Saturday, October 16, 2010

film: ANPO

"ANPO" Trailer from Scott Burgess on Vimeo.

Linda Hoaglund’s documentary focuses on the 1960 controversy surrounding the renewal of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security -also known as ANPO-which allowed the U.S. to continue operating nearly 100 military bases across Japan. Significant opposition developed throughout Japan, but Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi (who had none-too-covert backing from the CIA) successfully routed his opponents in parliament and ordered police to use force in putting down public demonstrations staged in Tokyo. The animosity towards Kishi and the continued presence of American troops became so intense that a planned state visit by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had to be cancelled; Kishi resigned shortly afterwards, his political career effectively over. Hoaglund examines the 1960 protests through the creative work and commentary of visual artists who were either participants or used the events of five decades ago to shape their artistic output and political philosophy. ANPO features loads of artwork that puts the U.S. military in a harshly unflattering light (several paintings have not been publicly displayed in many years), supplemented by vintage newsreel and photojournalist coverage of the conflict.

Starring Ishiuchi Miyako, Aida Makoto, Ikeda Tatsuo, and Nakamura Hiroshi, among others.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

exhibition: EAA

The exhibition, Emerging Asian Artists at Art Gwangju 2010, highlights the top emerging Asian contemporary artists who have contributed to bringing Asia to the forefront of the international art world. Japan has been represented by Akira Mayanaga, Kei Takemura, Koizumi Meiro, Koki Tanaka and Soshi Matsunobe.

Soshi Matsunobe
, Direction of materials, installation, 2010


Hmm..very interesting choice.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Nam June Paik Award

This year competing for the award are two Japanese - Daito Manabe who describes himself as an artist programmer, designer, DJ, VJ and composer and Ei Wada a.k.a. Crab Feet who is sound, music and media artist. The latter I happen to see performing at Japan Media Art Festival earlier this year.

Ei WadaThe Braun Tube Jazz Band, 2009
I wouldn't like to jump into conclusion but doesn't this over representation mean something? Isn't it new nihonga?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Institute of Critical Zoologists

Pejantan Black Geyser. (Day 131, Western end, Madura Forest), 2009
The summer issue of Cabinet presents an artistic project by Japan-based Institute of Critical Zoologists - Pulau Pejantan.
ICZ, a brainchild of Renhui Zhao, photographer and former animal rights activist, is based on the concept of doubt and uncertainty. The stunning photographs taken by ICZ members may be truthful deception or artful fabrication but it hardly matters as it proves that our assumptions about reality must be continuously questioned if not fully abandoned sometimes.

Here's the river long interview with Renhui Zhao which I borrowed from Asian Photography Blog run by Yaohong.

Yaohong: Much of your work revolves around the zoological gaze and I believe that the works you submitted to the competition clearly defined and encapsulated your work in three images. In these images, you painted a clear picture of how human beings treat animals; the curiosity/observation, the intention to ensnare (for a variety of reasons) and the (almost hopeless) attempt to save dying species, inevitably caused by our own devices. I think that it is a very astute observation of human nature.

ZR: I would like to add too that I am also interested in using photography as a discourse for what you have just mentioned. To me, photography is a methodology within itself for investigating the ideas behind our relationship with the world, which revolves around the idea of mediation and the spectacle.

The space in between #1, The Blind

Yaohong: The Blind, a series of images documenting a camouflage cloak produced by the Institute of Critical Zoologists for zoologists and nature photographers to observe nature. This series of images which documents the camouflage cloak being used provides a peculiar image of man’s attempt to try to be one with nature. What is his relation to the landscape he surveys? Is he a seamless part of the landscape or still an external observer?

The space in between #6, A black mouse

ZR: The traps, highly abstract forms, are conceived over generations of knowledge on animals. Often certain traps are created for very specific species according to their habits. This series of images treat each trap as an emotionally loaded object. They appear to be very aesthetic forms of sculptures at first glance. The images are captioned according to the scientific name of the animal it is suppose to trap. The audience, when presented with only the name of the animal and the trap, imagines and replays the violence in their minds by trying to configure how the trap works against the animals.

The space in between #63, Sparrow in Acusis

Acusis, The Ark Project is an initiative by the Institute of Critical Zoologists, the Veterinary Acupuncture Center in Beijing, The Japan Laboratory of Endangered Species and the Biostatsis Institute in Fukuoka. The project’s mission is to help save endangered animals from extinction. It does this by extending the life-span of the thousands of animals that are expected to disappear within the next few years. The process used is called Acusis, which uses acupuncture to induce biostasis in an animal for prolonged periods of hibernation. Seen here is a live sparrow in the laboratory of the Institute.

Yaohong: How and why did you focus your work on animals? Was it an obsession that grew over time, alongside photography, or did photography inform your choice?

