My works attempt to explore the possibility of melting memories that reside deep within one's consciousness. These works are composed of recollective photographs and videos that consist antique objects embodied with memories. I believe motion images have the ability to call forth and express the fluctuating manner of recollective properties. Recollections, I presume, are genetically inherent in our DNA which contain vast knowledge from the past since antiquity. Furthermore these share a collective memory that extends beyond individual self and interpenetrates between the past and the present era. If we can recollect such memories, then I believe there is a potential for our future to ascend past the boundaries of cultural, historical, and social notions of individuality. Thus we are fluctuating between the past and the future in a state of repetition, ceaselessly inquiring its means without an end.

“Repetition and recollection are the same movement, just in opposite directions, because what is recollected has already been and is thus repeated backwards, whereas genuine repetition is recollected forwards.”

Søren Kierkegaard


Ken Matsubara’s work explores the fluctuating manner of memories that reside deep within our consciousness. By working with mediums such as photographs and videos, Matsubara visually draws upon the reflective property of images to disclose the nature of memory as a form of interpenetration between the past and present. Furthermore, Matsubara believes such recollections are genetically inherent in our DNA, which contain vast knowledge from the past since antiquity extending beyond individual self.
In his Repetition Book series, Matsubara examines such characteristics of memory by using various old snapshots found by chance, and re-shooting images from the exact location in comparison to where the old photographs were taken. Filming from such overlapping settings, the images reflect a transition in time through reaffirmation of its dissimilarity. By presenting such passage of associations, the work attempts to reveal the shifting dialogue between the past and future in a continuous state of repetition.
In more recent works, Matsubara endeavors to further investigate the fluctuating nature of memory by re-examining various forms in eastern tradition’s understanding of beauty as an embodiment of impermanence. More specifically, in relation to his works, Matsubara believes the Japanese sense of beauty is largely and respectively based on the appreciation of mono-no-aware, or sadness of the passing time. This notion should not be regarded as a negative attitude towards the finitude, but rather to embrace its perishability. To Matsubara, what matters is how we make our reflective experiences meaningful in relation to the ever-fleeting beauty of the passing time.

Eiketsu Baba
23 October, 2015



Ken Matsubara makes objects vested with immaterial power, which have an influence on our deep consciousness. The moving images that float on their surface or that are mysteriously enclosed in glass pertain as much to intimate recollection as to the universal, as anyone can relate to them according to one’s own references. The artist considers that human consciousness consists of remembrances from one ancient knowledge, built up and shared since the mists of time. By passing on through generations and from one person to another, it transcends individuality. Matsubara seeks to raise this shared memory and aspires to erase cultural, social and historical boundaries between people.
His works exude melancholy and poetry, with their simple but meaningful evocations. Thanks to the bareness of his purpose, which resembles a story without words endlessly repeated, every little ghost can find his place in our personal history. The use of video echoes the fluid and fluctuating nature of memory, whereas antique-looking objects are similar to reliquaries sheltering fragile apparitions.
In the Hou-Chou serie, recently made in several countries across South-East Asia, Matsubara takes interest in the bird releasing ceremony that is carried out in Buddhist temples as a vow of virtue. In this practice, as in Buddhism in general, the impermanence of things and men, the link between them and with the world, are the pillars of a philosophy with universal reach.

Catherine Merckling
La Chambre 18 August, 2015



Ken Matsubara: The Deep Symbolism of Water

Ken Matsubara works have always a strong relationship with past and memory. His "Clouds" remember us symbolically the nuclear presence, "Tide" the strong and unavoidable relationship between men and water. But never, as in the series of his new works - The Sleeping Water - Storm in a Glass- the present situation merged so clearly and dramatically.Japan is crossing a very difficult moment not only because of the Fukushima disaster, and the economical crisis that is crossing the western world, but mostly because, just after the earthquake japanese people stopped believing and trusting their government.This mis of faith in the supreme authority represents a strong shake in their souls. In Japan people have grown up believing in the efficiency and the capacity of their government. Since Fukushima the feelings and emotions of 120 millions of Japanese have never stopped swinging between hope and despair, anger and uncertainty. The water in a glass is normally still, but in Matsubara video is swinging and fluctuating just like the mood of people in Japan, just like the wave that came and destroyed, leaving death and desolation behind her. The "Storm in a Glass" represents with a simple image all the wight and the significance of a crucial historical moment in the life of the country, which will maybe change the destiny and the course of their lives.
Ken Matsubara lives and works in Tokio he is represented by MA2 Gallery

