Kohei Kobayashi Biography

Born in Tokyo in1974. Lives and works in Saitama Prefecture.

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Kohei Kobayashi is an artist who conjures up original meanings, purposes and relationships from ordinary objects through performance, video, and installation art. His long-form video performances are an extensive exploration and demonstration of the world around us, revealing and dissolving the structures we use to comprehend it—and that we all take for granted.

Kobayashi’s videos are characterised by the at-first unremarkable settings. In these settings he chooses-either outdoors or in a studio - everyday objects and simply-made contraptions litter the field of view. He then proceeds to “use” these objects, both in the way they were intended to be, but also in new, unconventional ways. In How to Make a Table Picture (2013), we see Kobayashi unpacking numerous objects in a park, centred around a fold-out aluminium picnic table. It has the feel of a family vacation video, crossed with an instructional video with occasional voiceovers of Kobayashi which divide the video into chapters or lessons. In the first one, he says “Within one shape, there are multiple shapes,” as the table is folded out. There is free interaction between Kobayashi and the cameraman about the various shapes he is making, literally and figuratively, as he lays out objects on the table, lies on a picnic mat, flies a kite, plays with a pink hula hoop, and puts mousse in his hair, all the while the objects are in a constant state of reconfiguration. The interaction between the two men is pure and honest, like when a doughnut-shaped pillow is picked up and he asks “is the outline of this a different thing to the outline of the hole?”

In Kobayashi’s performances, the objects are liberated from their utilitarian value and take on new ones, and the noun usually used to describe these objects becomes more and more meaningless as the possibilities become infinite. Kobayashi achieves this not by wilful action, but by maintaining a disinterested manner, respecting the process and allowing the objects to attain new meanings through their own movement. He systematically explores the objects in the frame treating all parts of his “canvas” equally. The camerawork too, is unremarkable at first glance, slowly becoming more compelling as it drifts in and out until it chances upon moments of true interest.

For the series M-U-R-D-E-R-W-E-A-P-O-N (2012), Kobayashi invented numerous contraptions composed of everyday objects—logs, planks of wood, cushions, tissue boxes—which he proceeds to explain how they are to be used in a video. One of the pieces in the video which he conceives to be a “manual” for these objects, is called Weapon to Void a Sense of Symmetry, which is a large box for a wooden slat bed with two hula hoops threaded through holes in the sides. In the description of this piece, Kobayashi’s voiceover mentions that the task of folding out and folding up the bed. The contraption is meant to be used by two people facing each other holding the hula hoops, uniting left and right, front and back. By doing so, Kobayashi asks us to reset the human inclination to view things as right or left, up or down, front or back. When these concepts (which are based on the human body) are no longer relevant, it means that our bodies no longer exist, or as he says “to experience death by denying the notion of left and right.” In this, and the 21 other pieces in the series, Kobayashi highlights the arbitrary nature of the concepts we take for granted—powerful “weapons” to expand our perception of the world.

Alongside the didactic M-U-R-D-E-R-W-E-A-P-O-N, Kobayashi also filmed M-U-R-D-E-R-W-E-A-P-O-NBATTLEFIELD, in which he demonstrates how to use the contraptions to another person on screen. He specifically chose a musician to participate - someone in a different line of art that he is in - who freely interacts with Kobayashi, bringing us into his playground of tactile discoveries and new realisations.

Kobayashi is an alumnus of Aichi University of the Arts and Music, graduating from the oil painting department in 1999. He has shown his work and done performances in numerous institutions including Gunma Prefectural Museum, Gunma; the National Museum of Modern Art (MOMAT), Tokyo; Asahi Art Square, Tokyo; and even overseas including at the NYU Einstein Auditorium, New York.

Public Collections:
Toyota City Museum, Aichi, Japan
Takahashi Collection, Tokyo, Japan

Text by Ruben van Mansum

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