ZR: I think I use photography to make sense of the world. I have never really understood my own fascination and attraction towards the natural world. I don’t think I can appreciate the alphabet ‘Z’ without ever seeing a Zebra. Sometimes I think it’s because my father brought me to the zoo every Chinese Lunar New Year till I was 14 or it could be because my grandfather was a taxidermist and he allowed me to watch him skinned his specimens when I was 5. My personal zoo visits are rather obsessive. Since my father stopped bringing me to the Singapore Zoo, I started going to zoos on my own. In a short period within the last 10 years, I have visited 74 zoos, 35 natural history museums and other institutions and spaces where a forced-meeting between humans and animals occurs. My attraction to zoos has dwindle in the last year, ever since I started to examine my personal interest in looking at animals. I realized that as much as I try, there is no possible way to fully appreciate nature or animals in our society today. Every attempt to be one with nature is an irony, no matter how sincere it may be.

We relate to animals and the world through images (photography). So I guess photography seems like a natural medium for me. We live in a world that hungers for factual documentation and mediated experiences, and this phenomenon actually blurs the distinction between fact and fiction.

Yaohong: While your work is documentary on the surface, I believe that a large part of it seems to question the authenticity of documentary photography itself. Would you care to share more on that?

ZR: Truth and fiction seems to sit on the opposite ends of the spectrum. I think as an artist using photography, it can be problematic to make certain distinctions about an image with this kind of discourse. I am very much influenced by Walid Raad’s definition of how truth and fiction has no clear distinctions.

Walid sees truth as mediated elements which makes them fiction, and fiction as historical phenomenon, which makes them ultimately a fact. History as written by historians, are highly fictionalized and mediated accounts as much as most documents we encounter today. They are sometimes sensationalized into a consumable drama.

Every image appears to be truthful. This is an inherent nature of photography.

I think the best way to answer this question is with the sudden influx of wildlife documentary films in the last century. Wildlife documentaries on Discovery Channel today is a bad collision of scientific facts build with aesthetic fictions. I necessarily see the production of authentic wildlife documentaries more problematic then any of the work I produce.

Yaohong: I view your works with suspicion, I believe that the Institute is a fabrication! But that’s your aim right?

ZR: Yes, I like to create a context in which we can critically examine something. There are people who critically examine every form of knowledge and I think that is healthy. People are amused with the stories I come up with. But it’s not as if this is about what I can come up with again and again to fool people. I do not mind if you think of it this way but you have to ask yourself eventually, of all the possible stories that I can tell, why do I choose to tell the stories I tell and not others? Do these stories capture your attention and belief?

Its very important for me to say I work in fiction in a professional context. I am becoming more and more convinced, that certain things only appear in fiction. Fiction is the place where they can appear, not the historical world nor the scientific world.

Yaohong: What do you wish that viewers would derive from your works?

ZR: I do not have a statement which I want to share. I feel that becomes a little like propaganda. I try not to be manipulative in an apparent way. What I do within my work is to basically highlight objects and phenomenon that is already happening in the world around us. It is a reflection of the world and perhaps to inform us what we don’t know that we already know.

Yaohong: How much thought goes into planning for each image? Do you work in a preconceived idea for a series and find related subjects or do you work on individual images first before piecing something together?

ZR: My work is always a departure from situations and objects which I observe in real life, or reality. For example, in the Acusis project, I was inspired by how the Japanese use acupuncture on fishes to induce hibernation. This allows them to transport fishes out of water for up to 10 hours, how bizarre is that? When I was in China walking in the forest, I was suddenly grabbed by a pair of invisible hands. It turned out to be a group of ornithologists camouflaged in the forest. They were observing birds for research. As I stared deeper into the forest, I realized there were about 5 to 6 of them, it was really peculiar indeed.

I will push these ideas to its logical extremes within my work, always within a plausible narration. I think my work is actually less ironic then whatever happens in real life.

I subscribe to words like “wildlife conservation”, “animal traps” etc on Google alerts. Whenever I find an object or scenario that interests me and engages me on several levels, I try to take a step back. I approach my work as a distanced observer. This allows me to grasp and understand my initial curiosity and interest in the subject matter.

Yaohong: In The Blind, how did you manage to create the camouflage suit, was it largely done on the computer? I think that the defense department would love to get hold on that for our nation’s protection.

ZR: Yes, it’s sort of a performance within the forest and afterwards on the computer. Your question raised a really good point. Camouflage has always been used as concealment for protection and attack. So the observation of nature with camouflage is a relatively new phenomenon along with the invention of photography. Observation with camouflage was first used by nature photographers in the 1900s. The camouflage of scientists observing nature to understand her thus becomes a highly tensed spectacle. There are notions of both intrusion and protection at the same time in the natural landscape.

Yaohong: How has working with the Institute of Critical Zoologists helped you with your work so far?

