My first stop in Tokyo, once i had dropped my suitcase at the hotel was for the Mori Art Museum. The Roppongi art space has opened Medicine and Art, an exhibition which, despite its grandiloquent sub-title "Imagining the Future for Art and Love", was every bit as brilliant as i had hoped.
Prosthetics, anatomical drawings by Michelangelo, an ornate amputation saw from ca. 1650, disturbing prints by Patricia Piccinini, diagrams by René Descartes, Tibetan anatomical figures, a painting by Damien Hirst, etc. Some 150 medical artifacts from the Wellcome Collection in London and works of old Japanese and contemporary art are exhibited side by side. Without any hierarchy nor anxiety. Each and everyone of them offers the most seducing spectacle about life.
From ancient times humans have sought to unravel the secret mechanisms of the body, developing in the process a wealth of medical expertise. At the same time we have seen our own bodies as vessels for the representation of ideals of beauty, and long sought to depict our bodies in paintings and drawings.
The exhibition is bold, provoking and it has the merit of bringing together oriental medicine and our own western idea of the art and science of healing.
The first part of the exhibition is all about Discovering the Inner World of the Body: How did people around the world first acquire understanding of the mechanisms of the human body and the vast world it contains? The first section of the exhibition answers that question by tracing various scientific developments through a vast array of artefacts. One of the highlights of the show is a series of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. For the Renaissance man, understanding the human body was a first step towards uncovering the mysteries of the outside world. Besides, his work epitomizes the spirit of the Tokyo exhibition. Da Vinci, better than anyone, managed to combine a scientific and an artistic approach to the study of the human body.
This 30-cm tall, fully articulated iron manikin is thought to have been used at mediacal schools during the 16th and 17th centuries for demonstrating the structure of joints and for teaching joint-related how to treat joint-related diseases.
The second section, Fighting Against Death and Disease covers the way people have tried to fight against death and disease through the ages. In addition to presenting the history of medicine, pharmaceuticals, artificial limbs and organs, life sciences and scientific technology, this section poses philosophical questions about the nature of life and death with the various memento mori works.
One of the most striking pieces in the show is Alvin Zafra's 'Argument from Nowhere'. It doesn't look like anything else but an abstract painting. Until you read the notice and see the video of how the artwork came to life. Zafra vigorously grounded a human skull to powder against a seven-meter long panel of sandpaper, leaving a soft gradient of grey monotones. The operation took 14 days. Zafra said his motivation was "to paint a beautiful image of death."
Tetsuya Noguchi crafted two figures. The first one represents a young warrior wearing armor in the style of the Warring States period, the second sculpture represents the same man, only he is thirty years older and lives therefore in the Azuchi-Momoyama period.
The armour worn by the figures is ambivalent. Made to protect the body and relieve warriors's fear of death and misery, this armour also features several targets that invites death or injury to the body.
In the early 1920's, Ernst Pohl created the ground-breaking Omniscope. This X-ray machine could be rotated completely around the patient which greatly enhanced the diagnostic and therapeutic potential. By the end of World War II, around 400 units had been manufactured and delivered throughout Europe, the USA, Japan and the Soviet Union (via.)
In 1851, Kamata Keishu compiled a ten-volume medical treatise called Geka kihai in which he described and illustrated the surgical techniques pioneered by his teacher, surgeon, Hanaoka Seishu. The illustration above shows the excision of a cancerous growth from a woman's breast, an operation which Hanaoka Seishu first carried out in 1804 using general anesthetic.
The picture above shows the ancestor of respiratory nasal masks. The patient with respiratory problems was encased in the wooden box up to their neck. The air pressure inside the box was alternated by operating the giant leather bellows. This caused the lungs to inflate and deflate so the person could breathe. During black outs or period of unstable electrical power supply, nurses were said o have operated it by pushing the bellows with their hands.
To be continued...
One of the most popular pavilions this year is probably the Japanese one, surrounded as it is by greenhouses, little wooden benches and tea tables for visitors to have a rest.
The pavilion, called Extreme Nature: Landscape of Ambiguous Spaces, is a joint project by ex-SANAA architect Junya Ishigami and star botanist Hideaki Ohba. Its interior is sleek, luminous and looks empty... until you notice the delicate pencil drawings traced on the cream walls. They illustrate an architecture entirely made of natural elements (trees, flowers, other plants, mountains, lakes, etc.). The real nature is just outside the pavilion, in the neatly trimmed garden and inside four vertical greenhouses where Ikebana-inspired garden arrangements grow without air conditioning systems, creating an imperfect artificial environment.
