire and Euros in Istanbul Until There Is Nothing Left (2011), Depositing All the Money in My Pocket in the Street (2012) or Duplicating My House Key and Distributing the Copies (2012), Niwa questions the relationship between larger social and economic conditions and their meaning for individuals through nonsensical actions.
Niwa’s interests in social conditions have increasingly led him to engage with the historical and political context of ideologies, and to produce works on the theme of rethinking socialism and communism. As a Japanese artist born in 1982, he has no real experience of the Cold War or the ideologies that underpinned it, but wanted to seek out ways in which to somehow grasp a fragment of that history as ‘real incident’, or to awaken this past in the contemporary moment. In 2010 he travelled to Romania to interview former members of its Socialist party, which resulted in Tossing Socialists in the Air in Romania (2010).
The following year, he asked people in Moscow if he could borrow something from them related to Vladimir Lenin. He collected 150 portraits, photographs, propaganda posters, newspaper articles, flags and badges of the Communist leader, and exhibited them under the title Looking for Vladimir Lenin at Moscow Apartments at Ai Kowada Gallery, Tokyo, in 2012. The project revealed the gap between the political state of the nation and the individual citizens’ state of mind, an interest the artist pursued in two works on the Japanese Communist party, which has existed for over 90 years, during which time its significance and position in Japanese society has gone through major changes.
For Proposing to Hold Up Karl Marx to the Japanese Communist Party (2013), Niwa interviewed various members of the party and questioned their understanding of Marx while carrying a poster of him around the city. Meanwhile in Celebrating Karl Marx’s Birthday with Japanese Communist Party (2013), he verified how Marx and his concept of communism have been accepted in local cities in Japan.
It is this continuous questioning, in a deliberately nonsensical manner, of the shared understandings within social and political history, and exploration of the parallels between that and the uncertainties of Japanese society, that makes Niwa’s art something we won’t be able to overlook in the years to come.
Originally published in the March 2014 FutureGreats issue, in association with EFG International