Q&A: Taturo Atzu gives Amsterdammers a new perspective

Taturo Atzu stands inside the rooftop lounge as a weather vane in the shape of an angel pierces through the coffee table in the background.

I never thought I’d have the chance to sit on top of a church. Yet here I am with Taturo Atzu (alias: Tatzu Nishi) in the ‘lounge’ of his current installation, The Garden Which is the Nearest to God at the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. It’s a normal enough setting if you don’t notice the weather vane in the shape of an angel piercing through the coffee table. Scores of scaffolding support this lounge and a large outdoor plein, or square, whose focal point is the Angelus Clock.

The work was commissioned by Jacqueline Grandjean, director and curator of the Oude Kerk, who was drawn to Atzu’s way of working with cultural heritage: ‘He changes the perspective of the viewer and raises questions about the things in daily life we often pass by. By transforming our perspective – in this case by lifting us up – he not only changes the way we look at it, but also the way we think about it. That’s interesting for a building like the Oude Kerk, which is also undergoing transformation.’

Via his translator, Atzu explains the work – and shares his views on virtual reality. 

We’re sitting in the ‘lounge’, whose furnishings indicate its intended use. How do you hope the public will engage with the wide-open exterior space?
Taturo Atzu: While walking around Amsterdam focusing on the city’s structure, I realized it’s quite chaotic and intricate. I couldn’t find many big, open spaces, so I decided to make one. It offers people a new view of the city.

We now have virtual-reality platforms that offer people the chance to view spaces from the other side of the world – a gallery, for instance. How do you feel about this phenomenon?
People always ask me why I don’t use a computer to create work. It’s because the real experience is extremely important to me. I want viewers to be in the work. The sensations you feel when you’re surrounded by physical buildings are totally different to what you experience through a screen. Some people also ask why I don’t express my ideas or concepts as works of art. I don’t believe in presenting only ideas. If it’s not realized as a work, then I don’t consider it a work.

Every object that you place into your spaces also tells a story. How do you select them?
The concept behind the lounge was to create an ordinary Dutch living room. The reason I work in public spaces is so that people who may not be familiar with art can appreciate it. By using daily objects I want to bring the general public very close – as close as possible.

How often do you have to adapt on site, based on what physically happens during the building process?
Always. Somebody once advised me to make a model and work with that. I tried it. The final work ended up completely different from the model, so I stopped making them. Maybe that tells you a bit more about my opinion about online versus physical experiences. You might see a nice image of a work in a magazine, but be disappointed when you see the work in real life. The opposite can also happen: something looks bad on paper but you like it in reality.

Some of your previous works have been like hotels in that people can sleep inside them. Was that a consideration for this site?
I didn’t really think about making this one a hotel – until this morning. It could have been great to have a hotel around the clock.

How do you choose which scenario you want people to experience?
Firstly it’s intuition. Sometimes hotels come about because I find a spot where I would love to stay. Of course there’s a practical side: the budget. When this assignment came up they didn’t know in which scale the project could be realized. It didn’t sound like there was a huge budget. Building a hotel costs double, basically, so I didn’t consider that option here.

How do you decide how long people should stay in your works?
I’m always aware of this element in my work, and I try to make spaces where people can stay as long as possible.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings in August, the Oude Kerk roof will host Come Closer, a series of public events. See here for more details. The rooftop installation is open until 6 September 2015.

Photos Wim Hanenberg


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