At its extremity, the strictly practical object takes on a social standing; this is the machine. Inversely, the pure object, destitute of function and abstracted from its usage, takes on a strictly subjective standing; it becomes an object of collection.
(Jean Beaudrillard, The System of Objects, Japanese trans. by Unami Akira, p.106, Hosei University Press.)
It is said that things serve two functions, i.e., to be used and to be owned. The object of any symbol that is removed from its use and is owned for no other purposes but owning is called an item of collection. Accordingly, whether an article deserves collection depends not on convenience or easy use but on each collector's appreciation and so is never settled one way only.
One of the matters Nakamura Tetsuya feels interested in is that different ages or societies may attach opposite values to the same thing. Exploiting a technically skilled artistry and provocative composition, he attempts to revive the objects whose value once shifted from positive to negative.
For instance, to produce the Golden Turtles, which were presented in Osaka (his solo exhibition entitled PEST CONTROL), he gilded the stuffed reptiles that he had bought at antique shops. In former days, stuffed turtles, as an emblem of wealth and power, used to embellish the rich class's drawing rooms or vestibules, but today they seem to be rarely found even at curio shops. The reason for this may be that, owing to the atmosphere of the present age, any stuffed turtle or beast no longer means "a high−grade ornament," "a house of good lineage" or "refined taste" but is likely to indicate snobbery that mocks at the current ecological concern.
Yet he does not merely intend to uncover a change in value but gives varieties of meaning to many antiquated stuffed creatures which he gilded to set out as his work. Indeed it is reported that, besides those viewers who grasped the Golden Turtles as cynical pieces of contemporary art, the exhibition hall gathered a considerable number of naive visitors who were struck with the superb appearance of the substantial "glittering gold turtles."
The present work, in its basic concept, stands on the same line as the Golden Turtles. In the past, trophies too commanded respect as proof of victory and honor. Trophies and cups, which were won in competitions at bowling or golf or in amateur singing contests, solemnly adorned sideboards together with souvenirs from tourist spots; the practice is no longer commonly observed. This may be explained by diversification of value standards; one can not find an absolute merit or authority in any particular contest or game, and so trophies, in token of nothing but relative merit, are difficult to impress on others by ostentation, although they serve as personal mementos. Collecting trophies, which are now too common to regard, he reproduces them as a work of art. What is it that you discover here? Is it the faint image of dignity in those competitions which bestowed these trophies on winners, or is it vanity which is as empty as a trophy? Or it may possibly be no more than the dazzling beauty of the golden space.
Any discussion over Nakamura would fail to hit the mark without taking up his treatment of insects. He once presented the back cover of a book as his work, on which the bookmaker had unawares coated an insect. The artist could detect the creature because of his constant heed to bugs. The work was the insect collector's byproduct, as it were. His art is chiefly exemplified by those pieces which use insects. The act of killing insects, if it is done to make specimens in the sacred name of science, is not usually (to be) called a cruelty. So killing them, he has created entomological specimens that appear as fine as cloth (his solo exhibition, Tetsuya Nakamura's Aesthetic of Insect Classification). In this age, it may well happen that, while some of the viewers enjoy the beautiful color and form of his work, others find abhorrent the act of killing the insects and dressing their carcasses for art. Therefore it may be possible to discuss the matter of insect killing in terms of relative value. What is more, insects themselves drastically vary in worth from one judgment to another. To adduce his favorite example, bees are regarded as useful as long as they gather honey,
but they will be destroyed as evil if they threaten to sting humans. Butterflies are as beautiful as gems to the eyes of collectors (The Collector was the very title of a film in which a butterfly collector committed a crime), but their scales and uncanny movement repel many people. The epithets "useful" and "harmful" have no accurate significance in taxonomic entomology but are just arbitrarily applied by humans at their convenience.
In a community where it has become difficult to keep confidence in any value as absolute, even so−called postmodern remarks, such as those made by the scholar whose words I cited in the beginning of this essay, wear out against the mode of the age and become hackneyed. Nakamura picks up outmoded items from a sea of ambiguous values and presents a new prospect in which they appear as works of art.
ATM Contemporary Art Center translated by Ito Haruo