8 April - 15 May

Installation Images

Allan Gardner: When we began talking about this show, it was initially based on the Van Gogh painting Skull of a Skeleton Smoking a Cigarette. It’s an interesting painting, in that it was apparently made as a sort of rebellion against his conservative education environment, right?

Parker Ito: Yeah, it was made when he was in School, maybe like an act of protest.

AG: Yeah, skeletons weren't supposed to be for painting, they were for getting your chops up with life drawing. That's why it was an act of rebellion, to paint this subject matter in that way is in direct contradiction to the education he received. I know that you haven't been the most complimentary about art education, or the kind of systems at play in art in general. Was that part of the inspiration for using this work as a starting point?

PI: It's much more personal than that. Yeah, I did have some problems with art school but really it’s about Van Gogh. I kind of dislike his work, but he has contributed to the public consciousness of what it means to be an artist - this crazy guy who cut his ear off and made beautiful paintings that were misunderstood in his time and all that shit, which I really don't like.

I was doing a residency in Arles, where Van Gogh went, which is where I learned more about him, but it's just a painting that I really like - this first time I saw it was it being used in a Gaultier t shirt where they put a motorcycle helmet on the skeleton, I think it's an interesting painting.

I also have a personal relationship with smoking which I thought would be funny to do a show about. The whole premise is a collection of different themes that came together in my head, which is what my work is like in general, with this being more abstract, not as put together. It's a combination of me being in Arles, Van Gogh being in Arles, my personal relationship to smoking as it relates to playing poker - my poker group is full of ex-addicts, AA people who chainsmoke when we play. I'm really anti-smoking, I've never really understood it. Are you a smoker? I feel like you're probably a smoker.

AG: I started smoking cigarettes when I was about 13 but I'm not now, nor have I ever been, addicted to cigarettes. I guess I have socially smoked since I was basically a child but I've never been the kind of person to need a cigarette. For me it's like eating candy.

Also, on perhaps an unrelated note, I thought it was worth mentioning that most of the other businesses on our street are Asian restaurants, massage parlours, supermarkets, so it's kind of interesting that you went with the title that you did.

PI: Well, that's sort of what the show is all about. I'm into it being in that situation for sure, but before I tell you I have some more thoughts on smoking.

Basically, there are; smokers, dog people and motorcycle riders. The thing that unifies these groups is the assumption that you are as excited to partake in the thing that they like as they are. People rarely ask if I mind if they smoke, and even if did, what would I say? "No, you can't fucking smoke in front of me!"? No, that would be weird. I'm really into skincare but if people smoke around me, it’s ageing me, so I've ended up trying to convince a lot of people in my poker group to quit smoking for this very reason - because I'm vain.

It's the same thing with dog people, I live in a big apartment complex and people will get in the elevator and just let their dog jump on you. I like dogs but I don't want a random dog jumping on me, maybe I'm afraid of dogs and I'm really scared right now, or maybe I'm wearing nice clothes and I don't want hair all over me - whatever, right? Motorcycles, why the fuck are they so loud? Do the people who ride them care that they're so loud? Are they into that aspect? I don't understand it. Smoking just doesn't seem productive. Cocaine, ecstasy, alcohol are all terrible for your body but they do something. If I smoked a cigarette today, I wouldn't be drawn to it - but if I took some cocaine I would know exactly what about the effect was appealing. Smoking is an acquired taste, you have to do it a lot to like it. It's like a really raw form of capitalism: here's this thing that you can partake in that you won't really feel the negative effects of at first but will eventually be totally addicted to.

The other thing is that it's sexy, the fetish aspect. I fucking hate smoking but I would never ask a romantic partner not to smoke - part of that relates to Sex and The City. Carrie dates this guy called Aiden who I hate so much and one of his big things was getting her to quit smoking.

I also have this Proustian connection to tasting a cigarette on someone's lips that reminds me of going home with someone from the club. It's a disgusting taste but it's kind of sexy, my brain associates it with that.

I started to notice that in a lot of the Hook Ups drawings, they're smoking but Jeremy Kline is very anti drugs. I wish I'd added more of those in this show, tying it into smoking fetish as a genre of porn independent of a racialized version of that. There's an element of yellow-fever, Asian fetish there because Jeremy Kline is a white guy and that separate fetish ties into the idea of smoking being sexy in its repulsiveness. Obviously I'm Japanese-American, I'm half Japanese.

Japanese-American is very specific. I'm fourth generation on one side and fifth generation on the other and post WWII Japanese Americans were traumatised from being imprisoned and resultantly assimilated in a very different way from other Asian-Americans. My dad's generation had no cultural ties at all - they were not Japanese-American, they were American.

AG: Before we move onto this, could we stick on smoking for a sec? I have the same experience as you, from being a young teenager you have that association of kissing at a house party, the taste of second-hand cigarettes has an inherent link to a chance encounter.

That's the exact association I have.

I feel like what you may have missed out is that being addicted to cigarettes, or addicted to anything, is an unpleasant experience but the eroticism of cigarettes is the “I don't care” attitude. We know cigarettes are pointless, expensive, dangerous, inconvenient but still holds that sense of youthful exuberance. It still retains that sort of bad-boy type of resonance, that's why art students smoke, it's worldy or mysterious or something.

