Spotlight: End of Summer
Matt Jay of End of Summer.
An interview with the founder of End of Summer, a cross-cultural art program based in Portland, Oregon at the Yale Union Contemporary Art Center. End of Summer is comprised of an annual summer residency for artists from Japan, as well as a lecture series and has been operating since 2016.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I moved to Portland in 1994. Then Tokyo in 1999. I came back to Portland in 2004. Left again shortly thereafter to attend art school, but within myself this loop has continued on and on.
What's your background in art?
The household I grew up in not only encouraged art but prioritized it as a way to understand and interpret the world. My parents were not artists, but their friends were artists and they worked with artists. I understood art not only as that which you experience in its assigned settings, but as something that went hand in hand with the interpersonal.
I studied video and cinema at School of Visual Arts in New York, and was initially making work in that medium. Interests in the passage of time, particularities of place, and the spaces between people linger from that part of my life and still make sense to me with what I do now.
When did End of Summer start and what's the inspiration behind it?
Part of it is very simple. I wanted initiate something which would benefit contemporary artists from Japan, and yet contribute to Portland’s art community in the process as well.
When I was growing up in Tokyo, I would come back to Portland every summer, and my friends from Japan would visit. So End of Summer is in many ways a continued evolution of that basic impulse to share this place with others, and have an experience together in a fixed amount time. If at some point End of Summer in its current form concludes, I am sure some new or other version of that will always continue on.
With those more personal aspects as a foundation, in the larger picture, End of Summer is a project intended to try to explore questions that are important to me about the nature of art, and the identity of the artist in our globalized era. What does it mean to be a “Japanese artist” now? How is that distinction of geography and culture relevant if it still is? Barriers once imposed by geographic distance and a slower speed of information have been forever changed by technological advance. Does increased international mobility and access to the all the same information via the internet now shape an artists’ identity more profoundly than lived environment? If so, is it as the expense of something that necessarily becomes lost?
What are the reasons and motivating factors for wanting to create an artist residency?
I want to work with artists in as direct of a way as possible. I want to help them and learn from them, and have actual experiences with them outside of the pressures and professional formalities we might be bound to if we were meeting as artist and curator with a task at hand. I care as much about who an artist is as an individual in the world as I do the result of their work. So it is important for me to spend real time with them, and the nature of a residency such as ours allows for that.
Could you discuss the connection you feel Japan and Portland have and why it makes sense to you personally as well as globally?
Traveling back and forth, I have been afforded the opportunity to feel in addition to study the connection. Both are crucial. The first native English speaker to teach the language in Japan was from Astoria. After the Chinese Exclusion Act, there began an important history of Japanese immigration to Oregon, which has left its ongoing impression. But there are also things in the air which are less explainable and only picked up on by having familiarity with both places. Cultural parallels include deep affinities for nature and craft. Portland is the closest mainland U.S. city, geographically, to Japan. There is something to that, for me.
I also see the two as being, in their own ways, outside the dominant centers of discourse in art. Certainly, the art world has historically judged Japanese modern and contemporary art, like other non-western art, as being some kind of copy of a superior western original. Japanese art is arguably better understood and historicized now than it has ever been, but I wonder if Said wasn’t accurate when he said that rather than western knowledge increasing in accuracy, western ignorance just becomes more complex.
Portland if acknowledged at all by the art world, has largely been viewed as provincial and not to be paid any earnest attention to. Especially the Portland that I grew up in. Their lack of centricity further endears me to these places. I have always liked the idea of alliances between outsiders.
Could you tell us a little about the artist selection process for End of Summer?
End of Summer artists are selected through an Open Call. We are lucky to have a good amount of interest in the program, so we receive hundreds of annual applications. Looking through all of them each year is a great little window into what artists are making in Japan at the moment. It is important for us that each group is diverse in their artistic practice, background, and experience. There are artists who are still in school along with widely exhibited, experienced artists. Back in Japan, they may not interact due to gaps in age, social group or location, but here they are all together around the kitchen table at Yale Union, 4,875 miles from home.
Why do you think it's important to create opportunities for artists within your community?
I don’t know who else will create opportunities for us if we don’t create them for ourselves. My feeling is that artists are existing in an increasingly hostile territory in the United States. The current administration, in particular, would like to eviscerate funding for the arts and humanities. We are surrounded by deep anti-intellectualism. Art is not valued in the way that it should be, as essential to society. Under capitalism, our human value is determined by our economic productivity, and so art either has no value or it is eagerly co-opted.
What are some of the challenges you've faced with starting your own artist residency?
The biggest ongoing challenge is of course fundraising. That is something I am constantly figuring out. Also, how to implement the ideas surrounding the project into the experience and programming itself. Basically, how to make End of Summer live up to my own expectations for it.
What have you learned from creating and running an artist residency?
I thought that artists would love to have the opportunity to not be forced to make work, and instead to the take time to absorb a new experience and reflect. It turns out, they do, but then they want to get back to work right away. Though, there is maybe something particularly Japanese about this…
Is there anything exciting you have coming up for End of Summer that you can share with us?
On August 12th, 2018, we are hosting Gabriel Ritter, Curator at Minneapolis Institute of Art, for a guest lecture.
After that, we have another guest lecture from an independent scholar, a Japanese art historian, and a personal hero, Reiko Tomii on August 19th, 2018.