The pavilion spreads outside its walls, its spills in the garden and it's hard to delineate its exact boundaries. There's no dualistic relationship between inside and outside, between architecture and landscape. The furniture which one would expect to find inside a tea room are distributed in the garden. The doors are left open, not even the temperature difference can be used as a factor to differentiate between the inside and the outside. The only structure built specifically for this edition of thee architecture biennale are the delicate and transparent greenhouses and they are not located inside the pavilion either.
The Japanese Pavilion itself is made to appear as an artificial environment or an element of topography. The original outdoor space overlaps with the space that emerges between the ephemeral steel structures covered with glass, causing the appearance of a doubled, ambiguous space. The condition of space produced here makes us aware that everything in it - the plants inside and outside, the furniture, the architecture, the topography, and the environment - exists simultaneously.
Previous works by young Ishigami show a similar attention for the smooth blending of nature and architecture. A spectacular example of that practice is the KAIT Studio designed earlier this year for the Kanagawa Institute of Technology.
Slideshow of the pictures i took at the Japanese pavilion last week:
Source for images 1 and 3.
The Venice Biennale of Architecture continues until Nov. 23, 2008.
I made it just on time to see the last day of Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video From Japan, an exhibition that closed a few days ago at the International center of photography in Manhattan.
The work of the 13 Japanese artists on show visits three main themes. The one i found most fascinating and probably also most Japanese investigates the tension between individual expression and collective identity in contemporary Japan.
She might not be as beautiful as Cindy Sherman but that doesn't prevent Tomoko Sawada to create compelling images. Her "School Days" series shows groups of girls in their high school uniforms lined up in neat rows. At first sight, they are all different. But a closer watch reveals that each of the girl (including the teacher's) has the face of Sawada who with subtlety varies her smile, adds an accessory in her hair, stands with an arrogant stance or adopts a demure posture. What was a sweet and innocent school portraits turns into a satire of Japan's homogeneity and emphasis on conformity (interview of the artist on Pingmag.)
Hiroh Kikai's portraits also talk about individuality. Since 1973 the photographer has roamed the Asakusa district of Tokyo, looking for people whom he defines as having a 'take my picture please' aura. So far he has collected 600 b&w portraits of strangers posing against the blank walls of the Sensoji Temple. Most of the people he selected seem to be ordinary. Yet, there is something definitely unconventional about each of them (more images).
We knew about Masayuki Yoshinaga's portraits of goth-lolitas but the photographer also spent 7 years making portraits of Bōsōzoku, the teenage biker gangs, often linked to the Yakuza. A former member of the Bosozoku himself, Yoshinga managed to get access to their activities and had the gang pose for him.
A second theme in the exhibition examines the relationship of the adult to the child, a key subject in a country facing a rapidly graying demographic.
Kenji Yanobe's works explore the idea of survival in a post-atomic world.
The installation Blue Cinema in the Woods centers on a child-size movie theater set on the back of an elephant. Outside the theater stands a ventriloquist's dummy called Torayan, who appears frequently in Yanobe's work. Torayan is wearing a mini Atom suit ('Atom' comes from the robot character in Osamu Tezuka' s comic book Astro Boy), a child version of the radiation suit that the artist wore in 1997 when he carried out a performance at Chernobyl.
In the video shown inside the movie theater, Torayan appears with Yanobe's father, an amateur ventriloquist. Using American civil-defense films of the 1950s, he instructs Torayan about the measures to be taken if atomic disasters were to happen again.
Miwa Yanagi's b&w photo series, "Fairy Tale," consists of reinterpretations of western stories in a very Film Noir fashion. The protagonists are all young girls. The young girls are set upon by nasty old women but they have very little in common with the Disney-like innocence of their age. They put up a fight and prove not so helpless after all. They use their youth and cunning to triumph in rather heartless fashion over their aged tormentors.
The third theme in the exhibition Heavy Light is the conflict between human culture and nature, best exemplified in the work of Naoya Hatakeyama and Naoki Kajitani.
Hatakeyama being so famous, i'll focus on Naoki Kajitani. The young digital street photographer takes his camera primarily in the Kansai region around Osaka, one of the traditional centers of Japan's "low" entertainment culture. Despite of this clear location, Kajitani's photos are 'generic', they represent fragments of the whole country. One which is saturated with garish commercial imagery. His large-scale, Pop-style photographs shows Japan as a cramped environment saturated with noisy billboards, posters, pachinko parlours, power lines, adult shops and advertising displays that appear both playful and sordid.
In an interview for the catalog of the exhibition, the photographer explained that the areas his work focuses on are being redeveloped at a fast pace and are rapidly disappearing. His work might therefore end up becoming a valuable record of the period he is busy portraying.
Spaces showing and/or supporting contemporary art which engages with digital and electronic media have started to pop up all over Europe. Very. Slowly.
