From the breakfast room in my Shibuya hotel one can see Fuji-san! It’s a remarkably clear morning and it looks like the endless city stretches until the foothills of Fuji begin (it doesn’t quite). It’s a weird sight—a vision of a planet that is all city, except for the occasional volcano.
I went to Tokyo to be present for the installation of a small art show (one piece likely needed technical tweaking). The space is in Harajuku, and it’s called Vacant. The parents of the gallerist are old friends of mine, and the dad had a chain of clothing stores that sold U.S. thrift store items. Similarly direct, it was called Department Store. He’s sold the business now.
When I was in town for my performances over a year ago I saw some photos he had by Ikebana (flower arranging) artist Yukio Nakagawa. I’d seen a few of his own photo documentations of his work in an ICP show that Noriko Fuku curated a while back, but now I was seeing a lot more—and was blown away.
I’ve seen some wacky Ikebana work before, but Nakagawa’s stuff is way extreme. Some of it isn’t even recognizable as flowers; though in the titles one finds that indeed is often the material used—but mashed, pulverized, sexualized.
These images are from some time ago. Nakagawa-san is still alive, though he lives in a nursing home now. Apparently he trained in a proper Ikebana school, but was sort of kicked out—gee, I wonder why. To us in the West this might not seem a big deal, but in Japan, where flower arranging is a big business—and being certified is like a law degree or a medical degree—certification all but guarantees you a living for life. So being "disbarred," as it were, was a serious business—it forced Nakagawa into a subsistence existence. My friend Seiji and his son Yusuke have been negotiating with the Nakagawa family to do prints for a show in early 2011.
Nakagawa was pals with Kazuo Ohno, the father of Bhuto dance, and a wild figure all on his own. Of course these two revolutionaries would cross paths. Though what, if anything, they did together, I don’t know.
My own show was some old and some new stuff, and most of them without text, as that’s a bit of a barrier here. There were two relatively new pieces—one of which is a piece with almost 100 guitar pedals that the public is invited to walk over.
Here’s a kid taking an audio stroll at the opening.
As he steps on each pedal it either turns on or off, depending on its current state, and the sound of a guitar loop (the guitar is off camera in this picture) is affected in some way. Echo, flanging, distortion, pitch shifting, delays, auto filters—the combinations are pretty limitless and sometimes sound quite nice!
This piece was originally done for a benefit The Kitchen (an arts space in NY) was having a year or so ago at which they were “honoring” the artist Christian Marclay, who does a lot of sound and audio works. So this piece was inspired by his work, in a way. However, the fire marshal at that event said the piece had to be removed, as I’d installed it in a hallway between two spaces—which I did as a further encouragement for folks to walk on it. Though I made a narrow safe passage around the side for the timid and for ladies in heels, the fire marshal was, I think, miffed that he’d never been consulted, so he showed us who was boss. By the time the partygoers arrived the piece was gone.
The oldest pieces in this show were some prints of some pictures I’d taken of a video monitor that were possibilities for the Bush Of Ghosts record cover. We ended up using similar pictures with little figures, that Eno took at the same time. In those days (1980, I think) one could mess with the color controls on a TV or video monitor, and with the addition of some video feedback get some pretty trippy vortex visuals. Turning the color settings way off and fucking with the contrast and other tiny knobs was very hands on, and not so different than messing with guitar pedals. One can’t do this with digital flat screen TVs—you’d have to access and manipulate a whole array of menus simultaneously, which isn’t really possible.
There were also some large banners of the inside of masks—Halloween masks of political figures (in this case Bush I and II hung on either side of Saddam Hussein). There is a whole series of these.
Note that the gallery space isn’t a white cube like the ones in Chelsea and elsewhere. It’s wood-paneled and half the floor is covered in wacky floral linoleum (made in Japan), so it has a little bit the feeling of a giant rec room or suburban basement.
