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February 2010
May 1st, 2006
Mon, May. 1st, 2006 10:58 am

Even when I'm in New York, I like to keep up with what's going down on the Tokyo art scene. A scan of websites may not replace the experience of gallery-going, but it can give you a scent, a whiff of what themes are playing out in Tokyo's white cubes. So here's a whirlwind thematic survey of the city's shows this spring, mostly based on listings on websites Tokyo Art Beat, RealTokyo, and Tactical.

Tokyoites love strange gadgets and new technology, and their art curators seem to have arranged an array of wondrous machines for them to marvel at. Head out to the Tokyo Bay area and into Maru Gallery and you'll see Makoto Ishiwata's new piece, "Vacuum Packing Heartbeat", "a polyhedron-shaped giant capsule which will vacuum pack the visitor from all sides in rubber, with additional rhythmic soundscape."

If you survive being vacuum-packed in rubber, you may find you've lost your memory. In that case, head to Art Front Gallery, Ebisu and have a good look at Scott de Vacherie's memory machines. Due to a traffic accident when he was 25, Scott has a memory which only lasts one day. He's made these machines to record his experience and help him remember stuff. Since he forgets each invention the day after he makes it, his sister helps him maintain the technology. Actually, to be honest, I don't believe this guy is real. His name, after all, is French for "messing about". Nevertheless, it sounds like a fun fiction to base a show around.

Roger McDonald of Tactical is interested in artist initiatives and parasitical gallery spaces (a bit like Maurizio Cattelan's Wrong Gallery). He's curated "Off the Record", a locker art project in Shibuya by Tokyo-based Belgian artist Eric Van Hove. Shibuya station uses a locker system called X-CUBE©, which allows multiple users to exchange packages through a touch screen, using cell phone numbers as digital-keys. Off the Record substitutes the package with an artwork or installation. "The curator or the artist places the artwork, then invites the first person to the show by registering his cell phone number with the X-CUBE©, and calling him to confirm. In the following hours, the invited viewer arrives at the station, uses his cell phone to unlock the gallery space (the locker), and pays ¥100 to view the work. He then invites the next person by registering a new cell phone number and calling to confirm, and so on...
Think of a Chinese whisper," explains Eric. I don't think this would work in the security-paranoid West.

Finally, the Mitaka City Gallery of Art seems to be cutting up amps, for those of you who harbour a secret Akihabara rubberneck character who likes to see the insides of machines. It's part of art critic Makoto Ohoka's show The Eyes of a Poet, of which Real Tokyo's Shirasaka Yuri says: "When I began to visit art exhibitions I was wondering why so many art critics are poets. Now it appears to me that the vocabulary used for discussing art is growing on soil that is different from where logical thinking comes from. I'm not sure yet though..."

That's a great cue for us to take our leave of technology and pass to something more girly...

Aya Takano is part of Takashi Murakami's Kaikaikiki stable. She's showing her girly, perverse, erotic paintings (they have a watery, blossomy, soft-edged manga feel) at Parco Museum, atop the Parco department store in Shibuya. Look here, though, and you'll see a somewhat worrying development. Like Takashi, Aya has enthusiastically embraced commerce. Her languid beanpoles used to be set in imaginary landscapes, on bicycles, in apple trees. Now they're posing in front of the Parco logo, or a Family Mart deli.

Has Aya Takano sold out? The question doesn't make much sense in Tokyo, where art and commerce flow back and forth with ease. Parco is a department store, but it houses an art museum. Laforet is a teen fashion emporium, one of the main motors of the Harajuku phenomenon (Marxy will tell you it peaked in 1996), and it also boasts a museum on its top floor. Right now it's showing, appropriately for its location, an unashamedly commercial show: Stylist Meets, an "Exhibition by 8 Stylists and Creator Teams". Well, didn't postmodernism collapse high and low forms? Hasn't Japan always failed to separate art from craft?

More art-fashion crossover is happening in Hellen Van Meene's photography exhibition "Tokyo Girls: A sense of you, created by me" at Tokyo Wonder Site, Shibuya. And the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography has a show of French fashion photographer Guy Bourdin's work. He died in 1991.

I remember Bourdin's name from 1970s copies of Vogue (my mum bought it, and I sneaked it up to my room to look at the sexy pictures) -- you'd see a tiny platform shoe perched on a red carpet leading up to a jet, that kind of thing. It was enough to distract me from teenage masturbation, anyway, so it must be good stuff.

There's lots more going on in the Tokyo cubes, so I'll do a Part 2 tomorrow looking at more themes: cool foreigners, women being sensitive, "men's exhibitions", nature worship and dream cities.