Digital, rough and maybe deadly

Young Japanese artists curate an exhibition in Yokohama in response to the triennale

by Donald Eubank

Zaim is dirty. The floor is scuffed, the windows old, the building a strange maze of rooms with low ceilings. Compared to the slick show on a couple blocks away at this year’s Yokohama Triennale, the exhibition space that used to be a government office building is beat-up and ready for trouble.

Currently Zaim is housing “The Echo,” an exhibition of 21 Japanese creators in their 30s to 40s that runs till Oct. 5. Organized by the artists Kengo Kito, Satoru Aoyama, Ichiro Isobe and Daisuke Ohba, as well as Haruka Ito of the gallery magical, ARTROOM in Ebisu, the exhibition is a response to the lineup for this year’s triennale.

“As soon as I saw the big-name international curators selected for the Yokohama Triennale, I knew there was no chance for Japanese artists to show our generations’ art to the audience,” Aoyama said Tuesday night.

“So we organized this artists’ initiative,” added magical’s Ito. One of the founders of the Art Studies and Cultural Productions graduate program at Kyoto University of Art and Design, the gallerist is actively trying to cultivate platforms for homegrown contemporary Japanese art.

“The artists showing at ‘Echo’ are very influenced by the Internet, TV screens and computer monitors,” said Ito. “Their method of describing life is very different. They, like others in their generation, understand life through digital images.”

Luckily for viewers, this fascination with digital media is not something that they explore like an otaku (geek), obsessing over the new supremacy of pixilated culture. Rather it is a natural methodology for producing engaging works that deal with issues other than the technology that generates digital images. (This should not be surprising given that Japan is a source of — and hence the first to absorb and take for granted — so many of modern technologies.)

For example, Ohba’s glimmering paintings are inspired by the liquidlike surfaces of computer monitors. Kohei Nawa regularly turns ordinary objects — animals, shoes, sashimi — into pixilated versions with bubbly surfaces. Takeshi Masada does paintings that replicate the appearance of images on digital screens. But all these works have an alive, rough-hewn, human touch to them.