There were some old and new lenticulars, which are sometimes known as winky dinks. In one older group Danielle Spencer and I altered some photos I’d taken of corporate tombstones so that from one view they’d have the name of the company, and from a couple of feet to the side they’d say something like “honesty” or “trust”—what these corporations would like to elicit from us, but certainly don’t these days.
Lastly, there was another group of lenticulars that each consisted of three photos of roundish objects on black backgrounds, but as one moved, the objects overlapped and almost morphed into one another. It becomes hard to see where one object begins and another ends.
Here’s a sample—as an animated gif. It’s not the same, but you get the idea.
We all went out for dinner a few times, and twice had a seasonal dish that Seiji said was made of the organ that fish eggs come from (but NOT the eggs themselves). He said its name is translated as “white baby.”
Needless to say, on my day off I went for a bike ride. There aren’t many bike lanes in Tokyo, but more and more people are riding anyway. There are lots and lots of bikes locked up here and there, and the bank where I used a cash machine had indoor bike parking! Not many banks in the U.S. cater to cyclists like that.
As some of the main thoroughfares are busy a lot of cyclists ride on the sidewalks, which is pretty insane from our point of view—though I didn’t see anyone get hurt or yelled at. But a few times as I was walking I had to jump out of the way as a housewife with a basket of groceries slalomed through the throngs of pedestrians.
I stopped at the Mori Museum—a contemporary art space on the top floor of one of Tokyo’s rare skyscrapers. This one in the middle of a development called Roppongi Hills that includes condos, offices, cinemas, shops, restaurants and a rooftop viewing area with a heliport. The main show was a retrospective of Odani Motohiko, a contemporary sculptor. He represented Japan at the Venice Biennial in 2003.
Then I biked to 21 21 Design Sight, a new design museum designed by Tadao Ando. The concrete building is half submerged in a park—which was a pleasant surprise, as a small urban public park is sort of a rare thing in itself in Japan. Though it’s a design museum and their upcoming show includes Sottsass and other furniture designers, their shows generally encompass an impressively wide range of material.
The show I saw was called Reality Lab, and it was curated by fashion designer Issey Miyake—who was also an instigator in the creation of this museum 3 years ago. Whether he curated all the parts, I’m not sure, but I think they were, which made it all the more surprising.
One section was an exhibit of meteorites—both actual and in large photo blowups, that allowed one to see their interior structure and makeup. In the same room were interspersed a collection of globes—some of Earth, but most of moons and other planets, colored to reveal their geologic structure or other features.
Further on there were large photos by Hiroshi Iwasaki of various items than had been frozen using a new technique called CAS (Cells Alive System) that minimizes tissue damage during freezing, which allows for specimen storage and food preservation than keeps nutrients, freshness and flavor intact. Like the meteorites and globes, this was almost more science exhibit than art of design, but the overlap was exciting.
There were more varied groupings of more science related items here and there, but the largest room featured a collaboration between Miyake and some scientists and students that eventually, no surprise, ended up as innovative designs for clothing.
Next to a wall covered with mathematical formulas (used in the process) were the beginnings of the designs—which were experiments in paper folding. Like Ikebana, origami has broken free of its roots and is now a hands-on way of investigating serious studies of morphology and topology. Believe it or not, the shapes below were made by folding flat pieces of paper!
In some display cases were samples of these paper foldings that one could touch and examine. I pulled a few apart gingerly to see how they were made, and even the Japanese kids around me were amazed, we all went ooh and ahh. I then had a little bit of a hard time getting the pieces to resume their folded shapes—luckily the paper has some memory, so it guided me.
Miyake then had the students do similar foldings with fabrics, which were sewn along just one side, creating a tube, and unfolded to make dresses that retained much of their foldings. He had metallic pigment (almost like silver leaf) roughly added to the top surface when the items were folded, so you saw what was exposed when the garment was in its folded configuration. Here is the garment emerging from its flat form in reverse order.
Now, back to Vacant, and later we're going out for more white baby!