Mara Sartore
Tuesday, 11 October 2011
The story of our encounter



Sometimes meeting someone is the result of a concatenation of causes and effects which seem to suggest us that, after all, everything has already be written.
When we first met Ken Matsubara in Volta, during Art Basel in June, his work seemed perfect to us to represent the journey that Lightbox decided to start in its own space in Venice. Ken was excited about our invitation and he immediately began to prepare the exhibition. Ken Matsubara is well-known in Japan and the U.S. for his work fed by images related to the many faces of both personal and collective memories. The photographs and video clips used in his installations seem to resurface from a recent past or a familiar remembrance, emerging from an old garret full of memories. Ken revitalizes these images in his works, making them an active part in the building of a present time. His installations stand out and never leave us indifferent, because they touch the strings of our collective unconscious. In this very special year for Japan, struck by the recent tsunami, the memory faces that emerge from water, specifically made for Lightbox in Vietnam, take on even more emotive and emotional sense and lyrically tie themselves with the inexorable fate of Venice. The sense of vertigo of a world on the brink of apocalypse creates a deep disorientation. Therefore, memory plays a fundamental role. The story of our origins helps us to find our place in the world. The images of past concur to slowly focus a possible present identity; they guide us in this effort, after identifying and then connecting the dots of a dematerialized world.
Ken Matsubara’s boxes carry both the loss and the rediscovery of a “Self” in constant search of its sense. Many moving images, such as the smoke clouds in the series Winter Dream - Cloud, appear as excerpts from a world of dreams. Dreams are also other traces of our history, echoes of other lives lived by fragments of ourselves.
Therefore, in Ken Matsubara’s works we can find tracks to try to make sense of the fate of the world, of the History that unites all people on Earth who are united by a common fate, under the same sky, flooded by the same waves.

Mara Sartore
Venice, September 28, 2011



The japanese artist Ken Matsubara, exhibit his art pieces and video installations for the first time in Italy.
The exhibition will open on the 27th of October 2011 at 6.30 pm and will go on until the 27th of November.

Ken Matsubara uses photos, movies, objects and collages to awaken the depths of people’s memories. While roaming through time and space, a sea of memories float to the surface. In this way, Ken Matsubara uses his individual experiences in his work. Yet, beyond his own memories he has interest in the commonalities that exist in races and generations. He thinks perhaps this is from the mitochondria, the microorganism of the human race, like an endless DNA that is copied and inherited in memories.
Now in the debris of the Tohoku earthquake in Japan, many people have lost their lives and many are still being searched for. As people search through the rubble they are finding items that they hold dear to their hearts, there lies a symbolic moment in which people will form lasting memories. In that instance, family albums have been found. So how do we form memories? From symbolic moments such as finding items that people hold dear to their hearts. Ken Matsubara would surely like to share these memories with the future generations. Then steadily, through the study of tragic memories with people he dreams of the day those memories can be overcome.

Mara Sartore
Tuesday, 4 October 2011
The Winter Dream, The Story of Water




“…modern philosophy will teach that all life is a repetition”[1] augured the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard at the beginning of his namesake book, published in 1843. Whether he was right or not, we do not know, but repetition has undeniably become an essential issue for thinkers, poets, artists and intellectuals in these recent times. In what has been called postmodernity, that period which has seen the death of the “big narratives” and with them the disappearance of a linear and progressive temporality[2], we feel stuck in this cycle. Or rather on living always the same experiences. Repeating always the same guidelines.

It is no coincidence that the biggest fear of our collective unconscious is social robotization; to transform ourselves into automata which repeat the same actions, behaviors, schedules and manners day after day. “Metro-boulot-dodo”[3] the French say, to summarize this contemporary anguish of a meaningless life endlessly repeated. What is new has become the most highly prized. And our worst nightmare is the famous Groundhog Day[4], Harold Ramis’s horror film disguised as a comedy.

Crisis seem to repeat themselves, financial scandals reappear periodically, wars follow one another…“history does not repeat itself, it stutters” Marx said. Remakes invade the screens and vintage is trendy again. The kitsch, dodecaphonism, Warhol series, the “seriality” of Minimal and Conceptual Art, the techno, the constant winks to historical inheritance, updated adaptations or paradoxical figures (metalepsis, self-referentiality, parody) are nothing more than structures born from the kingdom of repetition, of this challenge to temporality which represents the impossible return to a past when there seems to be no possible future. And lifting the veil of repetition reveals wasted time, the elusive present, the weight of absurdity, irreversibility and contingency, identity and fleetingness…

“If God himself had not willed repetition, the world would not have come into existence”, Kierkegaard himself boldly declares in Repetition. The Danish philosopher sees in it the synthesis that enables meaning to be given to an instant, far from sterile memories and fantasized hopes. “Indeed, what would life be if there were no repetition? Who could want to be a tablet on which time writes something new every instant or to be a memorial volume of the past?” he exclaims. But surely it is not that simple and repetition appears with its unfathomable and paradoxical ambivalence to the deepest philosophical concepts.

