MOT Satellite, 2017 Spring, by the deep rivers
Various sites around Kiyosumi-shirakawa; 11 February to 20 March
In cafes, garages, shops, some traditional venues but mostly non-traditional sites for art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT) presents a series of artwork, shows and installations across Kiyosumi-shirakawa under the moniker by the deep rivers. There are seven main venues and then a series of smaller incursions into local businesses, small museums and community group centres. Armed with a Japanese language guide map, the internet on my phone (google translate at the ready), as well as my two-year old son and heavily pregnant wife, we all directed our attention on the main seven sites in search of artistic inspiration and cultural insight.
On the way from our breakfast and coffee pit-stop at Iki, which had a few small paintings on the walls, like a pretty regular café art show, we went past one of the ‘small scale exhibition sites’ at a little rice shop on one of the main roads. I’m not clear exactly what exhibition this shop had – I asked the owner, as best I could, if there was art to see and he showed me all the flyers and maps for the event. For some reason, my own English language skills default to farcical levels when trying to converse with someone who doesn’t speak English, perhaps out of sheer embarrassment at being in their country and not having rudimentary conversational skills. Whatever the reason, I found myself saying ‘Is art here?’ Then pointing at my eyes and pointing into the shop, ‘Can I see art in shop?’ It was rather humiliatingly idiotic on my part, I’m sure I was suddenly John Cleese. But the shop owner was super lovely, listening intently to my lunacy and trying his best to help me. He then chatted to his wife and they both offered Lucy and I some of their delicious chocolate rice milk in little sample cups. He asked where we were from and said he had his honeymoon at Hamilton Island. Then, like just about everywhere we go, Vivian (my son) got given a little treat because he is apparently cute to people who don’t have to change his nappy regularly and have him call you ‘Butt-face butt-hole’ all day long.
Look, he is definitely cute, granted, but like all 2 year olds he’s also a massive asshat too. Bless him.
Onwards from the rice shop, we set about finding main event number 1 and arrived at a small building with the work of mi-ri meter – which is a collaboration between two architects Akiko Miyaguchi and Hidenori Kasagi. There were monitors displaying interviews with local people and other Tokyo residents sharing their thoughts on the local area; small stools to watch them on; headphones; and a small installation that replicated a traditional way of heating up the kitchen table for families in non-insulated and un-heated houses. This installation helped to bring a human element into the space that overcame the technological fabrication of faces on flatscreens and voices in speakers. It was a table and chairs, draped with blankets that were carefully and neatly wrapped and folded in a way that implied presentation of form was equal with functionality of form.
Fortunately for us, one of the artists and the curator of the whole event (Kumi Shimokura) were both there. Ms Shimokura was very helpful in describing the work for us and introducing the artist. The interviewees were all different types of people, varying in age and occupation, but all shared a love of their area. It was a lovely work that brought the community into the heart of it, gave them a voice and provided a sense of relationship to place and people. This seemed especially poignant given the area has been going through quite a change of late, with a vibrant café/coffee culture springing up very recently (including the arrival of New Zealand and American coffee company cafes), and an influx of new residents filling new apartment complexes. In many ways, this was a work that sought to not so much redress issues associated with gentrification as negotiate with them.
Site number 2 was Project of Gozo Yoshimasu and featured work over two levels of a what seemed to probably be a camera shop, given one side of the space was glass cupboards full of cameras from all eras and manufacturers. The artist is a well known poet who also works visually, and for this exhibition he worked in memory of another poet, Basho Matsuo, one of the most famous poets of the Edo period. There were video projections (two upstairs and one downstairs); a text-based work on the wall; two series of photographs; and two sculptural works (one on a plinth downstairs, the other a mobile on the ceiling upstairs). On the stairwell leading between the two levels, a string of exposed speaker cones emitted the vocal renditions of poems, turning a stark white space into an atmospheric chamber. Within the glass cabinet of cameras there seemed to be some small incursions of objects, like magnifying glasses which seemed to riff off the incredibly tiny hand-writing that was in the text-based wall work and sculptural work downstairs. A cocoon too, a motif throughout the poetry, was inside the cabinet. Like the previous work, there was a sense that humanity was being poured into the space from the surrounding area, filling empty spaces with voice and feeling.
Right next door was site number 3, which was an installation work by Fumihiko Sano. The most unified work so far and set out in a single open room. The floor was covered with small white pebbles that you had to walk on (and were encouraged to do so) in order to navigate the space. On the walls were a series of monitors displaying cctv-like observational footage most likely being captured by phone cameras or small webcams. In the centre of the room was a translucent rock, similar to those you find at the front of most large properties or temples around Japan. The artist has set up cameras around the local area that feed their vision into the gallery space, truncating and expanding space at the same time, bringing the local vicinity into the room and allowing visitors to see into rooms and shops from the one location. The translucent rock is a reflection on the idea that Kiyosumi has no geographical centre, but it has the actions of the people as its heart. On the inside of the rock is an image of sake being prepared for one of the festivals that serves as an example of the community connection and driving force of the social centre.
Site number 4 elicited two exhibitions over two levels. The lower level was the most professionally produce, museum-quality show of the series and featured photography by Taiji Matsue. The images were incredibly detailed landscape photographs and videos. Wall mounted photographs showed wide panoramas as well as bird’s eye views of built-up areas and industrial settings. At this scale it put the monumentality of human engineering endeavour into full splendour while also microscoping bodily presence in the grand scheme of our environments. It showed the immensity of human collective achievement while reminded us of our individual limitations. Two video works presented on horizontal flatscreens were especially compelling, as they at first appeared to be photographs. In the same vein as the other images on display in this darkened space, these images revealed additional small movements and motion, bringing a flicker of like to works that are more austere in character when frozen in still photography. And it was this slight of hand, this subtle incursion of active human existence sneaking into the room, that extended upon and reinforced the thematic thread appearing consistently throughout the works in the program – humanity distilled and poured into the small and unremarkable spaces of a community’s architectural and geographical locality.
It was becoming clear that the works of this event were enlivening empty rooms with the stories of people. It felt almost as if each space was an expansion, a sort of portal platform that channelled the past, broadcast the present and projected the future. For an event consisting of disparate spaces across the streets of a particular suburb, it very quickly became a network of wormholes connecting to each other and switchboarding into the homes, work places and narrative backstories of the local community within which it sat, and even further out to the larger city in a reverberating wave of relations.
(next, Part 2 _ debris, sound, a fractured library and straight out painting)