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Japanese contemporary art on display at TFAM

By Psyche Cho
Staff Reporter
Photo courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is a strong trend-setter in fashion, technology and creativity, commanding huge numbers of followers in Asia and the world. This vigor is also reflected in interpretations of contemporary art that come out of the city.

An exhibition from the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, a stronghold for collecting and exhibiting contemporary artworks, had been touring Asia for the past three years, serving to present a representative of the variety to be found in Japanese contemporary art. A selection of works from the museum has traveled to Bangkok in 2009, Singapore in 2010 and Taipei in 2011, with Taiwan as the final stop of its tour in Asia.

Cool Tokyo

Trans-Cool Tokyo: Contemporary Japanese Art from the MOT Collection, features 45 artworks ranging from paintings and installation to video and multimedia creations from 18 artists and is now on display in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum until September 25.

The name of the exhibition, Trans-Cool Tokyo, is derived from the concept Cool Japan, a concept used to promote the culture of Japan. However, the show not only introduces the coolness feature in Japanese pop culture “but further attempts to represent the evolution in style and future trends in development,” says curator Yuko Hasegawa.

She adds that viewers will also find out how Japanese artists formed their distinct style in the globalized pop culture of the second half of the 1990s.

Comics, video games, pop art and high technology are all an integral part of Japanese culture. Versatile artists employ various materials and means to explain the connection between art, pop culture and everyday life.

Japanese pop art

Murakami Takashi's work Flower is one of the representative works of Japanese contemporary art. (photo courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum)Japanese pop art features reduplication and massive production of transformed local concepts such as cuteness. The two techniques combine to create a diseased and abnormal sensation and an endless optimism and cheerfulness in Murakami Takashi’s works, according to the curator.

Takashi’s artistic concepts are greatly influenced by Japanese manga and video games. He has created a number of colorful comic paintings which have made him one of the best known Japanese artists in the world.

Similarly, Nara Yoshitomo portrays adorable children and animals in front of blank backgrounds. In his opinion they are symbols of immaturity and innocence. “These manga-esque children symbolize the sensibilities of the times, that is, they are a reflection of the adult world in Japan today,” says the curator.

Idiosyncratic nature of perception

Rather than the composition or concept of a work, the idiosyncratic nature of perception in Japanese art has been one of the reasons it has attracted attention.

Nawa Kohei's work PixCell-Deer #17, made of stuffed animal, glass beads and other materials. (photo courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum)Is everything the way we see it? Nawa Kohei throws the question to viewers as he decorates a stuffed deer he purchased online with glass beads in various sizes. Through the work PixCell-Deer #17, Kohei wishes to highlight the vagueness that exists between fiction and reality.

Born in 1929, artist Kusama Yayoi suffers from illusions of dots, nets and flowers covering everything that she sees. She applies the illness to her art, using numerous dots and patterns on her paintings. These repetitive images appear in her paintings and she admits that though it is boring, it’s a way to help her calm her down.

Micropolitics and the search for reality

People in contemporary society are bombarded with massive volumes of information every day. An individual tends to suffer a sense of nothingness due to the lack of a feeling of belonging, and thus develops a feeling of vagueness toward space. These characteristics enable new interpretations of what we take for granted in our daily lives.

Shimabuku's video work Then, I decided to give a tour of Tokyo to the octopus from Akashi inspires viewers to develop a new perspective of daily life.  (photo courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum)Shimabuku, poet and traveler, attempts to revive stiffed thoughts and break away from routines through his works. In his video work, Then, I decide to give a tour of Tokyo to the octopus from Akashi, Shimabuku took an octopus he caught in Akashi on board the Shinkansen and went all the way to Tokyo. Another photo work, Tour of Europe with One Eyebrow Shaven, captures the moment the artist shaved off one of his eyebrows on the London Subway during a tour of Europe in 1991.

These wonder-filled trips, according to the artist, are a metaphor saying that we always have an impulse to overturn boring reality, either by escaping it or facing it from new perspectives.

Tanaka Koki’s work, Pick up something from FRAC Champagne-Ardenne and bring it into the city, then make some noise, is also an attempt to reinterpret an everyday scene through repetitive actions. He relocated some objects collected from the FRAC-French Art Center and made some noise with them, trying to arouse unusual feelings from onlookers.

“Common among these artists,” says the curator, “is a perception colored by a certain obsession or anxiety that results in idiosyncratic imagery.”

Techno-conscious body

One of the most interesting features of Japanese art, notes the curator, is that Japanese artists’ interest in technology is on a level close to worship. They also have a very strong awareness of interfaces.

0 and 1, the simple binary language of computing, now dominates people’s lives. Endless combinations yield ever-changing images that we see on the screen and sounds we hear from the machine. But what will happen when the program being played is decoded and rearranged?

Ikeda Ryoji set up a 10 multi-projector audiovisual installation to randomly run the data matrix. These seemingly nonsense images are transformed into another type of order through the artist’s detached yet forceful touch.

Takagi Masakatsu’s video works Bloomy Girls and El Vento pursue the ultimate performance in multi-media technology. Adachi Kiichiro, on the other hand, uses real objects to test the borders between humans and machines. He transforms a conventional telephone booth into a personal disco, equipped with lighting effects and resounding music.

The person inside the booth is surrounded by mirrors reflecting his / her image. They can wear a headset and dance with the music, while passers-by outside can see through the glass. Kiichiro’s experiment has overturned its conventional purpose and given a new meaning to ‘communication’ through the installation.

Special thanks to Taiwan

It should be noted that nine of the participating artists have presented a joint work to express their thanks to Taiwan for the aid offered in the aftermath of the earthquake that occurred March 11 in Japan. The video is being shown throughout the exhibition period.