Matt Mahdavi / Terminal
July 2017 Interviewed by Christiane Monarchi
British artist Matt Mahdavi finished his residency in Tokyo last winter with a two-week exhibition. Combining an interest in the clamour of living in this city: ‘a chaotic stack of people and places’ as well as his research into simulation theory, Mahdavi’s work appealed to local and international audiences alike. Back in December, he spoke with Photomonitor from Akihabara, the electronic district of Tokyo. Now back in the UK, Mahdavi looks back on this exhibition and his future plans.
CM: Perhaps an obvious first question – what brings you to Japan?
MM: A couple of things happened at home where I thought I’d have to have a change. I applied for a residency at Arts 3331 Tokyo; they found a place to put me over Christmas and new year, so I quit my job at McDonalds and used the money to go to Japan and make some new work. What I liked about this residency is that it’s in a weird old school in the middle of Akihabara, Tokyo’s video game and anime district, what would be the nurse’s office is where my installation is. I thought of Tokyo because I always had a sense that it was like another world and a place to be alone, and yes it’s both. It’s like a real alternate reality, with the odd tourist walking around with this same dumb bewildered look on their faces, the same stupid face I had a week into being here. I could pretend and tell you exactly what I’m doing here, but it would be a dirty lie.
CM: Did you have the tourist’s bout of visual overload when you arrived?
MM: Yes kind of, but I wasn’t here to be a tourist, at least I wouldn’t have been a very good one.
CM: Could you tell me more about the origins of the imagery in your works you made on the residency?
MM: I used to have this dream about being trapped underground, but not trapped, more actually part of the ground with no way of getting to any kind of surface. I think about reality and multiple realities in the same way. I like to think about how strange it all is, and that we must be part of something else, inside something else, it just keeps going and going and going all on top and inside one and another. Like this city, Tokyo, a chaotic stack of people and places. You can easily get caught up and forget what you are. I always knew what I wanted to show but when it was finished and open to people, I could see something else. Like this exhibition, I can just see an abstract version of my ‘90s bedroom. I don’t know, I shouldn’t be allowed to talk about the work.
CM: Well I can definitely connect to your feeling of the chaotic stack of people in Tokyo, and I see manifestations of personal and public space clashing and intermittently inviting me in. Could you tell me how you physically made the works, are they staged, created, spliced?
MM: Nothing is staged, I really hate that in art. I like things that are real and broad, what is the point in creating something so hard to understand and so specific, that only a very closed group of people are going to understand, it’s like the artist is just showing off. My point is stop pissing around with it. It shouldn’t be a career; it should be for the people.
I don’t want to talk about how the work is made because that doesn’t matter. It’s more personal to me rather than about personal space, I had a feeling in me that I wanted to get out and leave behind in Tokyo. I stay up for hours and hours, I drink too much, smoke too much and eat too much just to get it right. I need to get everything exactly right, if I do I can leave that feeling behind in Tokyo. But if I don’t get it right and if I’m not happy with the work, I can’t let it go and would have failed; this time I did get it right. It’s always been. Finding that hidden feeling and putting it out for somebody else to relate to.
CM: I’m feeling nostalgic for your old skool floppies and monitor. These must be hard to find in the land of digital techno-futurism. How does this equipment inform your work on this project?
MM: That’s Terminal; it’s been popular in Tokyo, with a really broad load of people, I think because of the interactivity. I did find some of the parts for it around Akihabara, it’s a machine made from the area around it, from all the crazy back alley shops and hidden retro stores. And half made from my old floppy disk camera I brought from Torquay that I wanted to destroy and screw into the wall. I added a new floppy disk to the shelf every day, well almost, with a single image inside and some text written on the label.
I had this cool moment with it, when a Japanese kid maybe one or two – he loved the installation- went through every disk in the pile. He seemed fixated by the other world it showed, my world at home. It reminded me of how I used to think about my computer, like a portal to another world. I wanted to take away the disks that had some pretty grim images of home, but his dad quickly said let him see. He got bored and began to leave, I came back in and gave him a disk, he probably wouldn’t ever be able to view it on anything but it’s what I would have liked when I was his age, just to take it home and play with it. To him Terminal was a viewer to a different reality, that’s why it was there.
CM: Do you have a strategy for how you would like others to interact with your work?
MM: I think people can interact with it however they like; I don’t have a strategy.
CM: Does the photobook appeal to you as a vehicle to communicate this project after the exhibition is finished?
MM: Nah I don’t think it would work as a book, I need to have a second show somewhere in London with the installation, needs to be a much more immersive and personal thing, and there’s still a lot more to it that is kind of unseen, so I want to get to work on finding a space.
CM: What are your next plans, were you intrigued to take things back home and incorporate them in your work?
MM: I’m going to keep working because that’s all I want to do. There’s some stuff I want to make about Torquay. It’s a sad thing, that machine really means something to me, like a living thing that I have had to leave behind. I can feel this need to be in London now. By the time I’m 27 I’ll either be dead or famous. Ignore that last sentence, I say some really stupid things sometimes.
And following up earlier this month…
CM: What is inspiring you now that you are back ‘home’, or does living in London, rather than Torquay, also make you think of chaotic stacks?
MM: London makes me think of chaotic stacks of cheese and beef, there is so much food everywhere in south east London, chicken bones pave the streets. And the foxes clean it up at night. So far I’ve given poison to Millwall fans, made lamb burgers for Colombians, cooked hotdogs for corporates, now I fix MacBooks with an Italian man in Tottenham. I’m struggling to find my feet here. I think a lot of people in London are suspicious of each other.
Torquay feels like another planet to me now, but did you know you could go on a national express coach, fall asleep and wake up in another planet? It’s chaos, what’s happening now, but when I look up even with the few stars I see in the sky, I think oh sorry I forgot, and then comes peace. There’s something comforting about the unknown isn’t there.
CM: Thanks for sharing and look forward to seeing more of your work in this country before too long.
For further viewing: www.mattmahdavi.co.uk