In one of the works presented in the exhibition, titled Winter Dreams – Tide, Ken Matsubara explains the memory of the first time he saw the Ocean: “My mother was laughing and calling me into the water. As I cautiously entered the ocean, I could feel the great force under my feet pulling me into the waves. To avoid being swept away to my inevitable death, I firmly braced my legs wide apart. But, little by little, I began to sink. I tried to endure the weird anxiety at my feet, but before long I took a big gulp of seawater. Finally, my mother, laughing, came to scoop me up as I cried and held me in her arms”. Is it a traumatic experience? A happy experience? A relentless reminder that time has turned into something poetic?

There are several repetitions, as there are several concepts of time, love or faith. Gilles Deleuze dedicated a large part of his most important book[5] to try to clarify and detail these variations. We must “oppose repetition not only to generalities of habit but also to the particularities of memory.” In this regard, repetition “is the thinking of the future: it is opposed to the old category of reminiscence and to the modern category of habitus. It is in repetition, it is through repetition that forgetfulness becomes a positive power and the unconscious a positive and superior unconscious”. “Recollection's love” [Kjoerlighed], that “discarded garment that does not fit, however beautiful it is, for one has outgrown it”, as Kierkegaard calls it, is not the same as “repetition’s love”, which does not involve “the restlessness of hope, the uneasy adventurousness of discovery, but neither does it have the sadness of recollection- it has the blissful security of the moment”. But the border is often imperceptible. That is what the narrator of The Repetition experiences, who in his attempt to relive a happy trip to Berlin discovers only that “the only repetition was the impossibility of a repetition”.

The past cannot be retrieved. Then, why should we sink into the sweet melancholy of remembrance? Is the famous experience of Marcel Proust’s madeleine in In Search of Lost Time a desirable repetition? “And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory”, explains the narrator before adding: “I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal”. Repetition is, in this case, even more intense and pleasurable than the original experience.

Perhaps who best explains the essential ambiguity of repetition is Milan Kundera. At the beginning of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the Czech writer vulgarizes and discusses Friedrich Nietzsche’s great theory of eternal return. On the one hand a world in which “everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum”[6], that is to say that “the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make”, what Nietzsche called “das schwerste Gewicht”[7]. On the other hand a world in which “everything is pardoned in advance and therefore everything cynically permitted” because “in the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia”, but a fleeting and ephemeral world in which “einmal ist keinmal”[8] as the German proverb says. A beautiful poem by J. L. Borges points out the beautiful pain of irreversibility, and, in some way, the absence of repetition:

“If all things have a limit and a value
And last time and nothing more and oblivion
Who will tell us to whom in this house
Unknowingly we have said goodbye?”[9]

Which to choose? Nietzsche was clear on the matter and made this philosophical concept the cornerstone of his philosophy. In the same way that the moral principle should guide man’s behavior according to Emmanuel Kant, the eternal return should be the reference by which each person can make their decisions, according to Nietzsche. Act as if your decision would have to be repeated over and over and over again…

A philosophy of “Superhuman” which seems to have its dark side in what Freud called “compulsion of repetition”. Based on the observation of a child's game (named “Fort Da”), the inventor of psychoanalysis explains how a repetitive act can be a way of trying to re-appropriate a repressed memory. So much so that, on some occasions, this behavior may go against the pleasure principle. Among many other modalities, the repetition may serve, in pathological cases as obsessive doubt or neurotic trauma, as a way to relive a traumatic past that we fail to overcome. Repetition is presented then more as a symptom than a solution.

Repetition hides the real origin. Although, again, repetition may be an attempt, sometimes a desperate one, to find that fantasized source. In The Sleeping Water - Storm in a Glass, for example, Ken Matsubara uses what he calls “most primordial and common memories”, i.e. those waters, surrounding and dark at the same time, which recalls the mother’s womb. “These are especially important memories for the Japanese who are surrounded by the sea and rivers. Furthermore Japanese will never forget the recent memories of the big disaster of 11th March 2011 in northern Japan,” explains the artist. Welcoming waters that can be turned into a nightmare, cyclical movements that may seem both hypnotic as chaotic.

