To the cosmos and then back down to Earth

by Donald Eubank

Artist Chris Bucklow has been many things: a writer, a curator and, just as relevantly, an amateur astronomer. A trip to Botswana to view Halley’s comet was the impetus to finally leave London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, where he had worked for 10 years, and take up art fulltime. The now 52-year-old Bucklow started creating paintings of how he imagined the electrical activity of people dreaming would look like from outer space, but, unsatisfied with the result, sought a photographic method to portray his visions.

The result is the artist’s long-running “Guest” series. Bucklow takes giant sheets of tin foil, places photographic paper underneath them and then places both in the daylight before slowly poking holes in the foil to form life-size silhouettes of his subjects. It is like a large-scale camera obscura, and depending on which holes are punched first, the intensity of the exposure varies. The subjects are usually the artist’s friends, who also represent different aspects of his own psyche. Recently, however, he was commissioned to create a portrait of German supermodel Claudia Schiffer for the November edition of the British Harper’s Bazaar. Those works and others from his “Guest” series are now on show at the Emon Gallery in Tokyo’s Hiroo.

Solar in nature, the works are cosmic in appearance — human figures made out of constellations of bright stars — and it appears that Bucklow has succeeded in achieving his original intention of capturing the stuff of dreams.

W hile Bucklow brings the heavens to Earth, artist Nobuhiro Ishihara gets deeper beneath the earth’s spiritual surface. In many cultures, “the deer man,” the central character of Ishihara’s installation at nichido contemporary art (nca), is a messenger between the world of gods and humans, and the artist uses him as inspiration to explore life and death.

“I am really interested in ‘between things,’ ” Ishihara said Tuesday at the nca. “Not borders — sometimes people think there is a clear division between these worlds, but I think they are more ambiguous.”

One side of the gallery offers “life”: three colorful paintings of the deer man, a homage to Ishihara’s late ikebana teacher, Kozo Okada of the more than 500-year-old Ikenobo school. The other three walls — “the side of death” — present three black-and-white paintings, one containing a mirror and a sprawling wall installation illustrating the head of a deer with black hair and antlers reaching out like the hanging branches of a shikadare sakura (cherry) tree. Stand in the middle of the room and look at your reflection — where are you in between the layers of life and death?

Also inspired by Morumachi Period art forms, such as ikebana and noh, as well as Western theories of archetypes, Ishihara uses contemporary art to portray a particular Japanese view of the nature of the world in this compelling space at nca. (‘deer man’ ends this coming Saturday.)

Artists often try to transcend earthly issues, but many of us can only complain about them: “My boss makes his mistakes mine”; “I was going to break up with my boyfriend, but he broke up with me first”; “When I get omiyage (presents), there’s always shrimp in them!” Artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen have decided to do something about our grievances by collecting complaints from residents of eight cities and setting them to music to be publically sung choruses. While the concept sounds cute on paper, it is even more charming in person. The above complaints are from the Japanese chorus, sung at Tokyo’s Zojoji Temple and the Mori Art Museum. Videos of all eight cities can now be seen at the Mori for its 10th MAM art project.

“We wanted to take all this negative energy we produce from complaining,” said Kalleinen before the Zozoji performance, “and create something positive out of it.”

They have succeeded, even in Singapore where the choir gained world-wide publicity after authorities banned it from performing publicly because it felt that six of its members, who were not citizens of Singapore, had no right to complain about the country.

“Christopher Bucklow Exhibition” at Emon Photo Gallery runs till Dec. 25; open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. (till 6 p.m. Sat., closed Sun.); free admission. For more information, call (03) 5793-5437 “Nobuhiro Ishihara: deer man” at nichido contemporary art runs till Dec. 12; open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. (closed Mon., Sun.); free admission. For more information, call (03) 3555-2140 or visit www.nca-g.com “Complaints Choir” at the Mori Art Museum runs till Feb. 28; open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. (till 5 p.m on Tue.); free admission with tickets to “Medicine and Art” exhibition at ¥1,500. For more information call (03) 5777-8600 or visit www.mori.art.museum