CALVERT, Matt, 1969
Face value, 2000
10,000 one-yen coins, cast porcelain cats, glass
48.0 cm x 155.0 cm x 73.0 cm
Courtesy of Diane Tanzer Gallery, Melbourne
My initial interest in the fortune cats (Manekiniko) was one of impending obseleteness, a kind of redundant tradition in the face of a rapidly changing society and failing economy. Although these cute cats can be found in more contemporary forms throughout domestic and commercial Japan, their relevance seemed to be linked with a more traditional and outmoded idea of fortune and happiness, one that was being questioned in a more open and globally driven Market place.
The work was a direct result of a residency I had completed in Sapporo, Japan, in the twelve months prior, and like the glass pieces in Malaysia, it was the material that dictated the forms and conceptual backbone of the work. Both commenting on the irony and fickle nature of the economy through boom and bust cycles. The porcelain Manekiniko were found at the rear of a shrine (possibly discarded by a disgruntled business person in the wake of Japan's struggling economy) in Kotoni, a suburb of Sapporo. Lying despondent in a cardboard box covered in cigarette smoke and flaky paint, their traditional associations with happiness and good fortune showing no signs of realisation.
The ichi [one] yen seemed pertinent because, like most smaller denomination coins, they become more and more difficult to justify in terms of face value and what it costs to produce. Like Manekiniko, they were losing credibility and relevance in contemporary Japanese society (and relatively easy to solicit from complete strangers without too much concern for their worth).
Face value relates as much to the immediacy and misguided notion of superficial interpretations in a complex culture as it does the more obvious dilemma of the ichi yen and Manekiniko. The smallest and most maligned of all the coin denominations in Japan, a totally worthless little aluminium coin, its only claim to fame is that it floats, a peculiar irony considering the almost certainty of it being taken out of circulation.
Face value is a sort of parody tableau, a testament to the resilience and honour inherent in Japanese society in the face of inevitability change.
Matt Calvert, September 2001
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