Appropriately grey and tormented typhoon weather set the tone for two exhibitions taking conceptual shortcuts to comment on the passing of time. The Hara Museum provides a highly edited telling of its history, seemingly in a hurry to get the closing over and done with, leaving visitors with a sense of ‘was this all there was to it?’ For those familiar with what this venue achieved in Tokyo, this show functions as a representation of all that appears to have been forgotten along the way. The Anomaly spaces looked to a history of social transformation brought about in 2020 by covid-19, and fell prey to the scale of intimate tales and complaints, leaving out larger financial and political upheavals that brought their own forms of drama. Long walks, small results.
“Time Flows: Reflections by 5 Artists”
@Hara Museum | September 19, 2020 – January 11, 2021
Group exhibition with works by Tomoki Imai, Tamotsu Kido, Lee Kit, Masaharu Sato, Tokihiro Sato
It’s about time…
The renowned Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Shinagawa, Tokyo is scheduled to permanently close by January, 2021. The farewell exhibition Time Flows attempts to draw actual memories”, instead of pictures in their phones. Similar to the Anomaly show, the Hara Museum also sees the necessity to stay attuned to the reality of society, using this final opportunity to “find clues that can help us better notice the details of 2020 with the chance of remembering them”.
The museum enjoys a history of working with artworks in diversified media and artists of various nationalities, ages, and gender, such as CY Twombly’s drawing and painting, Ming Wong’s video installation, and Sophie Calle’s writing and photography. However, the museum decided to exclusively work with Japanese male artists for its last show, with the only exception being the Taiwan-Hong Kong artist Lee Kit, whose sole piece on display is the installation Flowers (2018) which is part of the Hara collection, and is being shown at exactly the same location as it was in Lee’s solo show at the museum two years ago. In the 2018 exhibition, Lee’s skillful light projection found its way to respond to the architecture’s uniqueness, orchestrating the projected light and natural light and shadow to organically dance with each other. Today, none of that charm remains among the leftovers.
Medium-wise, the exhibition mainly focuses on photography, with earlier works and pieces especially made for Hara Museum to capture its last scenery by Tomoki Imai, Tamotsu Kido, and Tokihiro Sato. Hundreds of photos featuring their function of “noticing and recording” are on display, yet the audience is invited to develop “actual memories” and not take pictures. A joke on everyone? Making its way within the company of the photos are the late artist Masaharu Sato’s partially-animated video loops. These are short videos without any camera movement from the 2015-2016 series Tokyo Trace (again belonging to the Hara collection) are closer to photography than video, while beautifully adding a slight sense of solitude made possible precisely by the quiescent movements in the frame. Figures and objects are carefully picked out and animated, looking innocent and unnoticed, as if they are secretly planted in another universe which we call real, where we’ve become blind to the difference.
“Echoes of Monologues”
@Anomaly | September 16, 2020 – October 10, 2020
Group Exhibition with works by Ishu Han, Ulala Imai, Yoshiaki Kaihatsu, Elena Knox, Kosuke Nagata, Hiroyuki Oki, Yosuke Takayama, UJINO
Not an echo, at best a loop
The gallery’s press release, which does not name a curator for the exhibition, goes to great lengths to express what informed the show, notably how the 2020 pandemic would have seemingly heightened a reliance on the internet and its ability to connect us through time and geographical distances, removing in the process ‘a sense of touch, smell and a feeling of body temperature…’, arguing that the relationship with others is now minimized. And with this in mind, in order ‘to re-explore the joy of living, trust, and sense of purpose, the exhibition “Echoes of Monologues” shares another opportunity to contemplate and re-think about us and other ones.’
All of which points to the difference between a press release and a curatorial statement. Breaking down this flotsam of statements acquires a form of relevance within Japan’s particular island context, and the comparatively lax constraints of the government’s covid-19 protocol (listed as recommendations and not orders) when compared to restrictions imposed on citizens in other countries. Furthermore, the country’s population is defined by an awareness of community and responsibility; masks and distancing are a way of life for a number of months each year in Japan, which does not count a culture of touching among its attributes. The argument for the exhibition also raised the question as to whether all artists in the show are single, if they haven’t embraced a loved one, a partner, if they’ve not been allowed to go to a market or a restaurant, and whether or not they have the experience of a solitary studio practice. As a title, ‘Echoes of Monologues’ conveys a sense of telling one’s self the same lament over and over.
Which is a trope the gallery embraces as it lists all of the participating artists through pitching a concept arc that leads to career highlights and market value, the one story it is eager to be able to tell again. The exhibition itself appears to be divided into two parts, the bleak and the bright, the latter represented by painter Ulan Imai and sculptor Yosuke Takayama through several works while the other artists are largely working with media…that takes up more space and has a more somber agenda. And in the middle ground was artist Ishu Han who should have been more visible in exhibition as his work about immigrants would have been a formal highlight.
It is worth noting that Australian artist Elena Knox, who works with and around AI and robotics, has forged a significant and strategic place for herself in Japan, not unlike French artist Justine Emard whose practice is informed by similar concerns, including engineering. Ms Knox, who also took part in the recent edition of the Yokohama Triennale, provides the most connected companion piece to the gallery statement, with her Japan-made AI robot, an embodiment of senses waiting to come back to light.