Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Yutaka Sone's “Animal Fountain”

Yutaka Sone’s Animal Fountain occupies the front half of RMIT Project Space. One of the apparent principles of the work is the desire to confound the natural and the artificial. The work is an installation with a functioning fountain placed in an outdoor setting complete with deckchairs and the kind of waxy fronded plants that look fake even when they are not.

The fountain is a bit rough and ready in the way it has been assembled. Bricks and tiles are plonked here and there and the whole thing is even crowned with a curious lampshade. The animals mentioned in the title, among them small ceramic sculptures of a turtle and platypus, are placed in and around the fountain. They are mildly unattractive, featuring the dated colours and shapes that suggest they were sourced locally from an op shop.

Steam rises from the pool of water in small bursts as if hidden gaseous deposits are bubbling up from underground. I suppose the work is referring to Marcel Duchamp’s seminal readymade, Fountain, and also to Japan’s famous hot springs. I’m unsure whether this reading is overly simplistic or just too obvious, since I’m short on knowledge and experience of Japanese art and culture,

Before practising visual art, Sone trained as an architect and his concern with the cultural meanings that accrue within space governs much of his work. I’ve seen an artwork by Sone once before. Called Double River Island, it was on display in the Japanese Pavilion at the Biennale de Venezia in 2003. This work has features in common with Animal Fountain in that they’re both landscapes, and feature scenes or settings simulating alternative worlds. Yet, in Animal Fountain, it is difficult to determine whether the work is a literal or symbolic representation of space. If it’s the latter then is it pretending to be a fantasy or utopic space of primal elements and creatures from fables, or that of a garden centre retail display? The work is not really a readymade because the objects haven’t been entirely removed from their everyday contexts, but it’s not completely literal either because of the artful placement of the elements within the gallery and the clear intentions that have governed the composition. The installation seems to be able to have it both ways.

RMIT Project Space features a full-length window onto Cardigan Street and right next door are window displays for the TAFE creative merchandising course. When a visitor approaches from the street, on the left they encounter a gallery that looks like a retail space, despite intentions to the contrary, and to the right the shop-front for an educational course pretending to be retail windows for fashion and other sorts of merchandise.

Yutaka Sone may have only had a brief opportunity to familiarise himself with the gallery space during the installation period, yet his work cleverly exploits the ambiguity of the gallery’s front window and its situation. If Sone’s is a fantasy space then it’s the fictional world of a Bunnings in-store garden display, but if it’s a real space then it’s one you could only find in an art gallery.

Posted by Christine Morrow
Photos: Christian Capurro

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Giving back: Rei Naito’s reconnaissance of Birrarung

Last Friday afternoon, 13 October, over 40 intrepid Rapt! supporters left the haze of the CBD behind and ventured out to the clearer skies of Birrarung in Eltham to join in a performance led by resident artist Rei Naito. Most had made the journey by bus, some carpooled from various points, while locals simply walked.

We walked reverently through an empty 70s mud-brick house, vacant except for the deliberate interruptions placed by Naito. Lengths of string hung freely from the ceiling, window frames and timber beams, beckoning visitors to blow on them. Paper circles contained messages like, ‘No need to be anything… come’. These were stacked on the floor waiting to be picked up, while a collection of small clay pots bound with string hugged the perimeter of each room.

A select number of visitors were requested to collect one of these pots or ‘boats’. As small clay offerings, the vessels were about to be returned to their birthplace. As each participant held the pot gently in the palm of their hand, they were lead down to the edge of the Yarra River by Naito. A short walk soon found the visitors clambering down riverbanks to the edge of the water, where they would conclude and celebrate Naito’s residency. Once all had made it to the river and with no formal ceremony or announcement, participants gently began to place their unfired clay pots into the water. Some sank immediately, as their centres filled with water, while others floated away in silence, and slowly disintegrated as they ebbed and flowed with the rhythms of the river. All that remained was a trail of clay fragments that were eventually reclaimed into the clay riverbed of the Yarra.

Just as the clay dissipated so too did the tranquil participants, who headed back to toward grey city skies; and accordingly this series of serene interventions by Rei Naito came to a gentle close.

