‘Choe U-Ram: Anima Machina’

by Danielle Demetriou

SCAI the Bathhouse

Closes June 28

It breathes. It flickers. It flashes. It hisses. The only thing it does not do is walk out of the room.

“Anima Machines,” the latest exhibition by South Korean artist Choe U-Ram, is a collection of three industrial installations that take robotic engineering to imaginative new heights. Crossing the threshold of the minimalist Scai the Bathhouse gallery (www.scaithebathhouse.com; till June 28) in eastern Tokyo’s Yanaka, a rumbling cacophony of colorful creaturelike sounds instantly fills the air. Center stage is “Una Lumino,” in which dozens of white flowers made from industrial white plastic and raw metal parts are clustered together to form a vast organic beehive shape suspended above the ground.

In an imaginative manipulation of robotics and computer programming, there is constant movement as each of the flowers flare open and closed with a bright white light flashing on each pulsation. Far from the static world of the silent painting, the creation appears to be breathing, as each of the randomly flickering flowers creaks and hisses its way to life on the end of a quivering stem of plastic tubing.

The artist’s tongue-in-cheek accompanying text proudly declares that Una Lumino is a “brand new species of mechanized sentient creature,” which survives off “the origins of a city’s energy.” And there is little doubt that the other two untitled exhibits are also imbued with a life force of their own.

One is a suspended dinosaurlike contraption of intertwined metal cogs that remain mostly stationary before gently hissing to life in a fleeting whirling frenzy.

The other is notable for its silence. Making neither a clink or a creak, it consists of six tendrils of gracefully moving curved metal parts around a heavy cluster of metal cogs at its heart. With its lack of sound and slow fluid movements reflected on the white wall behind it, an underwater atmosphere pervades the metallic starfish-like creation.

It is not the first time that Choe has showcased his skillful use of robotics, programming and electronics in the form of imaginative installations — previous acclaimed exhibitions include the futuristic “Urbanus” creatures at Mori Art Museum two years ago. And visitors who dip a toe in the strange new world of “Anima Machines” will hope it is not the last.