PI: I have two thoughts on that. The first being that Vegas is one of the only places in America where you can smoke anywhere you want. They don't want you to leave the table while you're gambling, so they let you smoke. There's a painting in the show about playing poker, I hadn't really recognised that connection to Vegas. It's the same in Florida which kind of represents that lawless idea that the rest of America has of Florida. They're very specific places.

I have a friend who was a casual smoker, the way he met his first wife was him asking to bum a cigarette from her - he smoked that cigarette because he wanted to talk to her.

AG: Some of the work uses Yoshu Chikanobu prints, the one of the orchestra, as a source image. They're supposedly an example of Japan preparing for Western visitation, or tourism, playing Western music etc. When I saw it, I didn't even clock that it was unusual for that to be happening - Japanese people in tuxedos playing violins in the 1900s.

PI: The reason I chose that image is that it depicts the Rokumeikan, the first hotel in Japan built to host westerners. It was seen as an attempt at modernisation for Japan, or westernisation, which was controversial. The timing of the building opening lines up with Van Gogh first having access to Japanese prints, something I haven't really talked about yet regarding the show.

Van Gogh was a Japanese fetishist, maybe not necessarily in the sense that he fetishised Japanese women but that he believed that Japanese art was the highest form of art, even making copies of Japanese woodcut prints - he was a weeaboo.

Obviously there's an interesting dissonance between my generation’s view on Anime and the Gen Z perspective. It used to be part of a subculture that was characterised as gross and nerdy, it was hardcore - you couldn't be a poster, if you watched Dragon Ball Z they'd call you out. It isn't like that anymore, the content is much more mainstream.

Van Gogh also called the residency he started in Arles the Yellow House, which is what the residency I did was based on. The residency was supposed to reflect Japanese philosophy and art, as I understand it. It's funny that he called in the Yellow House, he was obsessed with the light in Arles and believed that it was the same as Japan. It's weird to me that all of this lines up, that's what the show is about - coincidence.

When I was working in Arles I used Flashe paint because it was left over from the previous artist. They have a colour called Light Japanese Yellow which is really funny to me.

Being from Japan but having this disconnect, what it means to Japanese-American, to be POC but POC light. Within inter-asian racism, Japanese people are at the top of that hierarchy, being part of the axis powers, brutalising people in China, never recognising war crimes - we're kind of the worst Asians, it's pretty fucked up.

AG: Japanese war crimes in WWII are very far removed from where you are. I'm curious as to what motivates you to think about it like that if you haven't really engaged with the nature of Japanese-ness outside of that motherland connection.

PI: Being white and Japanese at the same time, I benefit from both of those spaces. All the stereotypes about Japanese people are pretty positive - that's where the idea of a model minority comes from. I guess it's just about realising I'm Asian - I didn't even try sushi until I was 25. My mom is white and a lot of the Japanese side of my family married white Americans.

I recently inherited a sword which was passed down through generations of my family - they don't know anything about it. They never asked questions because there was no desire to have cultural ties, nobody even knows what its function was. I know it was passed to my great grandfather who had it for almost a hundred years, now I have to do the research and figure out where it came from.

AG: There aren't many artists who would pull that influence through the aesthetic and cultural dialogues present in the work of disparate people like Van Gogh and Jeremy Kline, it's quite specific to your own experience. Your work seems to approach the use of popular culture as fairly undefined, you're pulling together things that grab your interest but some have been present for significantly longer than others - for example, the Hook Ups girls. Has their role in your work changed with these new considerations?

PI: It has changed a lot, not just because of the connection between the Rokumeikan and Van Gogh but also because of the changing position of Anime. I had a conversation with someone about this the other day who is Gen Z and she said that her brain was incapable of perceiving these images in the same way that I can because of the way culture has changed. Anime is cool now, it's not for nerds.

AG: But so much of what made other pop-culture associated with anime, Drain Gang for example, so huge is the relationship to being a bedroom dweller and a celebrity at the same time. Whether it's Anime or Goth or whatever, the indicator that you were not able to assimilate into the mainstream and the resultant ostracisation has disappeared. The importance of the content isn't you enjoying it, it's how it contributes to your identity - seeing yourself as the kind of person who enjoys something obscure but that being what makes you cool. The semiotic language of the images has changed significantly, a random person walking into this show will recognise the Anime as being Anime before they recognise a specific Van Gogh painting - that's the lens they're going to see the show through.

AG: There's a Balthus painting in some of these works, of his second wife who was Japanese, called Turkish Room. Balthus is an artist who I really love, probably my favourite painter of all time - but also someone who is maybe now persona non grata. There's an obvious bit of fetishisation happening in that work and it's representative of the theme of white man with Asian woman - is that ever not sus? White women with Asian man is less common, but I've always ended up dating white women, so there's a lot of stuff there that I'm feeling. There's a history in Hollywood of feminising Asian men, they were emasculated, seen as not sexy. I never really related to that. All this shit comes together in the Balthus painting, but I also love the painting and think it's a beautiful image.