[plug.in] is one of them but i see at least two reasons that makes [plug.in] stand out from the thin crowd of media art spaces.
First, the Basel gallery exists for much longer than most (it opened in 2000). Second, and more interestingly, its programme is one of the most appealing i've ever seen in the field. [plug.in] exhibits and often commissions new internet, sound, interactive and software art; organizes events on media art and digital culture; offers visitor a library and a bar.
So far i had been following their programme through the newsletter, but when i read that [plug.in] was hosting the first solo exhibition in Europe of Tokyo-based artists Exonemo, i decided it was high time to go up North and visit the gallery.
The main piece is an installation which unfolds over two floors:
UN-DEAD-LINK explores questions of digitized and symbolized death between the physical and virtual world. The audience can see, feel and hear the effects that a symbolic death in a computer game can have in the physical exhibition space.
You're welcome in the gallery by a bunch of objects the artists found on flea markets in Basel. An old sewing machine, a piano, reading lamps, a paper shredder on top of a mountain of paper ribbons, a turntable with a plastic dog sleeping on a spinning disk, an old recorder playing crap music, etc. Each of them is animated by an invisible actor.
The explanation lurks downstairs in a dark room. There, soldiers on a screen do what they are supposed to do: they run after each other, they shoot and sometimes they kill. Each time one of them is killed, its death is given an almost tangible echo upstairs by one of the devices: more paper is shred, a light goes on, the sewing machine makes a few stitches. When visitors push the red button in front of the screen, all the avatars die and upstairs every single device seem to 'scream.'
Sembo Kensuke and Yae Akaiwa from Exonemo modified the game Half-Life2 and connected the mod to the piano upstairs. The electrical objects are connected by midi/dmx (protocol) with custom devices.
The work is extremely uncanny: Seeing and hearing the 'consequences' of a virtual death in the real world gives them a sinister weight. It's more disturbing then seeing a real war massacre on television, probably because today tv death seems almost as virtual as the death of an avatar.
[plug.in] is also showing DanmatsuMouse, a sort of geeky snuff movie in which computer mouses (or should i write 'computer mice'?) are happily destroyed using all sorts of tools on hand: the mouse gets fried in a pan, another one is swirled and crushed in a blender, etc. But something subsists beyond the death of the plastic mouse: its cadaver (a couple of tortured mice were exhibited in the gallery) and the cursor, or rather the data. The motions of the mouse and the cursor were recorded simultaneously by a video camera and a computer programme.
A DVD, available in the gallery space (did i mention that they also have a shop selling artists' editions and electronic gadgets), allows you to play back the sinister event: the movie of the mouse murder unfolds in parallel with the movements of its cursor that takes over the ones of the cursor on your own desktop.
exonemo - UN-DEAD-LINK is on view until September 14 at [plug.in] in Basel, Switzerland.
Previously on exonemo channel: Interview with Exonemo, MobLab presentation - Transmediale, Origami bus pattern, their installation at Synthetic Times, Ryota Kuwakubo, exonemo and ressentiment in Liverpool, etc.
Is there anyone left in this room who doesn't know how much i like Takashi Murakami (and his Kiki character)? Is there anyone who doesn't like his work? Or doesn't like to loathe its shallowness?
Now that i'm back in Europe (Yeah!), the usual programme will resume and start with Takashi Murakami retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum. I'm not going to bore everyone with a review of the show, just a few facts i discovered and images you've probably already seen everywhere.
- Murakami's company/factory/collective is called Kaikai Kiki which means elegant or strange or bizarre phenomena. The term was used in the 16th century by critics to describe the work of painter Kanō Eitoku as brave, powerful and yet keenly sensitive.
- Kaikai and Kiki are the pink and white stars of a new animation. They travel the world in a living spacecraft, watch as nasty monsters are turned into poop by a mighty princess and learn how to grow watermelons. Trailer:
- One of the reasons why Murakami is dubbed "the Japanese Warhol" is because he plays with the idea of blurring the commercial with the artistic. Not that he needs money to pay his rent, his Lonesome Cowboy sculpture recently sold at an auction for $15.1 million, nearly four times its $4 million high estimate. Aaanyway, Murakami did what even Warhol hasn't done: he installed a fully functioning Louis Vuitton shop right inside the museum.
- The artist re-appropriated the LV logo in the painting The World Of Sphere in 2003.
- The 18th century handscroll Compendium of Vegetables and Insects by Itō Jakuchū (detail) inspired the 7 panels of Murakami's catalog of mushrooms. But the mushroom that most troubles Murakami is the atomic one.
- For a guy who siphoned classical painters, Disney characters, mangas and everything in between he is effing obsessed with copy rights.