ZR: I was struggling to find my own voice when I started out as an artist. It took me quite a while to merge all my sensibilities together at The Institute of Critical Zoologists. It allows me to question the power that we give to institutions from an authoritative position. The Institute is a serious place where I can have fun.

Yaohong: You obtained your BA in Camberwell College of the Arts, how has your education and experience abroad inform you as an artist? Do you think that you would have achieved something similar if you were based here?

ZR: I think photography education anywhere is the same. The only difference was how I was able to relate to what was being taught to me. I was young and ignorant in Singapore, so a lot of things in photography appeared to be superficial. I think I was too superficial.

After travelling and meeting more people and getting into trouble with my art, my life had a qualitative change when I was in London.

I became too serious about life and animals in general. This became evident in my work when I try to be more sensible with my images. In London, I was more open to an infinite combination of possibilities in photography.

Yaohong: Name some photographers/artists who have influenced your work.

Walid Raad and Mark Dion. (And I just found out Walid Raad was in Singapore in 2004!)

I do know a photographer by the name of Anqi. She is a close friend and a great artist. She keeps to herself and a piece of photographic work she has been doing for the last 20 years is to take a picture every time she thinks she is going to die. I am the chosen curator for that piece of work, if she dies. She is constantly clicking her camera, whenever she thinks she is going to die. She met with an accident once and managed to shoot 7 pictures before she got knocked down by a car. I thought it was going to be the most amazing piece of work I will ever see but she survived the accident and this piece of work carries on. At the hospital, it was rather ironic when both us sort of wished she died, in a joking way.

Yaohong: What are you currently working on?

ZR: My next project, an M1 Fringe Festival Commission, talks about wildlife smuggling as an act that tries to be one with nature.

“A guide to the flora and fauna of the world” is a celebration of the creativity of wildlife smugglers, or the wildlife smuggler as an artist. Instead of looking at the ethics involved in wildlife smuggling, the work provides a perspective on the ingenuity of wildlife smugglers in their attempts to be ‘one with nature’.

The work is based on the experiments of Dr.Tang, who brought the art of wildlife smuggling down to a science. Dr. Tang pioneered smuggling of wildlife through public postal systems with a series of experiments. One of the experiments included a book which was hollowed out to contain the smuggled animal. The title of the book which he always used was “A guide to the flora and fauna of the world”.

Yaohong: Where are you heading next?

ZR: I think this is the toughest question. I’m not too sure about the future and I never really am. Right now, after this interview, I will be trying to concentrate on writing a letter to Estonia for a long-term project about how art and science collides in the most unusual and lovely way.

Monday, July 5, 2010

video: drunkard film review

Aida Makoto's, I'm Osama bin Laden, 2005

I've seen it quite recently in Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, where I currently work, at drunkard film review, which was screened for the launch of the bar.

The subject of Makoto Aida’s video is Osama Bin Laden, impersonated by the artist, who's hiding in Japan. He becomes a lazy, sake-drinking old man who, in a drunken stupor, videotapes a message that he has quit being a terrorist and that the U.S. can stop looking for him. Hilarious!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

paper work

Sachiko Abe, Cut papers, performance, 2002
Liverpool Biennial has announced the artists participating in Touched, the International exhibition for the 6th Liverpool Biennial International Festival of Contemporary Art. Artists currently proposing new commissions for Touched include Sachiko Abe.

Sachiko, a performance artists started cutting paper when she was a mental hospital patient. It helped her to calm and deflected the need to cut herself. 'It takes 40 minutes to cut one whole paper,' she writes in her explanatory note. From small cuts in paper, over the duration of the exhibition, she constructs a strikingly beautiful, ephemeral cocoon around herself.

Talking paper here are two other artist/art collective dealing with this media.

Yuken Teruya, Notice- Forest, 2005
Yuken Teruya who conveys a powerful political and environmental message with his microscopically paper cut trees sitting inside discarded McDonald’s and Chanel bags and Plaplax (Chikamori Motoshi, Kunoh Kyoko, Kakehi Yasuaki) playing with paper cuts and shadow.

Plaplax, Para para site, 2009, installation

Friday, May 14, 2010

project room: OORUTAICHI

OORUTAICHI performs his own progressive form of ‘drifting folklore music’ combining elements of dance, folk and pop. Singing with a palpable joy in his own invented language, while at the same time mashing and mixing driving base-lines with disco-kicks and synthesised freestyle beats. OORUTAICHI hails from Osaka and has been recording and performing since 1999. He received critical acclaim both in Japan and abroad for his first album YORI, YOYO (2003) and has since toured the United Kingdom, Europe and United States. He is making his debut in Australia for the opening of SuperDeluxe@Artspace at The Biennale of Sydney. Here's sample of his sound mixes and video installation.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

architecture: Atelier Bow-Wow

On April 29th National Museum of Modern Art (MOMAT), Tokyo opened an exhibition on Japanese contemporary architecture. Atelier Bow Wow inspired by Barbara Hepworth sculptures completely redesigned the museum’s front lawn to function as a summer house (details here). Quite recently I had a chance to interview Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, one of the partners of Bow-Wow. Here is small part of it:

M.R.: Is context imporatant to architecture?
Y.T.: Building itself is tiny compared to the world. Without context architecture cannot perform. Lets take pet architecture. Before its creation there are always other interventions or transformations which produce tiny, strange leftover space in the city fabric. And because of scarce of the land and the desire to use it to maximum this leftover space produces such small buildings.

