Mickey springs his mouse trap

SHIMURABROS. frees Mickey Mouse from cartoons and lets him roam in an artwork

by Paul Mcinnes

Visiting the SHIMURABROS. studio in Yokohama’s trendy BankART Studio NYK, one of the venues used for the 2008 Yokohama Triennale, you might think you had made a blunder and walked into a medical facility. Computer screens showing CT scans line the walls with the only one thing giving the game away — a single TV playing a Mickey Mouse cartoon — although Mickey has been erased out of the picture.

Welcome to the peculiar world of Yuka and Kentaro Shimura — the siblings that make up the award-winning SHIMURABROS.

The duo, who are artists-in-residence at BankART until June, have been creating art, in some form or another, since they were children. Since graduating from university (Yuka from Central Saint Martins in London and Kentaro from Tokyo Polytechnic University), they have been involved in a plethora of projects incorporating film, installations and sculpture.

Their substantial body of work has included collaborative film “Eicon” with hip Tokyo fashion brand The Viridi-anne, “Sekilala,” which screened at Cannes and the unforgettable installation “X-Ray Train — Lumiere Bros to SHIMURABROS.,” which was exhibited at Design Tide in 2007 and involved the CT scanning of a train.

The duo, whose name is derived from various brothers involved in the film and art world — Warner Bros., Coen Bros. and Chapman Bros — strive to recreate, in all of their work, the same level of shock and effect that “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat” by the Lumiere Brothers, one of the first-ever films, was received with in 1895.

“We start with film, and when we shoot a film it is connected to the Lumiere brothers,” explains Yuka.

“(In 1895), the audience thought a real train was coming (into the theater), so the brothers had real power through their images. But now, when we watch the same film we don’t actually think it’s a real train. We want to try to gain that same initial effect and power.”

Akihisa Hirata is an internationally renowned architect and artist, whose acclaimed projects include “Showroom H” in Niigata, Daikanyama’s “Sarugaku” complex and the information center “Ienoie” for the 2008 Yokohama Triennale. Hirata and SHIMURABROS. came together through the Taka Ishii Gallery in Kyoto. Yuka says that “the gallerist at Taka Ishii had Mr. Hirata’s project already and they introduced him to us. He wanted an artist who could project images on his work — so we started to collaborate.”

The piece in question is titled “6/1,” and is a Mobius strip-like structure made from a steel frame and extended fabric on which SHIMURABROS. project their images. Hirata writes in the exhibition notes, “By incorporating six orbs and shifting them at each hemicycle to combine them, one creates a loop which passes through itself six times. Just by hanging cloth between the steel frame created in such a manner, a mysterious three-dimensional space is generated.”

Though SHIMURABROS. had initially planned to project onto a bigger platform, such as a building or wall, they were attracted to the challenge posed by Hirata’s creation. The opportunity allowed them to examine and stretch the boundaries of architecture. Yuka says, “Usually architecture is static but with this piece we can see time and movement. The images have the power to change the site of architecture. We can move it. Our object is very square and sharp whereas Hirata’s object is very soft and round. We thought ‘this is different,’ and yet somehow it fits together. Our concept is therefore ‘discord.’ “

Within Hirata’s mathematical structure, SHIMURABROS.’ installation “MMY: Mouse Made in Yokohama” is made from mainly sealed liquid film, acrylic and steel. In a separate gallery room, visitors can view the cartoon in which Mickey Mouse has been digitally removed, while in the main space an image of a mouse is projected onto Hirata’s screen. What we see is an outline that appears to be Mickey Mouse, but when looked at closely is actually a composition of a mouse, camera parts and a silkworm.

The duo stress that their work is grounded in Yokohama — their hometown — where they can concentrate without the many distractions of Tokyo. They used the images of cameras because Yokohama was once home to Japan’s first commercial photo studio and the silkworm because of the city’s important role as a primary port for the silk industry. An embryonic version of “MMY” was also first shown last year in Nogeyama Zoo in Yokohama.

Though their work carries an undercurrent of intellectualism — previous works references the writings of linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and philosopher Rene Descartes — the two aren’t shy in acknowledging the overt playfulness of their project: “We showed the baby of this mouse last year in Nogeyama Zoo,” Yuka says. “You could say the mouse was born then, but now it’s already standing and traveling to Kyoto. Mickey was erased from the film to show he has escaped from the cartoon and has leaped into our project.”

The relationship between science, mathematics and art, the removal of an icon, interspatial quandaries, and theories of perception and physicality involved in this complex and humorous work are part of just one step of the SHIMURABROS.’ artistic exploration. Their next challenge is to create images that we can touch and feel. The results of this can be seen at the duo’s upcoming solo exhibition at the Taka Ishii Gallery in September.

“Akihasa Hirata X SHIMURABROS.” at the Taka Ishii Gallery, Kyoto, runs till June 19; free admission; open 11 a.m.-7 p.m., closed Sun, Mon. and national holidays. For more information, visit www.takaishiigallery.com