Rethinking what lies beneath the folds

by Danielle Demetriou

With its smooth curves, honeycomb fabric and splashes of gold glitter, the apparently abstract sculpture takes center stage in the gallery.

Lurking beneath its enigmatic surface, however, lies something more ordinary: a Daffy Duck toy standing on a plastic step.

In his latest solo exhibition, artist and fashion designer Kosuke Tsumura presents a series of objects, from the mundane to the surreal, carefully wrapped in a variety of plush fabrics.

A plastic pineapple, a pointy stiletto, a toy gun and an Ultraman figure join Daffy Duck among a raft of everyday items “enfolded” in fabric and put on display at Nanzuka Underground Gallery in Shibuya.

“I bought Daffy Duck in Ginza eight years ago for my daughter and have seen it lying around my home every day,” says Tsumura. “I wanted to present it in a completely different light.

“All these things belong to a new fantasy world. Japan has a big mix of American and European influences. But by wrapping up a mix of cultural symbols, it brings everything together in the same place.”

Presenting the ordinary in an extraordinary context has been a benchmark of Tsumura’s creative career. He has worked as a fashion designer for more than two decades, for Miyake Design Studio and more recently on his own urban survival streetwear label, Final Home, as well as dipping a toe into product design.

Accomplished at transcending the boundaries of art, design and fashion, and inspired by artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Beuys, Tsumura has long explored the theme, regardless of the medium, of conceptualism.

“It’s all one,” he says. “The world of design deals more with everyday practicalities. But there are no boundaries in art. It deals with dangers, passions and death.

“At the same time, art and design live off each other, and I believe fashion is art. They all overlap in some way.”

Tsumura looks every inch the fashion designer in his sleek sunglasses, gray stubble and black T-shirt as he discusses his creations during an escorted tour around his latest exhibition.

A fantastical tone is instantly set by the title of the exhibition — “Muzin,” a word that Tsumura made up to refer to “a dreamy world inside your head.”

Ten sculptures are scattered around the gallery, each appearing at first to be as foreign as it is abstract. Upon closer inspection, however, the familiar shapes gradually come into focus from beneath the folds of fabric.

A plastic banana, the toy gun and an Aladdin’s lamp are among the items folded in heavily embroidered Gobelin fabric and clustered around an empty picture frame in “Borderless Frame.”

“I wanted to make the frame the artistic focus and show how it can be very beautiful in itself,” Tsumura says. “Sometimes the frame is actually better than the picture. I wanted a borderless frame. Inside the frame is one country, outside is another.”

Wrapped in the same heavy fabric is the erotic figure of a female character from the “Evangelion” animation franchise, sitting provocatively on the fingers of an oversize mannequin’s hand.

The theme of childhood toys in disguise reappears in “Gangerous Hero,” in which ever-popular Ultraman and a character from the “Dragonball” anime series form an unlikely union on a toy skateboard.

With a Mohican of threads running from Ultraman’s head and down his back, there are unexpected echoes of traditional Japanese Bodhisattva statues.

“I decided to introduce Ultraman to Dragonball. They may come from different worlds, but wrapping them up together takes them to the same place,” he says.

Tsumura’s fashion legacy makes an appearance in the work entitled “Queen Giddra.” A sleek, pointy-toed stiletto is complemented by the wrapped figure of King Giddra, an early Japanese animation figure.

And in “Brandishing Girl,” a flamboyant anime figure has been wrapped up in a fabric emblazoned with Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit.

“I found the anime figure in Asakusa, and the Peter Rabbit fabric is actually an old curtain,” says Tsumura. “I like the fact that they are mismatched. I wanted to mix two different worlds — one of fighting anime and the other of a very English character.”

Center-stage, however, is “Waffle Daffy.” The only item to be wrapped in a light nonpatterned fabric, the cream honeycomb material is daubed — like all the other exhibits — with generous splashes of gold glitter.

Upon inspection, the smooth lines of the seemingly abstract shape shift into focus to form the familiar outline of Daffy Duck, complete with his signature wide beak, with a plastic stool forming a plinth.

“It is the familiar in disguise,” says Tsumura. “The use of gold glitter is my love of fashion shining through. It makes things beautiful and luxurious. When you see gold, the imagination feels richer and more magical.”

There is not speck of glitter in the second half of the exhibition. Instead, it consists of four gaudy reproductions of iconic paintings Tsumura bought on Yahoo! Auctions for about ¥5,800 each. He has decorated each one with his own embellishments.

In “Monet Salad,” the iconic “Water Lilies” painting has been enhanced with images of slices of tomatoes, cucumber and green lettuce, and a curved line transforms each lily into a floating salad bowl.

A pair of giant Japanese animation-style eyes have been painted onto one of Degas’ classical ballet dancers in “Showy Dancer,” while a swirling dragon makes a surprise appearance in an iconic Van Gogh image.

While at first sight these paintings seem to share little with the artfully wrapped sculptures on an aesthetic level, it soon becomes clear that they share a common concept. “These pictures are all so familiar that everyone thinks they know them,” says Tsumura. “But I’ve tried to present them in a different way, to show people that often they do not know these paintings as well as they think.”

He adds: “It’s the same throughout the exhibition. I’m trying to show how the familiar can be seen in a different way.”

Call it art, fashion, design or pure fantasy. Regardless of the label, there is little doubt that from Daffy Duck to plastic pineapples, Ultraman to Monet’s salad bowls, Tsumura’s work is as imaginative as it is thought-provoking.

Muzin is at Nanzuka Underground Gallery in Shibuya until June 22; open 1-8 p.m. (closed Monday and Tuesday); free admission. For more information, call (03) 3400-0075 or visit www.nug.jp