Is this the art of noise?

by C.B. Liddell

Special To The Japan Times

If art is something that you want to feel comfortable with in your home, then Haroon Mirza is probably not your man. As the winner of the 2012 Daiwa Foundation Art Prize, British-born, ethnic-Pakistani artist Mirza is being introduced to Tokyo’s art connoisseurs with a show at SCAI THE BATHHOUSE.

But how much demand can there be in the land of “rabbit hutch” apartments for an artist whose work, as showcased in this show, flashes, flickers, buzzes, and hums?

Visually, the installation, titled “Falling rope,” has a minimalist and brutalist aspect: a speaker hangs by a wire from the ceiling; an ultra thin video screen plays a scene of a waterfall that can only be seen when a light behind it flashes; sparse LED strips have been attached to the wall behind bent plastic sheets; speakers blare out “sub-music” ? sounds that seem to distantly strive toward music in the same way that a moth strives for the moon. The scene evoked is of a post-apocalyptic, vandalized disco, but not nearly as exciting as that sounds.

According to curator Yuka Watanabe, the installation is an extremely subtle riff on the gallery’s former status as a public bathhouse. Typically such establishments are decorated with large scenic paintings, usually featuring Mount Fuji. And if you try very hard you can just about envision it: the hissing speaker suspended from the ceiling representing the summit of Japan’s holy mountain; the waterfall the ablutions.

Such iconoclasm is very much ingrained in Mirza and his role in what appears to be Britain’s consciously “inclusivist” art culture. Back in multicultural Britain extra efforts have to be made to ensure that not all prominent artists end up being from white middle-class backgrounds. But the danger of purposely including “ethnic artists” is that they end up as caricatures of their own cultures.

Mirza’s art avoids this trap. There is little hint of the Kasbah, mosque, or madrassa in the end product, allowing him to be considered a truly “modern artist” in the sense of being removed ? as so many of us are these days ? from his cultural roots.

But while it’s easy to see Mirza’s rise as an expression of inclusivist affirmative action, his work also riffs on the important issue of how we relate to a world that is increasingly dominated by electronics, noise, and various kinds of signals and static.

Those not quite satisfied by the main installation are advised to request to be shown the normally roped-off upstairs room. Here the staff will be happy to show you three additional, smaller works that reveal a more interesting and collectible aspect of the artist.

“Haroon Mirza” at SCAI THE BATHHOUSE runs till Feb. 23; open 12 p.m.-6 p.m. Free admission. Closed Mon., Sun. and holidays. www.scaithebathhouse.com.