Rei Naito’s work continues at Birrarung until 29 October 2006. Birrarung is in the Nillumbik Shire Is at 195 Laughing Waters Road, Eltham, Victoria
Posted by Sarah Bond
Photos: Christian Capurro

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Kyota Takahashi’s Public Projection

On Thursday and Friday evening last week, Kyota Takahashi presented a live public projection on the tower of the former Melbourne Power Station at Lonsdale and Spencer Streets, Melbourne. Anyone who has seen Takahashi’s work at Spacement will have observed that he manipulates images in conjunction with the projection (and mirrors) to create distorted perspectives. As a video sequence, the piece at Spacement renders a human shadow in motion, whereas the projections on the tower were more inert, being a series slides rather than rolling footage. This slowness lent itself to the form of the tower, as an object of striking stature; anything faster would have spun out the locals. Once again Takahashi’s light-work reduced complex imagery into powerful silhouettes that, in the live projection, took the form of biomorphic abstraction.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lieko Shiga’s Golden Mirage

If you’ve ever spun a tale around a complete stranger you’ll appreciate what happens when you meet with Lieko Shiga’s images. Compelling stories extend from the works and writhe though your imagination like tentacles of a deep-sea creature: a woman nestles into an old couch, oddly comfortable with the spectre of a mammoth sheep’s skull. A family poses behind an open fire, which seems to be burning in another time. Phosphorus rain as radiance, skeins of glowing embers, pigments smearing, tearing and plummeting into darkness. How can these be photographs? Their flesh gives a clue to their true nature: they’re analogue works, created though multiple exposures of images on paper in the printing stage of darkroom processing.

As a mechanical process, photography is mostly thought to be in the realm of the rational. Yet photos also capture information imperceptible to the human eye and the effects, consequently, are believed to pertain to the supernatural. Apart from accidents of light and chemistry, many of these impressions are old tricks of photography, developed in pursuit of 19th-century obsessions with ghosts and the fancy that the otherworldly or phantasms might be captured in photos. Ectoplasm photography became such a craze during this period that a whole genre of photography emerged, explored in the historical exhibition, The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult, held at the Metropolitan Museum, New York in 2005. A lot of these shots are feebly staged and appear ridiculous but offer a fiction that, in their time, was surely embraced with a little irony. Shiga’s photos, however, are utterly faithful, having none of the histrionics of the 19th-century stagings; in her images the people and their stories are real.

Lieko Shiga was the very first artist we met on our study tour of Japan in September 2005 and even at the end of twelve overwhelming days of gallery visits the Australian group remained enamoured with her uncanny images. The Golden Mirage is the outcome of her five-week residency in Brisbane, and is a languid arrangement of photographs at Seventh Galllery in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, in which the humidity of Brisbane’s gelatinous air is suspended in glossy prints. To be on the outside looking in can be an unpleasant experience and yet Shiga’s series of photographs embrace the strangeness and irresistibility of chance encounters with strangers.

Posted by Lily Hibberd
Thanks to Kyla McFarlane for the reference to the The Perfect Medium.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Rapt! launch at LOOP bar Melbourne

Every shindig has its unravelling and so on a freakily hot spring night in Melbourne the Rapt! launch was unwrapped on Thursday night, with party-goers at LOOP crammed into the steamy little space.
Composure was maintained for the duration of the event, with the formal launch of the program made by Mr Yoshiyuki Ueno, Director of The Japan Foundation, Sydney, pictured below.

Simon Maidment made a fantastic yet apt remark as MC, describing Rapt! as: “The biggest collaborative project ever undertaken between Japan
and Australia”. Other important visitors from Japan shown here (from left to right) are members of the Rapt! curatorial advisory team, Taro Igarashi (Architectural Historian, Tohoku University), Kyoji Maeda (Art Critic with Yomiuri Shimbun) with Max Delany (Director of Monash University Museum of Art).

Photos: fabulous Christian Capurro

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"Dr Toilet’s Rapt-up clinic" at Kings ARI

I wear my sunglasses at night
So I can, so I can
Watch you weave
Then breathe your story lines
And I wear my sunglasses at night
So I can, so I can
Keep track of the visions in my eyes
Corey Hart (1983)

Let one-hit-wonder Corey Hart’s tune Sunglasses at Night set the mood for an encounter with Naohiro Ukawa’s Dr Toilet’s Rapt-up clinic, an artwork comprised of a block of toilets, surveillance cameras, one-way mirrors, disco lights and sunglasses. Walking into the main gallery of Kings ARI, visitors will immediately note a large architectonic installation, a five-cubicle toilet panopticon. Each cubicle has headphones and a pair of sunglasses. Accessorising endows participants with audio and visual sensory effects: psychotropic video and a combination of ‘noise’ or sound art and live internet streaming of ten Japanese television channels (mirroring Ukawa-san's server computer in Tokyo), of which Ukawa has said that staff can change channels whenever they feel like it. Exposure to these audio-visual elements elicits a deep brain massage, escorting spectators into a state of total relaxation, not dissimilar to the initial stages of sleep, which is a scary thing to do while on the toilet.

