La Règle du Jeu
The puns and challenges to which this exhibition about rules leaves itself open to are considerable. The space itself is conceived of both galleries and nooks and crannies where works can be displayed, filled with angles and sharp corners, breaking rules with each of its events, consistently reinventing itself by organizing shows concerned with contemporary creation rather than ‘art’, often leaving theory and social politics aside. Concept is what informs each show.
And yet this time we have a team of three directors—lawyer Tasuku Mizuno, cognitive designer Syunichi Suge, and curator Miyuki Tanaka—who, 21_21 tells us, combined their individual perspectives to make an exhibition that not only explores new ways of looking at, creating, and utilizing rules, but also rethinks the future of exhibitions.
Let’s put aside ‘the future of exhibitions’, and consider what the other propositions manage to forego, using we and our when speaking of rules and how they are hard to pin down and can become mere formalities. Its Japanese beer survey, an interactive experience on voting for what can kind of future you -standing in MidTown Roppongi in Tokyo- are hoping for, from love to climate, or the cleverly playful road sign work of Ge Yulu, succeed in erasing the idea of a ruling system and ruler out of the equation. But to its benefit, the show provides a number of works that allow the spectator to vote for something, as if directly experiencing the rules that comprise society. While actual voting in Japan represents less than 50% of the population, the majority over 65, the results of which make the rules of public life. The exhibition did make it possible for all of us to vote over the course of the visit. Once outside, a minute percentage of us might want to vote for those rules that would shape the future in Japan. And we can’t.
And then there are those urban areas that somehow managed to remain ‘unruled’. They are on the radar, the surveillance cameras are there but something is missing. Who gets to fill the gap, who benefits from playing with it?
The presence of Ge Yulu’s work in this exhibition comes as a surprise, and is a perfect fit in the show’s context. His work “Ge Yu Lu” (Geyu Street), made during his student years at Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) has made him widely known to a lot of young people in China. With the word “Lu” already part of his name, he persistently planted it in unnamed alleys in Beijing. This naive rebellion and absurd insistence moved his peers, who were caught between the rules of everyday life and ideological norms. This tradition seems to have existed for quite some time at CAFA, which is located in the most intensely regulated city in China, Beijing. Just recently, an experiment by a student currently enrolled at CAFA named Zou Yaqi, saw her ‘package’ herself as an uptown girl and live without spending a penny for 21 days by taking advantage of various upper-middle-class resources, also caught the attention of social media.
“Street” is an important zoning unit in Chinese cities, its counterpart in Japan being block (chome). Ge’s performance of a play on words shouldn’t have any difficulty in conveying itself to a Japanese audience already familiar with the character (kanji). But the different rules about urban planning makes one wonder how much of that crucial little quirksome quality in Ge’s work can get through. Not to mention how the increasingly oppressive regulations in China today make this work, and this type of practice, increasingly unachievable. Ge Yulu eventually returned to the white cube to pursue his questions and challenges. How long will those who visit the Rules exhibition be able to keep their own questioning and challenging posture?
On the day we visited 21_21, September 22, the Rules exhibition was filled with groups of young people in their late teens and early 20s who weren’t shy about trying out the various interactive installations. The space looked like a section of a social science museum (if only there was such a thing!), with an undemanding intellectual threshold and a moderate/complacent political attitude that could serve as a starting point to induce attention, with little intention of actually creating an environment for in-depth discussions.