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Xⁿ Talk | 曾根裕 Yutaka Sone


The interview was conducted in Antwerp in June 2017 and was originally written for the publication of the exhibition “Yutaka Sone: Obsidian” at the Sifang Art Museum, Nanjing, China. The full text about the artist and this exhibition will be published and distributed by the Sifang Art Museum.

"The creation of art is always based on very personal experiences. Once the artwork is placed in a special context, it will cause reflections among viewers, become a personal experience for others, and eventually, form a chain. This is the case with Yutaka Sone's projects, as he continues to create "Perfect Moment" around the world, spreading out like ripples from small to large and touching more people."

-- From Hiromi Ohashi, “Yutaka Sone-Perfect Moment”

Yutaka Sone's work at Sifang Art Museum, photo by Xⁿ Office

| Yutaka Sone, Antwerp

Xⁿ: You describe yourself as one of the few true "wanderers" of our time. Why do you think so?

Sone: Yes, it’s because I don’t just travel from one place to another, but I also immerse myself in the local culture and life. My world has boundless borders.

I have studios in four places, one in California, United States, where my home is. In Michoacán, Mexico, I found that people there make straw objects in a very traditional way, so I started working with them to make straw palm trees with local materials and old crafts. A decade ago, I started working with a sculpture workshop in Chongwu, Fujian, to make marble sculptures. And in the last year, I set up a new studio in Antwerp, Belgium. So again, It's a new collaboration, a new way of working.

Yutaka Sone's Michoacán Studio in Mexico ©Yutaka Sone

Xⁿ: Did travel, differences and miscommunications give you the most important source of inspiration?

Sone: Oh, absolutely! I often travel around while I'm thinking hard, and I often feel liberated! My thoughts, my creations are free!

I love " miscommunications ". This is how I have been living for so many years. I am always facing new cultures, new places, and new differences. I don't speak their languages. When Chongwu's workshop was first set up, I didn't know a word of Chinese, but I would ask them to touch my model, to feel its shape, and they could understand. Touch conveys so much more than words can and so much deeper!

(Many years later, somehow, I suddenly can speak Chinese one day! But just a little bit!)

Yutaka Sone working with his Mexican and Chinese teams ©Yutaka Sone

Xⁿ: Is that why you brought together two teams from Mexico and China who don't speak the same language to work together in your solo show in Antwerp earlier this year? To allow them to deepen their connection through misunderstanding?

Sone: Yeah! It was the first time I brought them together. The Mexicans were in one room making straw palm trees, and the Chinese were in the next room, polishing a piece of marble modelled on my Mexican studio. The Mexican people were familiar with the house they were working in and often went there to give pointers. Once, the Mexicans tried to tell the Chinese that there were windows on this wall, but the Chinese could not understand. Therefore, the Mexicans pointed anxiously to the floor-to-ceiling windows of the gallery space and shouted, “windows, windows.” However, the Chinese people thought they were referring to something outside of the window, so the Chinese rushed to the window altogether, shaded their eyes with their hands, and gazed out the window.

So this is my "international studio", a large, impossible-to-communicate international team.

Yutaka Sone's exhibition in Belgium / Working in process ©Yutaka Sone

Sculptures made by the Chinese workers with the help of the Mexican worker ©Yutaka Sone

Yutaka Sone: Obsidian, Exhibition View at the Sifang Art Museum, photo by Xⁿ Office

Xⁿ: This time, the exhibition at Sifang Art Museum focuses on "Obsidian". Why is that?

Sone: The material, obsidian, is a crystal produced by a volcanic eruption where the magma cools down rapidly. It can be found all over the world, some with shallow veins and some with deep ones. The Imperio Azteca became the number one empire in Mexico because of its rich obsidian deposits. The material is sharp and easy to mutate and was made into mirrors, knives, ceremonial objects, etc. Claude Lévi-Strauss said that obsidian was the first tool of the Stone Age. Imagine prehistoric people examining a natural stone, understanding its peculiarities and its inner logic, and then utilising it. This is exactly the same way that mankind is developing technology to this day.

