Orphan and the Old Single


Yamamoto Gendai, Tokyo’s Shirokane

Closes April 19

The hamster has returned. The worried hamster, the angry hamster, the sexy hamster. The very very human hamster.

Kyoto-based artist Sako Kojima has filled Yamamoto Gendai gallery’s spacious new Shirokane location with her trademark rodents, all of which display strangely human attitudes and concerns. That makes sense when you find out that Kojima sometimes considers them self-portraits. She even, famously at this point, lived as a hamster for several days in a French gallery.

“When I am terribly shocked, I become a hamster,” says Kojima. “The time will come when I will do another such performance.” For now, the 2- and 3-D works showing till April 19 are great allegories for very human emotions. While her last show, “The Gloaming,” featured cute but sullen or anxious animals, her latest is about stronger passions: sadness and anger. “The anger is against several things,” says the early 30s artist. “One of them is against the sometimes empty Japanese art scene.”

The canvases reflect this passion in their bolder colors — works in “The Gloaming” were muted and tended toward heavy use of white. But Kojima has painted the wall a blood-red at Yamamoto (yamamotogendai.org) and created heavy contrasts in the paintings with loose brush strokes that create moody backdrops for the brooding rodents. Which is impressive seeing as says she didn’t start painting till four years ago.

There are also expertly cast bronze sculptures inspired by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, the German novelist Hermann Hesse and Kojima’s dead pet Ku-chan. They are sexual meldings of the legs of a woman and the body of a hamster that are eerily powerful. If this is all starting to sound a bit weird, don’t worry, a final selection of rodent figurines injects just the lightness needed to make it all come off as a humorous but serious exploration of — perhaps surprisingly — humanity.