Borders in question for Chim↑Pom’s new art show

by

Special To The Japan Times

Ballsy art collective Chim↑Pom have taken on Donald Trump’s America in their solo exhibition “The other side.” One of the most well-known contemporary iconoclasts in Japan, Chim↑Pom have previously caught rats before dyeing them yellow and red to resemble Pikachu and installing them on a Tokyo street, added depictions of the stricken Fukushima nuclear reactors to the lower-right corner of artist Taro Okamoto’s public mural in Shibuya and contributed work to an inaccessible group show within the Fukushima exclusion zone as part of their ongoing mission to be in the wrong place at the right time.

Focusing on the U.S.-Mexico border, “The other side” is an amalgam of videos, photography and installations, from which the story of four connected projects can be unravelled. The 2017 project “Libertad” is the planting of a white cross, described by Chim↑Pom as creating “a grave for the idea of liberty,” in the no-man’s land patrolled by border police. Video footage, displayed in the gallery on an iPhone, shows members of the group with a group of locals, some of whom climb over the flimsy, rusted corrugated-metal fence that separates the run-down Mexican community of Colonia Libertad from the United States.

The main object dominating the gallery space is a mock-up of a tree house, titled “USA Visitor Center,” which Chim↑Pom built overlooking the border in 2016. Among the objects inside the hut is the pelt of a coyote — a reference to the local word for human traffickers, but also to a 2014 Chim↑Pom work of the same name, itself an ode to Joseph Beuys’ 1974 performance piece “I Like America and America Likes Me,” which featured a live coyote.

A related video shows Ellie, the only female member of Chim↑Pom, talking with Ester, a Colonia Libertad local whose house abuts the border fence. At one point in the discussion, Ellie attempts to bond with Ester by saying that they are the same; neither of them are legally permitted to enter the States. The artist has been put on a black list for, allegedly, one of her party previously joking with a U.S. immigration official that he had terrorist connections. Ester drily suggests that Ellie, who formed Chim↑Pom with other members after modeling for their provocateur sempai Makoto Aida and dressed like she’s out clubbing, try jumping over the fence.

The 2017 project “The Grounds” seems to feature Ellie and the gang tunneling under the fence, though their gallery later says that they didn’t go as far as that. A spot-lit plaster cast of her footprints in the tunnel features in a darkened alcove, below a video in which the artist, in the manner of Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for a man” speech, gives a commentary on finally putting her feet on U.S. soil. She adds in the observation that “America doesn’t give a s— about the fact they bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they just talk about Pearl Harbor all the time.”

Bringing attention to the problems of the border is great, but some examination of personal boundaries wouldn’t go amiss.

“Chim↑Pom Solo Exhibition ‘The other side'” at Mujin-to Production runs until April 9; 12 noon-8 p.m. (Sat. and Sun. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.). Free admission. Closed Mon. www.mujin-to.com/index_e.htm