May 9th, 2009


Maru: emerging volumetric performance artist

One of the most exciting artists to emerge from Japan is Maru, a prolific cross-disciplinary volumetric performance artist whose pieces have acquired him a cult following in recent months. Maru's pieces -- shown exclusively by Mugumogu Gallery in Tokyo -- are videos of performances, always staged in the same minimal, monochromatic apartment setting.

As in the seminal Big Box and Maru (above), the artist is primarily concerned with the exploration of enclosed volumes: boxes, paper bags, bath-tubs and water bowls. We sense a deep curiosity at work as Maru, dressed up as a cat of the Scottish Fold breed, negotiates and interrogates the volumes, often penetrating them and turning them into a sort of "portable architecture".

Maru's best-known piece may be Dive into Diet, in which the artist -- commenting, perhaps, on the constraints of consumerism -- dives into a cardboard wrapper marked DIET, only to find himself trapped in it. But personally I find Mask Maru (above) a more deeply satisfying and profound statement . Parading around the house with a paper bag over his head, Maru prompts a deep consideration of the nature of delusion. He later repeated the performance with semi-transparent bubble-wrap -- a reference, perhaps, to Zen Buddhist ideas of enlightenment.

Despite its originality, this work clearly has precedents. Tunnel and Maru, for instance, recalls The Way Things Go by Swiss artists Fischli and Weiss, although it's possible that Maru may just have seen Pythagora Switch, the cult Japanese educational programme. And Playing with Water, a microtonal musical performance, is clearly indebted to Tomoko Miyata's work

The breadth of Maru's cultural references is as impressive as his prolific work rate (ten pieces this month alone). Maru Enters (above) contains a clear reference to Samuel Beckett's harrowing play Endgame. His most risqué stunts (like Tranced Out, in which Maru flagrantly dispays his genitals to the camera) bring to mind the work of "splash" porn-star-turned-artist Fareeza Terunuma, or the performances of fashionable artist collective Chim↑Pom who, like Maru, consciously employ the trope of cuteness in their work. Since the departure of blonde bombshell Ellie, however, Chim↑Pom are lagging somewhat in the cuteness stakes. Perhaps Maru could replace her?

Alternatively, I'd love to see Maru perform a two-hander with Sako Kojima, the artist who dresses up as a gigantic hamster. I wonder which of them would survive two weeks in a gallery together?