Gentaro Ishizuka, Demarcation
Gallery 916, Tokyo; 20 January to 26 March
At the risk of sounding like every cliched art wet dream, I took an elevated train ride at night through the downtown skyscrapers of Tokyo to the harbour district of Minato-ku in search of a cavernous exhibition space on the sixth floor of what I’m pretty sure is an old fish processing factory. I did, however, walk right around the block in fruitless search of the entrance, and attempted to climb the fire-escape stairs, before gathering my wits and finally locating the service elevator to the top floor. When I arrived, hesitantly making my way into the foyer and into the milling crowd of smartly dressed Japanese art aficionados, I unpacked the thousand layers I’d assembled on my body to protect me from the light snow outside and found myself at the entrance to an incredible space for exhibiting artworks. It was going to take some mighty powerful art to hold its own in this environment and the photographs of Gentaro Ishizuka were more than adequately up to the challenge.
Large-format photographs of epic landscapes were set out amongst the three major spaces of the gallery. In fact, the sheer vastness of the environmental imagery in Ishizuka’s images worked to effectively compete with the architectural context of their setting. The prints are about 1500 x 1000mm and produced of the utmost clarity and rigour. Beautifully composed, fabulously coloured, and with some of the planet’s most mesmerising landscapes as subjects, the works are beautiful and indeed, sublime. But more than simply lovely pictures captured with polished finesse, they speak of both a deeply troubling future and a wondrously industrious past that are pressing on an urgent present in our world.
Demarcation captures large-scale oil pipelines that draw lines across pristine areas of natural ecology. From remote bays at the upper reaches of the northern hemisphere to the dry plains of the largest island continent, Ishizuka traces the pathway of these ribbons of concrete and steel as they snake around the planet. They are at once a manufactured horizon line in the natural world and an allegorical event horizon for an anthropocenic epoch. The artist’s treatment of them is measured and non-subjective, allowing them to be simply documented as yet another feature along with the trees, rivers, hot springs and glaciers among which they sit. And it is this even-handed manner that allows the works to sit free of notionally political overtones. But, just as the viscous fluid of compressed fossils makes its way across the scenes of the photographs, hidden inside the concrete tubes, the noxious consequences of these artificial features of the landscape also permeate the substrata of meaning in the work.
The photographs do also put the industrious inventiveness of human achievement into a sort of celebratory positioning. With over 20 large-format photographs attesting to our capacity to extract resources from remote locations and draw them toward our population centres to deliver the energy we require to manufacture the technology that facilitates these very images and their presentation, is a sort of testament to an almost unbridled potency. Of course, how and under what circumstances we execute this endeavour is a growing concern as we come to understand the consequences of poorly planned and poorly delivered processes in this accomplishment. Implicated in the images is a consideration of temporality – where the semi-obscured subject of the work, fossil fuel oil, takes millions of years to be manufactured by the very geological forces that are directly represented in the breathtakingly magnificent mosses, grasses, glaciers and trees of the landscapes upon which this oil is trafficked. This treatment of subject and presentation is one of this series most potent strengths.
The hang of the show is just as carefully composed and delivered as the photographic images themselves, reinforcing a character of utmost precision and focus that exists in the artwork. There is not a single section of a photograph or a single section of the gallery space that has not had an attentive eye cast across it in the consideration of its delivery to its audience. For just as much as it feels like attention to detail has been laboured upon the works itself and its positioning in architectural space, it feels as if that care is a dedication in service of the audience’s appreciation of the art.
There are clusters of pairs and triplets distributed throughout the space, allowing for a cross-pollination of details to occur in contrast or comparison. One pairing features a bird’s eye of an Alaskan town, with coloured houses in the foreground set into an gridded web that has been urban-planned to direct traffic flow toward a more curvaceous sea bay port in the background. Next to this a close up image of an oil pipe that dissects the image horizontally, coloured in a stylistic hint at what we commonly see on national flags – red, white and blue. The sections of the pipe also evoking oil barrels with the welded lines joining them a lateral totem pole upon the land. The pipe itself separates darkened soil from rocky outreaches.
Demarcation is a remarkable show. It is a suite of consistently high quality images, never relenting in its strength, building to a crescendo of magnificence through an accumulative appreciation that never seems to peak. It is an affirmation of the sheer majesty of our planet, a nod to the collaborative genius of our engineering industriousness and an intravenous shot to our subconscious fears of impending doom as climate-change deniers take the levers of power in the world’s most powerful nation. One hundred percent worth wandering aimlessly around factory blocks to find your way up the levels of an non-description warehouse.