Code and function in a world of altered reality

by Stuart Munro

Special To The Japan Times

Hideki Nakazawa originally studied medicine graduating from the Medical School of Chiba University to work as an ophthalmologist until, in 1990, he decided to work with computer graphics as an illustrator. His experience of art during university and his shift to illustration saw him explore representation with repetition and geometry, taking cues from the early Dada-ists, such as Kurt Schwitters.

As one of a blossoming group of independent Japanese artists who had been working outside of traditional art culture circles, his collaged geometries began what became the artist’s long-term exploration of computer science as a raw source material for art.

Traditional materials gave way to the code of HTML and the fabric of websites, which he saw as sculptural and manipulative. The ownership and license of tools Nakazawa created became industrial materials in the form of patented software. Focusing art ideas on method instead of style or form was the principle of Methodicism, a movement he initiated in the early 1990s alongside other artists including a poet and a composer.

The main work for Nakazawa’s solo show at The Container is an installation from 1996 incorporating his “Silly CG” (childlike computer graphics), where, with the help of instruction, the viewer overlays imagery and sound. The show also includes his “Letter Coordinates Paintings” that form “meaningless” visual fields. The arrangement of kanji characters into a pixel-grid-like alignment produces patterns in place of meaning. These palimpsests of interacting sound and image, along with the light boxes that sit abreast The Container, all echo the flickering effect of ideas and meanings that are hidden or ultimately lost.

Nakazawa’s work explores gesture and language in simplistic ways that have become so commonplace that they now only serve to remind us of their legacy without exploring their potential further. His own website, on the other hand, is a dense and carefully constructed catalog of ideas, works and writings both past and present, and remains perhaps the best place to experience the collective impact of his working and thinking, somewhere unlikely to be reproduced by a traditional gallery setting. He considers some of the writing online as both “artwork” and “not artwork” — A Dada-ist in the truest sense!

Looking at the light boxes, the old software and bits of old Macintosh computers, you are left to wonder whether it really matters if something is meaningful, real or authentic. If the world explored by Nakazawa is all function and code, would any process of uncovering and exploring it be more fulfilling if that experience were to be entirely visual? Every artistic movement is a bid to get closer to reality, as argued in David Shields’ book on modern culture “Reality Hunger.” It’s the way the present is ultimately constructed.

The more reality is consumed, the more importance is placed on acceptance within the aesthetically driven culture we all find ourselves within. If style is a by-product of artistic process and method and it is counter-productive, perhaps Nakazawa’s past work is an art form and style within itself. Don’t let the show fool you. His work is most definitely worth exploring further.

“Systems and Methods in Hidden Functions” at The Container (inside Bross Hair Salon, Nakameguro) runs till 10 Dec. For more information visit www.the-container.com.