InterCommunication No.16 1996

InterCity MITO

Day Tripping, and Awakening
James TURRELL and TANAKA Takahiro at Art Tower Mito

The James TURRELL exhibition held at Art Tower Mito was an intriguing one, particularly in comparison with the TANAKA Takahiro exhibition held at the same time.
As the subtitle "Toward Unknown Light" suggests, light is everything in TURRELL's work. Born in 1943, TURRELL has been producing works that take light itself as their medium ever since his "Projection Piece" in 1966. Light in general is one thing, but to speak of a light that summons the viewer to "another world" sounds all too esoteric. It seems, however, that the light in question is the twilight of the deserts where sixties hippies slumbered, and the luminosity of those psychedelic visions at the height of their trips. This artist is now mobilizing advanced technology to reproduce that light in the museum.
The centerpiece of the exhibit was surely the "Atlan" (95) which emitted, from an aperture in the front, a subtlely modulating quiet light that seemed to envelope the viewer in an eternal twilight. In terms of the depth and breadth of light, there have been several other works in this "Space Division Construction" series begun in 1976 which were more effective. TURRELL's contribution to "The Day After Tomorrow," a group show which I saw in Lisbon in 1994 comes to mind, although there was no variation in the light. But as I wrote in the eleventh issue of this journal, there was no competing with the "eternal twilight" to be found in reality on this westernmost seacoast in Portugal. Whether you think of "Atlan" or "Zona Rosa" (95) which bathes the room in red and blue light, TURRELL's works seem best suited to lounges where tired club kids chill out after a long night dancing. Or would that be too ironic?
Also included in this exhibit was a piece called "Soft Cell" (92), part of the "Perception Cell" series begun in the early nineties. Alone, the visitor entered an anechoic chamber in order to experience total darkness and quiet. (Unfortunately, however, nothing was done to cut out olfactory stimuli). Then there was the "Gasworks" (93) in which one was to lie down in a tank, also alone, to be wrapped in a flood of light. (The paramedical white suits worn by the assistants were a little too campy--but then again they weren't as bad as the Aum sect's meditation robes). These two exhibits were extremely popular and reservations were hard to make. There was also a sample on display of an enormous cosmological project to create eleven rooms which sense the light of the sun and the moon from the inside of the Roden crater on an extinct volcano in Arizona. Unfortunately, however, the massive, rough-hewn models of the crater which were placed right at the entrance to the exhibition detracted from the flow of an exhibition otherwise dedicated to light, which has no mass at all. But nonetheless, as a whole the exhibition succeeded in providing a sufficiently multidimensional sense of the many aspects of light that TURRELL has been pursuing over almost thirty years.
If this James TURRELL exhibition was replete with a vaguely trippy sensibility, its perfect compliment was to be found in the wakeful clarity of the TANAKA Takahiro exhibition held at the same time. Born in 1962 TANAKA was chosen as the eighteenth young artist to be included in the "Criterium" series. TANAKA took the small room given him and transformed it into a minimalist space in the strictest sense of the term, without even the slightest compromise. The white room was entirely packed with seven thousand burned-out fluorescent tubes stacked on end and flooded from above in white light and a high-frequency audio signal (sound by IKEDA Ryoji). Aside from these objects no extraneous items were included. From what I have seen, most of the works in the "Criterium" series have been garbage--but this work was a welcome exception to the rule. In fact, I doubt Japan has ever seen such a pure example of minimalism. There were, of course, the works of the so-called Mono-ha. But most of the "things" (mono) used in those works were fetishized into mushy subjective lyricism. TANAKA's fluorescent cylinders, each held in place by two thin terminals, stood as if they had no weight of their own. And yet they were sturdy enough to prevent any lyricism from slipping in between the cracks. (Burned-out fluorescent tubes were used for no other reason than that new ones would have made the piece look like something out of a tacky science fiction movie). There was only an impassive white and silver surface, deflecting facile emotional identifications. This uncompromising character gave this modest exhibition an impact which exceeded that of TURRELL's elaborate work. If TURRELL's playful explorations of trippy feelings actually belonged in the club scene where the sixties is currently in revival, TANAKA's work, by refusing to cater to such naive dreaming, undoubtedly deserves pride of place in the center of today's art scene as an elaboration of the best of minimal art. Of course Japan's pseudo-art scene lacks such a basic understanding and so this work was almost entirely ignored, and I hear it's already been scrapped as industrial waste. But there's nothing to be sad about. Because even now, in the world of pseudo-art, where most people have yet to extract themselves from the noisome eighties and produce nothing but insider parodies and bad jokes, we have found at least one real artist who has not sold out and keeps doing his own thing.

"James TURRELL: Toward Unknown Light" was held from November 3, 1995 to January 28, 1996, and "Criterium 18: TANAKA Takahiro" from November 3 to December 10, 1995, both in the Contemporary Art Center of Art Tower Mito.

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