For sound artist Yukio Fujimoto, listening to the Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in the late 1960s was a formative experience. Tuning into "A Day in the Life" in stereo, he relates how the string part in the final segment of the song took his breath away, filling the room in such a way that the music took on a visible component. Fujimoto's more recent stance toward the Beatles veers from veneration to iconoclasm in "Fujimoto Yukio: plus/minus," at the National Museum of Art, Osaka.
The fourteen LP record discs that comprise the work "Delete the Beatles" have their grooves erased, leaving their dark surfaces shiny and smooth. The track lists are enumerated on the green apple labels at the LP centers, but there is obviously nothing that could any longer be heard from them. These works are a kind of auditory-tinged equivalent of Robert Rauschenberg's "Erased de Kooning Drawing" (1953). Rauschenberg insisted that erasing the abstract-expressionist's work was a gesture of respect, and perhaps Fujimoto's sentiment is similar in kind. A fundamental difference, however, was that Rauschenberg acquired de Kooning's permission, and so there is a certain quotient of aggressiveness in Fujimoto's action, suggestively confirmed in part by titles of other works in the exhibition, "Violent Silence" and "Silent Violence" (2007).
In one sense, the artist has subtracted the aural part of the "Delete the Beatles" records, leaving a diminished visual product in their wake. In another sense, these works rejoin Fujimoto's formative experience of the Beatles in the '60s, when a visual form emerged from the music. A further rejoining feature is Fujimoto's quote from the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in a November 2006 interview: "You can threaten the eyes, but you can't do anything to the ears or nose."
Fujimoto's recent work seems to be an attempt to show how the ears may indeed be threatened. Such ideas have further political significance for the artist, who has recently voiced his concern regarding the manipulation of sound in a mediated world, and he again turns to the Beatles to flesh out specificity on the issue. "But despite the freedom they have in the country, after 9/11, America banned 'Imagine' (by John Lennon) from the airwaves. When all the people in America were revved up, saying 'Let's go to war!' and 'We have to get them back for this!,' I think that playing 'Imagine' on the radio might have made some people think twice."
The premier work in the exhibition, "plus/minus," is set against the far wall of an expansive exhibition space, and might be described as a wall of sound if it were not for the high volume such a description would entail. The 15 x 15 box cabinet, ten meters wide and three meters high, contains 213 Bose CD players set on repeat, each playing a single different Beatles song. The significance of 213 comes from the total number of songs recorded by the Beatles and officially released between 1962 and 1970.
All the songs play at once, so from a distance you can hear no individual sounds and the music vanishes, as the Beatles had earlier been erased, becoming soft noise balanced against the constant presence of the noise of the gallery's air conditioners. Recognition of individual pieces of music occurs only when one is up close to the work, in contrast to the hushed blur of sounds woven together when one listens from a distance.
As the title "plus/minus" indicates, the amassed sound of 213 tracks is an addition of songs and an erosion of individual characteristics, while nuanced, attentive listening to an individual CD subtracts that piece out from the 212 others. Such addition and subtraction also works at the levels on which spectators physically engage the work. Most will likely listen at their height level, unlikely to bow down too far to the lower sounds, and spectators are unable to climb to the higher levels for more unambiguous listening. Fujimoto has also noted that the work is a "trigger" to different ways of listening, and to the recognition of differences between sound and noise, distance and closeness, integration and differentiation.
One further suggestive work conceptually draws together the various threads that course throughout the exhibition and Fujimoto's artistic thinking. "The Separated," the text of which is punctured into plexiglass in a pin-pricked manner and slightly elevated above a white ground, elaborates: "The 'separated,' even though they are 'conjuncted,' are not likely to be restored, i.e., separation as a method recreates a new whole. However, the possibility of restoring the whole is significant."