Since around 2015, Sawazaki has continued his practice and research in public engagement through art. While he had been creating and presenting a multitude of contemporary artworks primarily centered around visual media prior to this period, it was the production of the theatrical documentary film “The Garden in Movement” (Directed by Kenichi Sawazaki, 85 minutes, 2016) that captured the activities of the French gardener Gilles Clément, which catalyzed his involvement in the research and investigative activities conducted by field researchers from the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN). This led to the creation of numerous ethnographic films and educational materials documenting field surveys in Southeast Asia, Africa, and various regions in Japan.
In the field research setting, it was possible to catch a glimpse of not only the primary research interests of the researchers but also the wisdom, ingenuity, and surprises that often remain unnoticed (referred to as the “Potential of the field”) within the context of local life. However, many of these aspects have been relegated to the periphery of research outcomes, limited to episodic descriptions within the main findings. Supported by a grant from the Toyota Foundation, Sawazaki’s research focused on the sensory aspects of the researchers’ findings, conducting a study on expressive techniques in visual arts to visualize and manifest these facets within the context of local life.
- The Toyota Foundation, Research Grant Program D16-R-0344, “Senses of Field Studies Standing on Peoples’ Livelihood: The search for phenotype of interdisciplinary research to take advantage of the video media.” (Principal researcher: Kenichi Sawazaki)
In 2018, as a result of research funded by the Toyota Foundation, Sawazaki, along with agricultural scientist Ueru Tanaka, who had served as the leader of the RIHN project “Desertification and Livelihood in Semi-Arid Afro-Eurasia” (2012-2016), established the non-profit organization Living Montage. Under Sawazaki’s initiative, this organization launched the platform “Living Montage”, which serves as the foundation for the interdisciplinary use of visual media. On this platform, they are actively exploring cross-disciplinary methodologies that broadly leverage visual imagery’s diverse possibilities, aiming to create new cultural narratives for sharing different values and inquiries.
Sawazaki’s doctoral research at Kyoto City University of Arts examined the production process of the multilayered documentary film “#manazashi” (Directed by Kenichi Sawazaki, 124 minutes, 2021). This film was created based on records from field surveys conducted by Ueru Tanaka and cultural anthropologist Takao Shimizu. The study aimed to explore methods for reinterpreting the “Potential of the field” as a living resource and discovery within the cinematic “margin” (i.e., a time for viewers to recall their own experiences and engage in contemplation). What became evident here was the overlap between the sensory aspects of academic research and artistic expressions related to imagery from a meta-perspective, creating opportunities for insights and learning for both fields through interdisciplinary collaboration.
The peer-reviewed paper: Kenichi Sawazaki, “Living Montage: the “margins” of the field.” is a scholarly paper in which Sawazaki reflects on his methodology, providing a fresh perspective on the value of field researchers’ experiences. One of the techniques discussed is “Horizontal Montage.” As an illustrative case, a video work titled “#manazashi After the Rain, Horizontally, On the Street” (10 minutes, 2021) was created by re-editing specific footage from the film “#manazashi.” The article includes a QR code that directs readers to access this work within the publication.
- Peer-reviewed paper: Kenichi Sawazaki, “Living Montage: the “margins” of the field.” Toi-Tou-Toi vol.0, Center for the Promotion of Interdisciplinary Education and Research, Kyoto University.
Sawazaki has extended the methodology he experimented with while collaborating with field researchers in “#manazashi” to explore collaboration with researchers from different disciplines, particularly those specializing in natural sciences. In pursuit of this, he participated in the “Fundamentals” project (organized by the Japan Association of Communication for Science and Technology(JACST), among others) to promote interaction between scientists and artists on a broader scale.
During this project, Sawazaki encountered specialists in surface and interface science, Taketoshi MINATO, Mutsuo Ishikawa in biomedical and human engineering, and Toshiaki Ichinose in geography and urban environmental studies. Since 2021, he has been engaged in individual exchanges with each of them.
Starting in the latter half of 2023, with the collaboration of these three experts, a joint research project titled “The Emotions of Scientists in Describing and Analyzing Research Processes through Multimodal Collaboration” was initiated. This project focuses on scientists’ sensory perceptions and emotions within the knowledge production process from various aspects, including molecular, physical, and urban contexts.
In March 2022, at the “Fundamentals Fest Mini” exhibition held at JR Ueno Station (organized by JACST, 2022), a collaborative video work titled “Documentary Footage of Dialogue,” led by Sawazaki along with various scientists, was presented and screened.
Since around 2021, Sawazaki, along with cultural anthropologist Kae Amo, who specializes in contemporary society and Islam, and Yo Nonaka, an expert in Islam and gender, has been planning and operating the project “Young Muslim’s Eyes: Crosswork between Arts and Studies.” Using visual media, this project aims to reveal how Japanese society is perceived through the perspectives of young Muslims living in Japan against the backdrop of diversity and multicultural coexistence. The project seeks to conduct research and artistic practices through collaborative video production with young Muslims.
In this context, the term “young Muslims” includes various profiles of young people, such as second-generation individuals born and raised in Japan to parents from Islamic countries or Japanese individuals who converted to Islam. Through the project’s activities, it aims to uncover how these young Muslims, while practicing their religion, establish relationships with people and society in Japan. It also focuses on the interactions between different actors (researchers, participants, photographers, etc.) in the video production process. It incorporates this into the final media expressions and evaluates and analyzes it as part of the artistic output.
In this participatory project, all the members and participants, who are young Muslims, essentially engage in mutual filming using cameras. The recorded video materials are uploaded to the cloud as common or shared resources. Based on these shared materials, each proceeds with video production according to their values and thoughts. In this research, the collection of films created through this process is called “Commons Films.”
The exhibition “Young Muslim’s Eyes: The one being taken a picture of is certainly me, but I wonder who is the one taking the picture?” (Kyoto Seika University Satellite Space Demachi, 2023) and the documentary film “#manazashi Young Muslim’s Eyes” (43 min 30 sec, 2023, premiered at the Madani International Film Festival) serve as examples of the outcomes of this project. Thus far, the distinctive features of this project include the empowerment of the participants, collaboration between participants, researchers, and artists, as well as a meta-level examination of the medium of film, among other diverse aspects.