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Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008

ART BRIEF

'Diorama of the City: Between Site and Space'


Tokyo Wonder Site, Shibuya

News photo

Closes October 13

For the past two years, the municipal government-sponsored Tokyo Wonder Site (www.tokyo-ws.org) has been offering a residency program in Aoyama that gives foreign and Japanese artists the opportunity to interact with each other right in the heart of Tokyo. Under the leadership of director Yusaku Imamura, TWS has become one of the city's most supportive experimental spaces. Most recently the TWS' gallery in Shibuya is hosting an exhibition that shows the results of a three-month visit by three Australian artists — Alex Gawronski, Gail Priest and Tim Silver — who were paired with three Japanese artists/collectives: Hiraku Suzuki, Exonemo and Paramodel.

While the title of the exhibition is "Diorama of the City: Between Site and Space," the subject inevitably is Tokyo. Gawronski and Silver tackle this in very specific ways. Silver investigates Tokyo's gay scene through the lens of J-horror film aesthetics. While some of the images conjure up real menace, others just look like the boys hanging out. Gawronski takes photos of and makes animations from the eyes of cartoon mascots from commercial signs, pulling them out of their original context. The collection of eyes shows an interesting range, from the trademark geometries of Takahashi Murakami to naively drawn yuru-kyara-style characters.

Priest has the most intimate solution and more open- ended approach to digesting Tokyo in just three months. For 28 days the sound artist went to 28 different neighborhoods recording the ambient sounds she found. She then remixed them — scooters racing, someone coughing, cicadas buzzing — and hummed along to the tracks of Ikebukuro, Harajuku and Meguro. Priest sounds as if she is trying to sing herself into a place within the city, to figure out her part in this sprawling alien metropolis.

Knowing Tokyo, the three Japanese participants show a different kind of exploration. Artist group Paramodel's installations already speak of the city in that they replicate miniature metropolises with race-car tracks and plastic construction cranes. Made by Yasuhiko Hayashi and Yusuke Nakano, the works meld a commentary — the predominance of heavy industry in the landscape of cities — with an aesthetic — traditional ink paintings. At TWS, they have made a dense composition of the blue tracks and gray pipes.

Seeing as their medium is modular toys, the pair's installations can end up all looking similar. If Paramodel took inspiration from the Sarah Sze exhibition at Hermes last February, the addition of a bit more chaos or of a stronger narrative to the pieces would give them extra depth. I'd be curious to see the differences in the work they will do after their three month residency at Artspace in Sydney compared with their current installation at TWS.

Suzuki, who often works with trash scavenged from the city, assembles 900 photographs of his black-and-white drawings, a shield made out of white car reflectors that he picked up in the streets and a large triangular road sign on two of TWS' walls. The artist says that the rains this year made him feel that Tokyo had become a different place — somewhere tropical and wild — so the easiest way to understand the work is as a mashup of the ultimate urban center and the tribal jungle. But it is the most inscrutable piece in the show, overwhelming with the volume of creativity on display.

Kensuke Sembo and Yae Akaiwa of Exonemo show off some of the great work that is being done in Japan using video and PC technology. Alone in TWS back room, an ungainly metal frame of pipes, golf clubs and ringing bells and cymbals is topped by a clock that is racing erratically back and forth. After your attention passes from this clanging thing you will notice on the wall a screen that shows the room you are in, but with someone other than yourself in it and the clock standing still — wait long enough and you will see your past self in the room.

Surrounded in urban environments by piped-in music, video advertising and touch-screen interfaces, the dynamism of works that take advantage of new technologies — such as Exonemo's and Priest's — best reflect the modern city. They point out entertainingly what we are beginning to take for granted: That many of the spaces and sites in the city have become virtual, and hence possible to virtually re-create.


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