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“The closing of a door can bring blessed privacy and comfort — the opening, terror. Conversely, the closing of a door can be a sad and final thing — the opening a wonderfully joyous moment.”

— Andy Rooney, American author and news commentator.

During the five years Yokohama-born artist Hiroharu Mori was living and working in the United States, he became interested in how the open social environment there contrasted with the atmosphere in Japan, where spontaneous interaction between strangers is rare. And so one day he took his studio door right off its hinges, mounted it on a dolly attached to a shoulder harness, and rolled it through the streets of Boston. He then invited anyone and everyone to drop in on his now doorless studio for a visit.

Although he admits to having felt a little vulnerable doing this, Mori was pleased with the results of his cross-cultural experiment. He says that it helped change his outlook, and perhaps more significantly, it evolved the way in which he saw himself.

“My personal identity was initially based on my being Japanese. But through my relationship with Western culture, that began to slip away. When I came back to Japan last September I found that my way of speaking and my way of thinking had changed. I had the feeling that I had lost my identity, and that became my new identity. Now I see myself and the world more objectively.”

Mori is currently showing at the Higure 17-15 Contemporary Art Studio in Nishi-Nippori. “Aperture” is a solo show featuring video and photographic works conceived mostly while he was in the U.S.

This is the inaugural exhibition under the Higure’s new management, which plans to run four or five shows this year. The gallery is tucked away not far from the Yanaka cemetery, occupying three floors of a little building which previously served as the storage space for a movie-set production company, a company which now also builds installations for prestigious Tokyo contemporary art spaces such as the Shiseido and Opera City galleries.

The first work visitors encounter here is “A Camouflaged Question in the Air” (2003), a billboard atop the building, which pictures a balloon floating in the air, emblazoned with a question mark printed in a military camouflage pattern. The ambiguity of the image and the title are characteristic of Mori’s work with language and interpretation, and relate to his desire to have his work function as a catalyst for ideas rather than deliver a message.

A principal work, on the gallery’s first floor, is “Life/World” (2003), a two-channel video and sound installation that alternates images of neon signs with those of the artist shouting the words “life” and “world” through a megaphone.

This focus on the polarization of personal experience and the world outside, and on the relationship between images and words, is revisited in the gallery basement, where one finds “Study for ‘Minna Nakayoshi’ by Victoria and Bruce” (2003). This is a video-and-sound work in which “Victoria and Bruce,” the virtual characters in a speech-synthesizing software program, read a lecture on ethics taken from a 1970s television program aimed at Japanese schoolchildren. The software was designed to interpret English-language text, and so Mori romanized and manipulated the text to make the generated speech sound as natural as possible, with the still-awkward results testifying to the challenges of literal cross-cultural transcription.

The exhibition also includes extensive photodocumentation of Mori’s various performances and projects in the U.S., including the title work, “Aperture,” a video which shows Mori rolling that studio door through the streets of Boston.

“When I showed this video in the U.S.,” recalls Mori, “many people related it to Jesus carrying the cross. It is this sort of unexpected reaction that I find interesting as an artist.”

This is a thoughtful and well-presented show for Mori, 34, who is currently working on a M.Sc. in Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and divides his time between Japan and the West. He says he hopes “Aperture” will initiate a dialogue on the distinction between uchi (inner) and soto (outer) that permeates Japanese society: “I suppose I want to encourage Japanese to be more open, to realize that the rewards of a spirit of openness can surpass the risks.”

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