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In the event that you find yourself up in Edogawabashi, be aware that the northern Shinjuku neighborhood is not completely off the map, art-wise. Two very pleasant spaces occupy a building just a few minutes walk from its eponymous station — the Uplink Gallery and La Galerie des Nakamura.

The third-floor Uplink gallery/cafe is operated by Takashi Asai’s movie distribution company of the same name. Asai is a vigorous supporter of the creative community — in 1994 he published a monograph of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs in Japan, and is still involved in a case (now at the Supreme Court) challenging the government to revise its definition of obscenity.

Now showing at the Uplink is the promising conceptual artist Makoto Ishiwata. The 27-year-old, based in Kanagawa, first garnered attention with his “Vacuum Packing” project, which involved shrink-wrapping gallery visitors. After donning a baseball catcher’s mask and stepping into a telephone boothlike structure with thin, translucent rubber walls, the participant would strike a pose. The air was then sucked out of the booth, leaving the person inside looking — and maybe feeling — like a piece of meat in a supermarket (which was one of Ishiwata’s inspirations for the project).

The vacuum project won the Kirin Contemporary Art Award last year, and a selection of photographs documenting it is here at Uplink.

In Ishiwata’s current exhibition, “Lightworks,” he explores a completely new avenue. “Lightworks” comprises two cylindrical, light-and-shadow generating sculptures, each about 2 meters tall and some 30 cm in diameter. These are mounted on opposite sides of the Uplink’s main room, such that they stretch outward at about eye level. A motorized pulley system slowly moves a powerful light bulb back and forth inside each of the sculptures, causing concentric circles of light to diverge and then converge from the base of the structure, along the gallery walls, floors and ceilings.

“I want ‘Lightworks,’ to synthesize the feeling of a cage, and the movement of water” says the artist,

I was not terribly impressed by “Lightworks,” but I did find a certain charm in the piece. The “machineness” of it, the whirring of the motors and rough movement of the pulleys, lends the installation a pleasingly busy presence. To be fair, the light machines were intended to be displayed vertically and would, I think, be more effective if they were the only (or the principal) source of light in the viewing environment. But the Uplink is also a cafe, and so the effect here is compromised by the other room lights.

The Nakamura galleries, on the second and third floors, are now hosting a show by the 10-member art collective “h.o” (the name of the group derives from the elemental notation for water, H2O).

“Memory of Media” is a five-monitor video installation which won the Phillip Morris Art Award in 2000 (when h.o was known as “MMM”). The piece presents five different views of a Tokyo neighborhood shot simultaneously by five cameras. Initially, the scenes seem to have little or nothing in common, but at the conclusion of the five-minute piece, the perspectives converge on the same physical point — a train crossing — and everything “comes together.” An engaging if contrived piece, “Memory of Media” joins 12 more recent h.o works here.

I was particularly impressed by “Four Seasons,” a new work consisting of abstracted computer graphic videos that are projected onto a thin “screen” of gently falling sand.

The exhibition is themed on communication and time and the first floor, divided into two imaginary residences, looks more like a shop interior than an art gallery. Here, h.o is showcasing its network-based interactive tools — we have a light switch in one room which controls a light in the other; a pair of egg-size objects that emit light that increases in intensity as they are brought closer together; and a colony of shoe-size plastic ants. The ants are individually numbered — visitors can buy one and then use the registration number to “track” it in a virtual ant farm located on the h.o Web site.

Other pieces explore possibilities for Internet communication beyond the keyboard-and-PC interface paradigm. There are plenty of interesting ideas throughout this exhibition, and I would not be surprised if some of h.o’s creations ended up in stores in time for Christmas.

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