words Zarah Cheng
All images are from Keiko's portfolio.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan.
Can you tell us more about what you do as a table artist/prop stylist?
I started my art creations as a table stylist. Taking inspiration from art, film, music and poetry, I present everyday items to create out-of-the-ordinary situations. For example, my last exhibition was themed around ‘mod culture.’ I set up a mod feast table with simple or “rough” items – bottles of whisky, bags of pills hidden in pork pie hats – but it was presented on a grand 4-metre long banquet table.
On the commercial side, I do prop styling for magazines, fashion and food brands. These ones are more consumer-friendly tables. Compared to Europe and the USA, Japanese cultural media is still conservative – I find it strange and frustrating, considering the number of creative people in Japan. I want to influence the creative direction of visual media here.
Many of your shoots feature food items and fashion brands. What do you think about the relationship between food and luxury?
Depending on how you present them, both food and fashion can be either luxurious or boring. That is why I am interested in the two and find it worth it to project my creative ideas onto them.
With studio lights often being very hot, were there any specific food products that were especially hard to photograph?
I am not a professional photographer, so there are many! When I find it difficult to photograph, I change the shape and size of them and most of the time it solves the problem.
Is there ever an underlying commentary in your works, or are the tables arranged simply for artistic reasons?
Regarding still life work, I have particular reasons to choose and set objects in my work. Also, I carefully choose the timing when I post the work on Instagram as well. For example, the one titled “What happens on Instagram during fashion week” that I posted on the first day of PFW shows how I see the “fashionista” and consumer-related aspects of fashion culture. Even if you look insane or over-the-top (like a lemon with a Chanel ribbon), as long as you are a “fashionista” it will be acceptable and you will even be treated like a god. I am always interested in this tendency that circulates fashion culture.
For the tabletop styling, I create a concept and story with a very detailed approach before I collect objects. I include every piece, even if it is a messy situation. So here, I can tell that all my work is conceptual and I am not making it simply to look nice or funny.
Some of your images feature American snacks with Japanese text on the packaging. How would you describe the different cultural influences in your work?
When I lived in the UK (2011), I started constructing my style, which was hugely inspired by contemporary art and magazine photography in Europe. In particular, I find Italian still-life visual culture super cool.
When I came back to Japan, I found that not many creative people had adopted that style. Therefore, I intentionally chose the image of overseas snacks with Japanese text in order to create my original style. I don’t want to imitate or copy European style – I want to show my own identity in my work. I always hope for people to enjoy my works with a mix of Asian mood and European modern visual culture.
In one of your images, there is a setting with a Snickers bar and a reproduction of a David Hockney piece, to whom you also dedicated the table. Why did you decide to put these two things together? And why do you love David Hockney?
I’m taking inspiration from colour and I think David Hockney had an intense relationship with colour as well. I am a big fan of David Hockney but in the case of that piece, I am not sure if I could say that putting the two things together was anything more than seeing the colour relationship at that time, on that particular day. On any other day, I might be more inclined to see shape or form. On many occasions, I do look at objects and consider their relationship beyond the physical – for example, the shell and fur scarf entitled, "Say that again darling."
You’re a blogger for Vogue Japan and recently wrote an article about Richard Prince’s controversial exhibit that appropriates Instagram user’s photos for his artwork. Can you tell us more about your thoughts on the topic?
I saw his exhibition in Tokyo a couple weeks ago. I went with no particular expectations, and I left with exactly the same feeling. I went there just because I wanted to check the contemporary art gossip… And I wrote it on my blog because I was kind of looking forward to Japanese people’s reaction of his work. In particular, I was curious about how people who check the Vogue Japan website would consider his work. It was funny when I found out my post was quoted by someone, and my blog had reached a Japanese gossip website. A girl had sued him for using her personal picture in his work, which he had sold for an incredibly high price. I think all photography and videos are free of copyright infringement unless you lock your account. From my experience, Instagram is a good platform to share your creations if you want to collaborate with people from different countries.
What’s your go-to snack?
Konbu onigiri – I am a big rice eater!
What artist/bands are you listening to right now?
Britney spears and THE CLASH
What creeps you out the most?
A couple months ago, I was walking to a party at night and I saw a guy just standing alone at the corner. He was wearing pajama trousers with a hoodie covering his face. I felt that something was very odd about him. The scariest thing was his slow, but very determined, walk as he started to follow me. I am still having nightmares about that guy. Thank you for letting me share. Other than that, I really don’t like earthquakes.
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Posted on June 18, 2015
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