- Murakami has started making portraits. The museum is showing two paintings of r Bodhidharma, the sixth-century monk credited to have introduced Zen Buddhism to China.
There are numerous videos about Murakami on you tube, my favourite so far is this extract of one episode of Ben Lewis' art safari tv series:
The New York Times has more images.
Notes from the Re-Imagining Asia exhibition at The House of World Cultures in Berlin. The exhibition and other events, curated by Wu Hung and Shaheen Merali, examine how contemporary artists around the world re-invent the image we might have of Asia and the way in which the post-colonial production of knowledge is challenging Euro-centric concepts of art.
Asian art has reached a point where it is almost too hot to handle. New museums and art biennials are popping up all over the continent, the price paid to get a piece of Chinese art are going through the roof and Indian paintings and installations are exhibited all over Europe. Asian art is now so hype that one might think that another exhibition will just kill the enthusiasm. Well, this one won't. The works on show have not been selected for the artists' origins but for their focus on Asia as a space for the imagination. There are Chinese, Indian, Thai and Japanese artists but they are joined by Mexican, Germans and American artists.
As you enter the foyer of the House of World Cultures, you meet with Song Dong's installation Waste Not. It is nothing else but his parents' wooden house, which fell victim to urban planning in China. He reconstructed the house together with its entire inventory, a collection of utensils of all kinds accumulated by the artist's mother over a period of 50 years and offering a picture of 50 years of material culture in China. It is hard to imagine how several tv sets, so many kitchen utensils, books, old shoes, toys, buckets, plastic bags, ballpoint pens, cupboards, etc could fit into the tiny dwelling.
Song Dong grew up in Beijing. His mother taught him how to make the most of few resources, recycling, re-allocating and saving utensils for future use. The socialist motto was: 'Waste not'. The shabby borough he lived in has been cleared away for the Olympics a few years ago, but the government neglected to replace the old houses, so there is now an empty area.
On it Song Dong would like to build another wooden house in the traditional style as a call for the preservation of old Beijing.
Besides offering visitors a picture of Beijing life, the installation has relieved his mother of the dead weight of half a century and has done so without making her feel that her hoarding was futile. In fact she fulfilled the role of an artist herself by preparing the show. And each of her mundane and utilitarian objects has been elevated to the status of artwork.
The work presents an "archive of the Chinese Revolution" in 3 parts: Mao and the Revolution, Heroes and the Masses, People's Pictorial Archive. By presenting side by side unaltered photographies from original negatives and the images as they appeared in the media at the time, the installation shows how deliberate distortion of images became an essential mechanism of photo production, a way to satisfy a yearning for an idealized image and a propaganda tool. Long before the arrival of computer and photoshop. The methods used in the editing of these images involve mainly painting: a wrinkle between Mao's eyebrows vanishes, superfluous figures in the background are erased. (more images of Zhang Dali.)
And in no particular order:
The Bohdi Obfuscatus (Space Baby) by Michael Joo embodies perfectly the tensions and harmonies between novelty and tradition. In an homage to Nam June Paik, Joo borrowed a Korean Buddha from a local shrine and encased it in a halo of surveillance cameras, Fiber-optic lights cast projections onto flat TV screens while mirrors, mounted on poles that surround the sculpture, reflect images from the video displays, the Buddha sculpture and visitors as they walk around the installation.
Ujino Muneteru was in the house two. I only got to see the Ozone - So installation, a wooden temple turned into a tank and adorned with waste material, such as electric appliances, plush toys, bits of carpet, building materials and books collected around Tokyo by volunteers.
There was also the video of a musical performance Muneteru gave in Berlin. He played with blenders, hair dryers, parts of bicycles, used vinyl discs, turntables, not only was it fascinating to see him handle all this junk but it also sounded surprisingly good.
Shi Jinsong's razor-sharp line of baby products include a militarized Carriage, a sadistic Cradle and a predatory Walker. Na Zha Baby Boutique (Na Zha is a child warrior deity in Chinese mythology) tries to lure "shoppers" using stainless steel "products" which evoke both luxury and danger.
Bharti Kher's bindi-on-fiberglass elephant. The bindi in India is traditionally a mark of pigment applied to the forehead of men and women and is associated with the Hindu symbol of the 'third eye'. When worn by women in red, the bindi symbolises marriage. In recent times it has become a decorative item, worn by unmarried girls and women of other religions.
Bharti Kher covered her sculpture of a dying elephant in white bindi. The elephant is often regarded in Asia as a symbol of dignity, intelligence and strength. Kher marries the elephant and the bindi to contemplate the effects of popular culture, mass media and consumerism on the culture of India.