Repetition also speaks of series, doubles, lists, loops, so many forms to the hereinafter, the temporary. And it especially speaks of origin. Is repetition anything more than a pale imitation of an original event? Plato (and all metaphysics) thought that the universe is the repeated, reflected and diminished image, from the world of ideas. Nowadays we think otherwise: now everything is simulacra and simulation, hyperreality (Baudrillard), rhizome (Deleuze), dissemination (Derrida), three points that are repeated by suspending the meaning... We don't know if the origin exists. We live in the world of Gödel’s incompleteness and Heisenberg’s indetermination. The Big Bang may end in a Big Crunch. And the world itself will be repeated…but the other way round. Just as you can read this catalogue from one side or the other. The experience can be repeated but in a new way.

A push-pull that refers to water movement. The Vietnamese children that ascend along the Mekong Delta in The Sleeping Water - Mekong Delta will one day descend these same waters. Just as souls relentlessly begin new cycles, in Oriental culture, endlessly repeating that experience we call life. But what do we remember from our past experiences? How do we repeat something without even knowing it? “Recollections, I presume, are genetically inherent in our DNA which contains vast knowledge from the past dating right back to antiquity” explains Ken Matsubara for whom “human beings are united by the common memory”. To awaken that memory is, among so many other things, one of the strengths of his art. By means of ancient objects that embody people’s memories, photographs and films, Matsubara reactivates past and future memories. Art history has always been a constant improvement of past masters. Now, however, creation seems to have lost its temporal dimension proposing tirelessly new aesthetics seeking not to go “beyond” but take steps sideways. How do we refer, then, to historical heritage? Matsubara proposes an individual approach in which the objects themselves, full of stories and experiences, reactivate the collective memory.

“They are going up just like angels ascend up to the heaven” explains the artist about the children of The Sleeping Water - Mekong Delta. It is not only Eastern culture that has seen in repetition a way to fight against the passage of time. “In what form will we resurrect in paradise?” wondered the philosopher Giorgio Agamben. Or equally: which differences, learning or new wisdoms will we have access to for an improved repetition of our earthly life? A biblical character as important as Job also lives his personal repetition. “Job is blessed and has received everything double. — This is called a repetition.”[10] claims Kierkegaard.

There are sterile repetitions, mandatory repetitions, memory-repetitions, painful repetitions. And there are repetitions that we experience almost like initiation rites. In Winter Dreams - Letters, Matsubara presents a memory in which he and his wife decided to throw away any letters they had been keeping for the last 40 years. “The letters possessed a commonality in the memories that had accumulated in them” he explains. A way of beginning his life again. The anthropologist Marc Augé explains, in his namesake book[11], that one of the figures or forms of oblivion is “start again, by understanding that this latter term designates the opposite of repetition: a radical opening”. Augé refers here to the common way of understanding repetition but, as Gilles Deleuze or Soren Kierkegaard report, repetition can also be experienced as this “initiation” in which “what disappears or is forgotten then, when it appears in a new awareness of time, is simultaneously what the initiated is no longer and what is not yet, the same and the other in him”. Something very close to what we all experience when we get rid of the memories that are constantly being repeated and cut off the opening of future possibilities.

Repetition could be seen in the West as a synonym for boredom, stagnation or neurosis. For the Oriental, however, it is a synonym of hard work; an approach to the perfect gesture that can represent, for example, the kata in martial arts. Tea ritual, the repeated figures in tai chi, or meditation postures are nothing other than a spiritual exercise to cope better with existence. Some of this spirit, when passed through the Western moulds, could be found in one of the most interesting myths of Greek mythology: Sisyphus, a character which inspired Matsubara in one of his works. And we know the end of Albert Camus’s extraordinary interpretation of this story about a seemingly sterile and infinite repetition: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy”.

As Ken Matsubara says: “Thus we are fluctuating between the past and the future in a state of repetition, ceaselessly inquiring its means without an end”.

[1] Kierkegaard, S. Fear and Trembling/Repetition : Kierkegaard's Writings. Princeton University Press. 1983. pag. 131
[2] To show the most evident examples: the progress of reason, Christian eschatology or le Grand Soir of Communism.
[3] Literally "metro-work-sleep". An expression that sums up the feeling of having a repetitive daily routine as a result of the consumerist society.
[4] Groundhog day (1993)
[5] Deleuze G. Difference and Repetition. Columbia University Press. New York. 1994
[6] Kundera M. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 2005
[7] The heaviest weight. What is the more serious.
[8] Literally: “once does not matter” or “one time is no time”.
[9] Borges, J.L. (1964) El otro, el mismo, en Jorge Luis Borges (1974) Obras Completas, Buenos Aires: Emecé.
[10] Op. cit. pag. 212
[11] Les formes de l’oubli. Augé M. Rivages 2001. Our translation.

Blueproject Foundation
Aurelien Le Genissel and Renato Della Poeta