CO-OP Encounters #3: Böhm Kobayashi

by Unseen July 25 2018

Unseen CO-OP is back for its second edition. Introduced to increase the representation of artist-run initiatives and collectives worldwide, CO-OP encourages artists to present challenging works of art, dynamic presentations and new commercial formats. In the coming months, we’ll be speaking to each of the participating collectives to find out more about the collaborative processes that drive their practice forward.

This week we talk to Böhm Kobayashi. Formed by German artists Katja Stuke and Oliver Sieber, Böhm Kobayashi explores photographic concepts and techniques, such as installation, video and photography books. Their most recent project, Japanese Lesson, reflects on questions of political landscape, borders and Identity. We caught up with Katja to find out more.

What inspired you to start working as a collective?
You could say that we’ve been collaborating long before we called it a collaboration. Not only do we work together, we also live together, so we have been discussing one another’s work for a long time. These conversations were important, helpful and inspiring for each of our own bodies of work, and from these discussions we started developing collaborative ideas, new ideas and concepts.

Our first collaborations – photo-zines of 8-12 pages titled Frau Böhm – began in 1999. We used the zines to publish different works mainly using photographs from the archives, or by juxtaposing images from different independent photo series. Later we developed ideas together for these zines, devoting each zine to a different topic or process, such as copying, instant photo-material, and so on. Over time, people began getting in contact with us to publish their works in our zine. As it was a very personal artistic project, we didn't really want to do that. Instead we developed an internet-exhibition space which began as a blog project with 75 participating artists. We also curated the ANT!FOTO-exhibitions in Düsseldorf, showing works by different international photographers with various approaches to photography. In all our recent collaborative projects, like Fax from the Library, You and Me, Japanese Lesson, zines and publications still play an important role in each work, alongside framed images, video-projections, and sometimes sound or research material.

How has working as a collective changed the way you interact with the art market?

Hopefully not too much!

What sets you apart from other collectives?
I don’t know too much about other collaborative projects. But for me, collaboration is an inspiring creative process, and I wouldn’t want to miss out on it.

What do you have in store for us at Unseen Amsterdam 2018?
We will show recent parts of Japanese Lesson, and explore topics such as political landscape, landscape theory and protest and activism. Japanese Lesson began as a single video, dealing with the visual influence, research and the overwhelming impressions made by Japanese cities, life and culture. We have been travelling to Japan since 2005 to work on topics ranging from subculture to surveillance. Over time our perspective broadened and we have created several new works: photobooks, different photographic series, which all deal with topics such as protest and activism, activists and landscape and political landscape.

The second piece is a series about activism in Japan. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was an energy accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima, primarily initiated by the tsunami following the Tohoku earthquake in March 2011. We have met many activists in Japan, joined protest demonstrations, exchanged with artists and learned a lot about places, spaces and history in Japan. The series includes portraits and landscape photographs.

Thank you, Katja! 

Image: Japanese Lesson, from Sannya, 2017 © Oliver Sieber / Katja Stuke