Turning a material into endless possibilities, prehistoric humans’ relationship with obsidian is our relationship with iPhone today. Isn’t obsidian the origin of industry and technology?

Yutaka Sone: Obsidian, Exhibition View at the Sifang Art Museum, photo by Xⁿ Office

Xⁿ: You have mentioned an important book, “The Obsidian Skull” by Andre Marleaux. In the book, the author points out that obsidian is also a major source of inspiration for Picasso.

Sone: I had a hunch since a while ago. Obsidian, Obsidian. But I put the thought aside. One day, they all came back to my mind! Ah! Obsidian! Malraux! Picasso! It's so important!

Malraux was the former French Minister of Culture who was invited to write a biography of Picasso. He found an obsidian skull in Picasso's collection. Why is there an obsidian skull in Picasso’s collection? Before reaching Cubism, the first thing Picasso must have done was to think back in time. He studied African wood carving and primitive art, going back hundreds of thousands of years. He relied on obsidian to go back millions of years. Most importantly, artists from a hundred years ago, artists from decades ago, and artists today are all looking back toward the same point in time. Art museum is the space that helps me to contemplate across time, where all my thoughts are gathered.

Yutaka Sone: Obsidian, Exhibition View at the Sifang Art Museum, photo by Xⁿ Office

Xⁿ: In addition to the Obsidian series, you also created, for this exhibition, the Wood Logs series, the Snowballs series, the large palm tree works and so on. However, there is no picture of any of these works on the exhibition poster, but only a cute monkey playing with a snowball. How does it relate to obsidian?

Sone: We keep saying that art started with the murals in the Grotte de Lascaux, but what if art wasn't born out of ritual or function but purposeless play? Like making snowballs? What if monkeys learned to squeeze snow into balls before humans did? Would that mean that art originated before humans were there? Or, is the nature of art very purposeless for animals other than humans? Just simply make a cold round ball with the accessible material and play around with it. The ball didn’t even last long before it melted. The state of not seeking any result is even earlier than what Strauss called “bricolage”.

“Obsidian” and “Snowball” are both in search of the origin of origins. Obsidian is the origin of industry, and snowball is the origin of art.

Yutaka Sone, Snowball, photo by Xⁿ Office

Yutaka Sone, Pyramid Before Discovery, photo by Xⁿ Office

Xⁿ: It takes you a long time to polish each of your sculptures. Some of them even took ten years, but they are not created in a random combination like “bricolage”. However, the “Pyramid Before Discovery” seems to be an assemblage of found objects.

Sone: Ah yes! I put stuff that I collected from various places in this box, and make it into the shape of a mountain. The lid was painted with a starry night. This is the night before the Maya pyramids were discovered. The pyramids were still covered by greens, nothing had changed, and everything remained tranquil.

The right way to view this work should be to open the box in a slit, stealthily take a look at the night scene, then close the lid and sleep right next to it.

(Sone said so and closed the case, then lay down contentedly on the floor.)


Yutaka Sone

Born in Shizuoka, Japan in 1965

Currently working and living in Los Angeles, U.S.A.




——摘自Hiromi Ohashi,《曾根裕-Perfect Moment》

| 曾根裕,安特卫普


Sone: 是的,因为我不仅仅从一地到另一地旅行,我还让自己浸入本地的文化和生活。我的世界有无边的疆界。












Xⁿ:你曾说起一本重要的书,马尔罗(Andre Marleaux)的《黑曜石头骨》,书中提到黑曜石也是启发毕加索的重要来源。






黑曜石和雪球都是在寻找起源之起源(origin of origins),黑曜石是工业的起源,雪球是艺术的起源。





Yutaka Sone: Obsidian, Exhibition Poster, Sifang Art Museum





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