An Outside and an Inside

Naho Taruishi

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Diagrams are intended to communicate information with clarity. Their intersecting lines and overarching systems insist on rigid precision, presenting a narrative that has already been distilled. But in the delicate, atmospheric drawings of Naho Taruishi, ghosts of diagram-like elements breathe and float in a monochromatic dreamscape. These drawings are meditative as opposed to assertive, privileging visual experience over readability. Indeed, they are more akin to memory than fact.

In this interview, I ask the artist about two of her drawing series: Film Drawings and Plan Drawings. The former is based on the artist's recollection of watching black-and-white films, mostly from the 1950s and 1960s. The latter is based on a combination of historical buildings that either no longer exist or are inaccessible and undocumented, and film sets that the artist imagines and reconstructs based only on her viewing of the films. Both series offer hints of narrative but resist illustration. With their nebulous graphite haze, Taruishi's drawings are imbued with hypnotic mystery.

—Berny Tan

Your Film Drawings are based on a diverse set of classic black-and-white films, including Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light, Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes, and Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev. What about these films compelled you to create this body of work?

Before I started on my Film Drawings series, I made a series of site-specific video projections called Corner Projection Series. These comprised only a few still images and architectural photographs that I had shot. I didn't shoot moving images; instead I skewed, enlarged, brightened, darkened, blurred, multiplied, and layered those stills to compose motion sequences. After working on this projection series for four years, I became interested in reversing the process. I wanted to see how a moving image could translate into a still image.

Films from the 1950s and 1960s are rich materials with which to work because they contain intricate visual sequences, strong historical references and metaphors, and experimental cinematic techniques. I especially like the muted quality of black-and-white films. It makes you realize that there is something missing between the film and the reality of the scene at the time of filming.

The delicate diagrammatic structures in your Film Drawings often recede into haunting, atmospheric smudges of graphite. How do you generate these systems, and how important is it that a viewer is able to "read" them?

I'm interested in drawing overall impressions of the selected films, not my immediate responses to them. After watching each film, I let the experience sit and fade out for a while, sometimes for as long as a couple of weeks or months. Then I extract an image that both abstracts and resonates with the structure of the film.

When I started on this series, I decided to draw a line for each film, representing the duration (1 inch corresponds to 10 minutes). This was the only consistent system I created, not only to measure the time of the film on paper, but also to establish a starting point for myself to re-enter the experience of the film. It is more like a ritual for starting the drawing, not to make it readable for the viewer. The drawn images are not the results of capturing details in a film. I'm not interested in making a diagram or a mathematical graph, but I'm interested in the tonality of a film.

In an artist statement for the Film Drawings series, you quoted the opening of the thirteenth-century poem Hōjōki by Kamo no Chōmei: "the flowing river / never stops, / and yet the water / never stays / the same." Could you talk about why this poem is important in providing context for your work?

This poem relates to the way that I experience films. Moving images are made out of so many still frames. We cannot distinguish each still frame but can observe all of them as single continuous visual transformation. To me, it is like looking at a river in which water is constantly changing.

In your Plan Drawings, you gravitated toward buildings that have existed but cannot be physically experienced. For example, you have drawn blueprints of Aung San Suu Kyi's house, the Hiroshima Dome before it was bombed in 1945, and the White House as it stood in 1800. Why are you drawn to experiencing and representing these spaces through your drawings?

This series is about imagining an interior space by looking at photographs taken when the building still existed, researching past events and stories associated with the building, or simply drawing from my childhood memories. Therefore, I like to leave a sense of uncertainty in the image.

House of Aung San Suu Kyi is an imagined floor plan of the house of the Burmese politician. When I was ten years old, I saw the television news reports about the Burmese military junta placing Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. They continuously broadcasted images of her two-story house, located near a beautiful lagoon. Based on the exterior of her house, I imagined how her extremely limited space was formed over her fifteen years of house arrest.

Hiroshima Dome is the plan of the building where the atomic bomb was dropped and exploded. Before the event, the building functioned as a museum of agriculture in Hiroshima prefecture. The drawing is about how the building was originally used and how the almost-destroyed building is now preserved and remembered as a monument.

The White House in 1800 is an initial plan of the White House. It was a very small one-story building. In more than two hundred years, the building was modified, renovated, rebuilt, and enlarged. We know the iconic oval-shaped exterior, but most of the interior from that time is unknown.

In a sense, these buildings, or iterations of buildings, persist only as a result of their own historical narratives; they have become "architectural mythologies." Why, in your opinion, do we respond to spaces in this way?

Buildings are physical but also exist in our memories, in historical records, and in all kinds of fictional or non-fictional representations. Buildings are objects after all, but what you experience by looking at the exterior varies from what you experience within the interior. I think that's a unique characteristic.

The drawings in both series are all on some level engaging with narratives—extending them, depicting your own experiences of them, and so on. Yet, the amount of text in the final drawings is minimal. How then are reading and writing a part of your process?

I'm not making these series of drawings to be read. They are images to be seen. The selected films are more like materials for image-making. I see it as similar to the preparatory drawings that I created for constructing video sequences in the Corner Projection Series.

I take very short notes if necessary while watching a film. There were several films I decided not to use because I found them too directly human-oriented or narrative-driven. I like a film that breathes with scenes of ambiguous landscapes, subtle shifts of light, physiological and psychological connotations, peculiar camera angles, and precise editing.

The two series are quite intertwined. In fact, you've created architectural drawings based on spaces in movies (Woman in the Dunes, Last Year at Marienbad). What is the relationship between the Plan Drawings and the Film Drawings series?

In the Film Drawings, the tonal structure of the film is a primary part of the formation of a drawn image. Watching a motion picture, for me, is an architectural experience. It's like entering an unknown building—you open a door, walk in, figure out what's going on inside, and let that particular experience happen. You slowly immerse yourself in the dimensions of the film.

As for the Plan Drawings, the sense of spatial fiction and non-fiction is blurred. From drawing to drawing, I juxtapose floor plans from existing buildings and constructed film sets. In films, you see scenes of interior spaces, but you don't know if the space is part of an existing building or a temporary structure. By looking at these scenes, I imagine and describe a place where the film was or could have been shot.

In both film and architecture, there is an outside and an inside. Things you see on a screen are cropped by the frame of the camera. You're made conscious that there are things you are not shown. In architecture, there is always an exterior and interior. You cannot see them both at the same time, but you can assume their coexisting relationship.

Finally, what you are currently working on, and what do you have planned for the future?

I'm interested in a sense of traveling that constantly overwrites our memories and perceptions of things around us. I'm working on a series of drawings that juxtaposes images of ancient inventions for navigation, and various documentations that remind us of our innate desires for expedition.