Artist-in-residence transforms Asia House

Eiko Soga's project at Asia House

Eiko Soga's project at Asia House

Artist-in-residence transforms Asia House

28 February 2014

By Naomi Canton

The first artist-in-residence at Asia House Japanese student Eiko Soga took up her residency at the New Cavendish Street headquarters this week.

Soga, a student at the Slade School of Art, UCL, London, will work from Asia House for the next three months. Members of the public and Asia House members are encouraged to come, view and engage with her during her work in progress.

The brand new artists-in-residence programme was launched this year by Head of Arts and Learning Pamela Kember to champion young and emerging artists working in the fields of visual art, performance and the written word, and whose practices bridge Asia House’s vision to promote the rich diversity of transnational cultures from Asia here in the UK.

An emphasis will be placed on traditional art forms combined with modern and contemporary influences and practitioners whose approach is experimental and explorative.

“It’s a new project to see how artists respond to architecture and spaces and how we respond to a space. It’s about something ordinary becoming something extraordinary and that’s what I like about Eiko’s approach,” explained Kember at a breakfast event on Thursday, February 27 to celebrate Soga’s project at Asia House to date.

“I want Eiko to re-evaluate her own work and evolve,” she added. “We hope people will come back again and again and see how Eiko’s work has progressed. We are expanding the residency this year to include more interdisciplinary practitioners like dance, music, writing and art,” she added, mentioning she was also seeking sponsors.

For her Asia House artist residency, Soga is exploring how the building, its architecture and light and sound, reflect and relate to its current use where multiple activities are undertaken around Asia, and its former use, as the Institute of Psychoanalysis.

“When Pamela first invited me to come to Asia House, I by chance found a book by Yukio Mishima in the Asia House Library, my favourite author,” Soga said, adding she had been astounded by the amount of synchronicity that had taken place since she met Kember.

Kember added: “Sir Peter Wakefield (who founded Asia House in 1996) met with Mishima in Tokyo in the 1960s, and his wife Felicity remembered the encounter, so there has been a lot of synchronicity with Eiko.

“Whether one believes in synchronicity – a term coined by the psychoanalyst , Carl Jung, as a meaningful connection between two events, or not, this led to the project facilitating an awareness of being creative, in the moment,” Kember explained.

“Eiko is in particular exploring how a translation of people’s mind and their spoken language create a space where misunderstanding, imagination and delusion can occur,” Kember added.

“I was also thinking a lot about languages on that first trip,” Soga recalled.  “I had realised my English was not good and my Japanese was getting worse and so I got worried about my languages and started to speak to other people and analysts to understand people’s relationship with language,” she said over coffee, pastries, sushi and soup outside the Asia House Library.

The guests then entered the Library to see Soga’s work in progress.

Surprisingly, all the furniture apart from the book shelves had been removed and the books, that are usually a showpiece of Asia House Library, had been turned round to face the wall so the paper as opposed to book spines was visible. A sound installation was also discreetly situated producing faint noises. These were “the sound of moments,” Kember explained, “where human thoughts are being translated into utterances, or spoken words.”

“Eiko’s inspiration comes from the attempt of trying to read between the lines of people’s communication with one another and their tangible reality. As an artist, Eiko is inviting audiences to explore their own boundaries between their inner space and the outside world and for them to explore their own boundaries through psychological and physical sensations,” Kember said.

“I like people to have time to slow down, so I turned the books around to explore the idea of translation, communication with others, and the environment. I am very interested in the space between spaces. I like coming into Asia House rather than going to the studio every day,” Soga added.

Soga has been given the freedom to use any part of the building for her project. She also took the guests down to a barely-used part of Asia House in the basement that used to be therapy rooms and said she would be producing work there too.

“It has created quite a stir with the head of operations at Asia House, Philip Woodford-Smith, as he keeps noticing small changes I have made and taking things down that I have put up. I had put up green sticky tape everywhere and he took it down,” she added, laughing.

“For one who considers himself visually alert, I was shocked to realise that I had not immediately registered Eiko’s reversing of the whole library,” said Clive Phillpot, writer, curator, and former Director of the Library at MoMA, New York.

“She is an engineer of perceptions. But she is also concerned with the immaterial – the movement of light and shadows. Eiko’s interventions in the spaces of Asia House were most accomplished and provocative,” he added.

Eiko Soga exhibition

Eiko Soga’s project at Asia House


For more information about the artist-in-residence workshops email Pamela Kember  on