Curator, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
The Plazzetto Tito, where the "Unattained Landscape" exhibition is being held, is a typically Venetian space with its entrance facing onto a canal (or rather, the street alongside it). What's more, the door was left open during the day, so it felt natural to step inside, but once I got in, I was a little surprised. Roughly in the center of the room stood a row of black panels on which the following text was inscribed in large white lettering.
(Left) The venue, Plazzetto Tito, Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa
(Right) Installation view: David Peace, Occupied City, 2009
IN THE OCCUPIED CITY, this city is a coffin.
This city is a notebook.
This city is a purgatory.
This city is a plague.
This city is a curse.
This city is a story.
This city is a market.
(The rest omitted)
Where is "this city" that he is writing about? Is it here, Venice? Or...? (I should mention that this text is taken from a novel by David Peace.) As I continue walking and reading, I am quietly startled to find black curtains, like Japanese noren, hanging there for some reason. These gentle barriers, which mark the borderline between different spaces, are not something you often see in Venice. I get the sense that I am moving into the interior, or into an alien world. However, when I climb the inner staircase to reach the upper level, I find myself in a large, bright room filled with sunlight.
In the first place, I described the introductory part of the exhibition carefully because I wanted to convey how meticulously the show was designed.
The curatorial members for this event included Akiko Miyake, Program Director of the Center for Contemporary Art, CCA Kitakyushu, and Didier Faustino, who is both an architect and artist, and occasionally works in curation. Some readers will recognize him as the designer of the H BOX mobile exhibition room that came to Japan for the 2008 Yokohama Triennale.
This time, Faustino not only took charge of the exhibition layout, but also designed wooden structures in the shape of crystals and placed these in the exhibition space. He called these structures "strange attractors." This is a term from chaos theory, where, to put it simply, it is used to refer to the idea that the factors that generate chaos can be extremely small, i.e. the notion that the flutter of a butterfly's wings can set off a typhoon.
Then, how can we discover, recognize, and accept the existence of these strange attractors in society? Furthermore, how can we generate such processes successively or intermittently? That is exactly the message that this exhibit is trying to get across.
Faustino and Miyake begin the catalogue's "Introduction" section as follows: "When does cultural unity actually become meaningful? How do cultural unity and national identity overlap? How does a nation's identity spill over its borders to construct itself with others? All of these questions are crucial to the Unattained Landscape exhibition." That is to say, this exhibition was planned to serve as an answer to these questions.
Let us return to the exhibition space. In contrast to the sunlight shining into the room, many of the works encompass a sense of "darkness." For example, in a large, bright room, the enlarged pieces of a manga are on display, and what is depicted is a smoldering city landscape (one scene from Hiroya Oku's GANTZ). On a wall of the same room hangs a small drawing that records a dream: The brother bought a nuclear bunker from some Americans in Amsterdam. It is a strange story that could only have come from Marina Abramović.
From the big room located in the middle, one can enter several other rooms. To the right are posters and films by Shuji Terayama. Straight ahead, you see the photographs of Tomoko Yoneda. Diagonally to the left is Simon Fujiwara's installation. Yoneda's and Fujiwara's rooms are connected, and if you walk further to the left from Fujiwara's room, you reach a room with Meiro Koizumi's video installation (at which point you reach a dead end.)
Installation view: Shuji Terayama
Installation view: Tomoko Yoneda, From the series Japanese House, 2010
Installation view: Simon Fujiwara, Letters from Mexico, 2011
Installation view: Meiro Koizumi, Death Poems for the Living Mouth of Tokyo, 2013
Thus, the large room in the middle becomes the central point, having Terayama at one pole and Koizumi at the other, and Yoneda and Fujiwara's works lined up between them (although slightly askew.) To put it more specifically, on one hand you see the erotic, grotesque world of Terayama from the 1960s and 70s, although this seems to have a sort of innocence when looked at today. On the other hand are the works of Koizumi, created through the filter of the dry technology that made globalization possible, abstracting the contemporary erotic-grotesque with its accompanying whiff of the insidious. What's fascinating is that we don't know whether the work is being presented as the dregs, or as the filtered liquid, but anyway that is the process.
And between these two different erotic-grotesque worlds are inserted works that examine assimilation and difference, such as the Japanese houses in Taiwan (Yoneda) and the history of homosexuals in the Spanish-speaking world (Fujiwara). As a result, the exhibition is being gradually opened up, with both centripetal and centrifugal forces.
This curatorial method is certainly deliberate. In their text, Faustino and Miyake make the following statement: "In a sense, one could say that this [Japan's distinctive] capacity for hybridization, contrast and pushing limits to the extreme is a feature of all art, which, instead of taking up accepted truths, calls upon the learnings of many disciplines to produce a new world of ideas, a new identity. But somehow, as an effect of strange attractors, this new identity is also constituted by otherness, with and through others." To let multiple different viewpoints mediate in a polarized world--that is characteristic of art, and at the same time, a fundamental feature of Japanese culture.
Let us recall the title of the exhibition. That is "Unattained Landscape," but what is a landscape that is unattained? It is no doubt related to the matter of the landscape and the point of view (perspective) that brings it into existence.
As some of you might know from the works of Erwin Panofsky, we human beings are creatures that seek the symbolism of a landscape formed by a single perspective. That is precisely why landscape has functioned so powerfully in national identity, in the way, for example, that Mt. Fuji has done.
However, that is not real. Looking at the reality, we all know that a single, fixed perspective cannot exist, and see that heterogeneous elements here and there (even within ourselves.) Recognizing these truths. Or, if these truths are hard to see, striving to accentuate them. Breaking up the landscape into multiple perspectives and repainting it as something unattained. Yes, just like Cezanne...
Of course, what then appears before your eyes might be diffuse or redundant scenery, but the important thing is to have a little courage and accept this as a "new world." "Unattained Landscape" is an exhibition that was put together in full awareness that risk. I offer my applause.
(Venue photographs and recent photograph of the author: Keizo Kioku)
Curator, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Born in 1976. Completed the master's program at the graduate school of Keio University, and has held his current position since 2000. He has curated exhibitions including "Emotional Drawing" (2008), "Where is Architecture? Seven Installations by Japanese Architects" (2010), "Leiko Ikemura: Transfiguration" (2011), "Double Vision: Contemporary Art from Japan" (2012, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, and others), and "Francis Bacon" (2013). He also writes regularly for the monthly arts magazine Subaru and The Asahi Shimbun newspaper.