The adjacent gallery contains another component of the installation, with four video projections presenting surveillance footage of the panopticon toilet. This space is clearly meant to be a ‘viewing room’, in which voyeurism is promoted. It was funny to see VIPs on the opening night hovering in the surveillance room to avoid entering the panopticon toilet. For those heeding the call of nature, the King’s functioning public toilet exposed them to the third part of Dr Toilet's Rapt-up clinic, where Ukawa set up a closed-circuit television with more live footage, providing lavatory users an even weirder perspective on the uncomfortable inhabitants of the panopticon toilet.

Ukawa’s work presents a number of slippages between public and the private spheres. But how does Dr Toilet’s Rapt-up clinic respond to the theme of the Rapt! project? The project title, ‘rapt’, refers to techno-culture and notions of immersion and absorption. In the Rapt! catalogue, the project’s curators postulate that immersive and sensory-based experiences are symptomatic of contemporary Japanese youth culture. This symptom might be problematic, the curators argue, because, “young people are enjoying a mass-consumption lifestyle, but at the same time, [are] becoming absorbed in their own world without any relation to the society around them”. Such lifestyles can potentially lead to apathy; however that is just one aspect of techno-culture. As the Rapt! curators also note, “it is possible for artists, while ‘immersing’ themselves in something, to arrive at positive results by leaping into an imaginative realm that is divorced from existing value systems”. That is, immersion in technology can promote transcendence from the everyday and subsequently allow for a more poetic and creative state of being.

In Dr Toilet’s Rapt-up clinic, Ukawa traces the fine line between vacuous and expanding psychological states that can be experienced by participating in technology and popular culture. Through its advancement of direct sensory experience, and also, its humorous and carnivalesque endorsement of toilet-voyeurism, Dr Toilet's Rapt-up clinic successfully unravels the program’s themes.

Posted by Veronica Tello
Photos: Warren Fithie

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tadasu Takamine at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces

Not many artists choose to install their exhibition during the course of the opening, let alone as the culmination of a road trip from Darwin. When invited to participate in the Rapt! program Tadasu Takamine chose to enact his work as a direct exchange with Australia. Travelling across the northwest of the country, Takamine went along the Tannami Track to Alice Springs, to Lake Eyre, and finally to Melbourne along with 24HRArt Director Steve Eland and art critic Ashley Crawford. On the surface this could seem touristic, yet Takamine’s lineage as an artist reveals a deeper engagement with culture, probing and questioning the relationship between individuals within and beyond greater paradigms such as race, language and nationality. Besides, how many Aussies have ever bothered to make this journey?

It’s an awkward proposition for Australians: who has permission to make observations, or even join a conversation on the relationships (fraught as they are) between indigenous and settler populations. Sometimes it’s easier for an outsider to make comment, the ease of this position being ameliorated by the author’s lack of immediate responsibility – not that this relieves the burden. The Songlines is by British novelist and travel writer Bruce Chatwin. A work of fiction and non-fiction, the book is presented as a travelogue in which Chatwin proposes that language begins in song and the aboriginal dreamtime sings itself into existence. It’s a disarming book because simultaneously embraces and short-circuits colonial views of Australia. In the end we’re all hypocrites.

As a Japanese artist Takamine’s political position is entirely different of course, but like Chatwin he is not content to make mere observations. Takamine’s works are always challenging, drawing on disparate cultural references and allowing them to interact in uncomfortable and questionable ways that are at once delightfully open. His work for the 2005 Yokohama International Triennale of Contemporary Art, Japan, Kagoshima Esperanto, spoke in a very direct way about loss, or the personal and collective passing of things in the world (due to annihilation, expiry or irrelevance). Here, once again, Takamine was installing his work during the opening. I attended the preview as a member of the Rapt! curatorial team and in a review for un Magazine issue 6 wrote: “The floor was covered in damp soil, clumped into forms like burial mounds and littered with found objects, such as prams, sex toys and other detritus that Takamine had picked up in the surrounding streets. A sequence of events unfolded in the space: lights illuminated the small moving objects and scrolls of text projected and unfurled over the walls in two languages. The first was Kagoshima, the vanishing dialect of his hometown. The second Esperanto, an international language constructed with the intention of fostering common understanding throughout the world but now used as a reference to vain hope.” All the elements mingled in an unintegrated manner, which instigated an overwhelming desire in viewers to make sense of the mess.

In manufacturing a similar environment at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Takamine is asking us to view his personal experience of Australia as inseparable from the problem of relationships between foreigners and originators. If you visit the gallery you may be disappointed to see only one video, a few photographs and ceramic works constructed en-route, but this is merely evidence so you’ll get a lot more out of the exhibition if you investigate beyond the surface.
Posted by Lily Hibberd. Photos: Christian Capurro