25 April 2023
A conversation with the photographer Francis Kanai and poet Malaya Malandro
In March, Metalabel received a message about an intriguing project. Called Everything Is a Self-Portrait, the project was an art book offering “an exploration of the relationship between self and other.”
After a video call and series of emails with the two artists behind the work — Francis Kanai, a Japan-based photographer, and Malaya Malandro, a LA-based poet and artist — we were deeply moved by the project, and began discussing how we could publish the book together.
Eight weeks later, we are extremely proud to present the debut of a meaningful, beautiful, and prescient 300-page hardcover, cloth-bound book printed in Japan, with a limited First Edition run of just 200 copies, 50 available through Metalabel.
The book combines striking pairings of Kanai’s beautiful black-and-white photography with Malandro’s casual and affecting poetry to create a mesmerizing meditation on the notion of self and the aimless internal ennui of our age. Or, as Francis put it in an interview with us, “a hint at the idea that whatever may capture one's attention (the good and the bad) is a kind of reflection, a hint of our unending self.”
Metalabel and FKMM (the name for Francis and Malaya’s collaborations) are collaborating to release Everything Is a Self-Portrait as an onchain record containing one of 50 physical editions of the book, as well as five digital pieces composed using their photography and poetry. These limited editions are available for .05 ETH/$90 USD.
In preparing for this Quality Drop, we sent some questions to Francis and Malaya about their collaboration. They responded from Japan, where they were picking up the final versions of the physical book for the first time.
Francis Kanai: Malaya and Francis
Malaya Malandro: We’re both long time friends and artists and workers haha. For this project I focused on the writing and Francis on the photography, we worked together on editing and designing the book.
FK: It's the title of a book we made, a book of photos and poetry. It's also a hint at the idea that whatever may capture one's attention (the good and the bad) is a kind of reflection, a hint of our unending self.
MM: It's a 307 page little black book we both created and designed over the course of several years. It has been both a practice and part of our practice for a while now!
MM: We arrived at the book's title through our conversations, much like the genesis of the book itself. We found that our work serves as a means to not only see ourselves in others but also in moments and seemingly mundane things that exist outside of our bodies. By directing our attention towards these things, they begin to reflect us and form a sort of self-portrait. Hopefully each person who places their attention into the book will also see themselves reflected in the reading and viewing of the book, either directly or indirectly.
FK: Inspire is a tricky word. It just kind of happened. Malaya and I have been friends for a while and from the jump got along very well with a similar sense of humor and balance of confidence and doubt pointed both inwardly and outwardly. As a result we enjoyed checking in with each other about the state of our personal situations and the world at large. During one of these talks we got started on what was supposed to be a smaller zine project for a series of photos I wanted to do something with. The first try at this didn't really take off and a couple years later it came up again in conversation. This time it happened, however something more than we had planned for unfolded.
MM: For me a lot of the writing was an exorcism of meaning and even identity and darkness that we probably have all felt at some point stuck inside of ourselves. I am lucky to have a good and talented friend who could read through and understand it all and even help me nail down what the writing itself wanted to become alongside the imagery and in the medium of a book.
Our collaborative process determined the outcome of the book. It was like a discipline that was a practice in itself: how to water and care for the garden of your friendships, especially one that would bear creative fruit to share with others.
MM: Personally I discovered a lot about myself, and also was able to observe a tension between looking for meaning vs. acting on a creative urge on a desire to make something, then honing that desire into something worthwhile for your own self outside of external factors. Beyond validation or monetary wins or impressing/getting revenge on some grand headless faceless entity, there is so much freedom. Together we were able to get out of our heads of “What does it mean / why is it important / what is it going to be?!” A bird doesn’t sit on an egg and wonder those things before the egg is hatched. In the same way with less worry you can play more, be more intentional but in a very present way?
FK: Yes, yes! Trusting each other and yourself, trying to be an active participant, neither overly passive nor overbearing, listening and trying to be honest. The navigation of, "is this good, bad, just different? Where are we really, where are we trying to go?"
At the end just realizing that I trust and want the best for Malaya and have faith that she trusts and wants the best for me (in all our imperfect ways), and that we both ultimately want the same thing for the project. So if we didn't see a particular aspect during the design process the same way (I'm into "it" and she isn't or vice versa) rather than trying to discuss why it is or isn't good thus convincing the other (which we definitely did), simply working to refine or replace whatever that contentious "it" was so that we both felt, "yes, this is good," was always the more satisfying path with the best results. The only thing that was sacrificed in this approach was time which was perfectly fine, we were gonna play together regardless. The journey, not the destination, is real.
MM: I think we are working on that! At least I am. Part of the lesson is sharing all the shit stored away without feeling like you’re pimping yourself out or being just baseline embarrassed or ashamed like “oh god please am I being desperate right now?”
The work is made (the hardest part) and you’re telling me now I should share? What if it's stupid and every person I’ve thought was cool hates me bc how dare I share? How dare I share, when there’s so much else to be done that needs attention: dishes, paying bills, staying off bodily entropy, being a good neighbor etc. But because we both can be like this it helps because it's like we’re in those emotions together! Like oh well I feel good sharing and working on this and that honest urge and discipline behind it is enough of a reason (maybe).
FK: I have been sharing work as repeat_pattern on the internet here and there but I'm not sure that's relevant here? This project is of course related because it's part me but also unique to that. We have designs to continue exploring and creating as FKMM so this would be the first project of that journey.
FK: So far, what I think I understand the desired ideal state of Metalabel to be is another way/venue to find hints of who we are as individuals, as groups, as communities, through nurturing the aesthetic appreciation and creation of patterns (art). An attempt to recover digitally facilitated communities from the wreckage of corporate prospecting of community. This seems in some ways similar to what Malaya and I have clumsily attempted with our book journey? I find that interesting. The Metalabel journey is still early at the time of this answer but it's been a warm and supportive one up to this point. I'm very thankful to have had this interaction.