: Talking pet architecture. Have you ever been trying to look for it outside Japan and is your practice limited to Japan or is it universal?
: Our work is not universal, is glocal [laugh]. It could be anywere but it is always local.

M.R.: Are you interested in architecure fashions?
Y.T.: No, any. I'm more interested in the history of architecture.

M.R.: Is there any architect that inspires you?
Y.T.: Enric Miralles, Rem Koolhaas but there are many interesting people and ongoing social intervention projects in Latin America where space becomes a very powerful tool to reform society.

M.R.: Your work is not to be compared to any other Japanese architect. Don't you feel like outsiders?
Y.T.: I think that in 10 yrs people will realize that it's the right way to think about architecture.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Desire to change, to become someone else, to transform is not new to the world and artists fond of transformation can be found all over the world. In Japan, Cindy Sherman older brother is Yasumasa Morimura whose retrospective runs through April in Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.

Yasumasa Morimura, To My Little Sister: for Cindy Sherman, 1998

For the exhibition Morimura deconstructs famous news images and portraits and reenacts them with himself disguised as the subject(s) bringing them yet again into the light.

Yasumasa Morimura
, A Requiem: Vietnam war 1968 -91, 1991, gelatin silver print

Yasumasa Morimura, A requiem: Laugh at the Dictator, 2008, video

exhibition: O Jun

O Jun, 3m, 2006, gouache
I went to see Artist File 2010 in NACT lured by strangely seductive picture on the poster.
O Jun works are a nice break from what one of the non-Japanese curator based in Tokyo calls salarymen of art. He depicts everyday objects, people and landscapes simplified to nearly a graphic abstraction as opposed to overloaded, meticulously crafted or infantile works of others. O Jun says his motifs could be anything that jumps into his eyes or ears while walking down the streets, reading newspapers or watching TV which makes me think of my home country artist Sasnal whose thinking and feeling is pretty much the same and whose works have been recently presented at Rat Hole Gallery.

photo: Mizuma Gallery

Sunday, April 11, 2010

art fair report

Although its contemporary art market is considered small in relation to the country's overall economy, Japan has no shortage of commercial art fairs.

Art Fair Tokyo
The biggest art fair in Japan launched in 2005. This year in its 5th edition presented 138 exhibitors. Although the number of participating galleries decreased slightly from 143 in 2009 the crowd has been getting bigger from year to year and this time I had to queue to enter. There was the noticeable absence of galleries like Mizuma, Wako Works of Art and SCAI THE BATHHOUSE. Otherwise than that it was business as usual: hundreds of booths, featuring everything from antiques to contemporary art.
This year edition had a special section devoted to new galleries of contemporary art called 'Projects' presenting some new entries into the art world.

photo: William Andrews

Launched in the beginning of this year and held on the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower. This 'boutique' art fair hosted only 15 galleries. The limited number of exhibitors and vast space with high ceilings made the viewing experience easier. All 15 participating galleries recorded sales by the end of the fair's run. Mizuma gallery representative said that they sold almost all of the works within the first 10 minutes of opening!

photo: William Andrews

Art Fair Free
An art fair that one could exchange artists' works for anything but money. The swap takes place if the artist finds the client offer interesting. The mechanism goes as follows: if you find work you want, you can send your proposal to artists through the email. Artist selects one of the proposals and then the trade is completed. There were 55 artists participating.

This year on the alternative art fair end there was 101Tokyo missing and Art@Agnes on the other end.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I cannot help to make this inappropriate comparison ..

and the piece that was shown at Japan Media Arts Festival and which is a musical instrument that automatically emulates a glockenspiel using steel ball bearings.
Both hypnotizing.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

electric poles arragements

Akira Yamaguchi, Independent Reserach (the Art of Electric Pole Arrangement) 2008

At recently held G-Tokyo exhibition-style art fair Akira Yamaguchi presented new series entitled Chukado (The Art of Electric Pole Arrangement). Chukado is an aesthetic approach to electric poles, often despised for ruining the landscape, by arranging them in the style of a Japanese ikebana. As well as in his previous works he combines the techniques of classical Japanese painting with the humor and draftsmanship of a manga cartoonist.