Inside a construction site of an artist’s mind

by Mio Yamada

Tokyo-based Scottish artist Jack McLean’s creepy-cute anthropomorphized planks of wood are weird enough on their own, but crammed together inside The Container, a new art space in Tokyo’s Naka-Meguro district, they are even more unnerving. Huddled in corners, leaning against walls and hanging precariously from the ceiling of a space the size and shape of a shipping container, they stare wide-eyed and astonished — as if you’ve caught them by surprise, perhaps just as they emerge from their mundane-plank state to find themselves disfigured at the hands of humans.

Most of the creatures bare sets of teeth, a few have growths of human fingers or lips and some even have eyelashes. One seems angry at the nails hammered into its head, another in shock from a number of razor blades slicing its face.

“I think a lot of artists find art with danger attached to it interesting,” says McLean, while introducing the plank braving seven razor blades. But McLean’s twisted family of timber comes from his subconscious rather than a predilection toward the hazardous. Images just pop into his mind, he says, and when they do, he makes sketches, quite often while standing on the train to work — his “salt mine” of the exhibition’s title.

A recent spate of cabin fever led McLean to take a job as a business English teacher. Though he does not seem enamored with the work, he says it did get him out of the house and it has effectively played on his imaginative subconscious. A couple of his creatures do resemble frustrated office workers — one has smashed glasses, nails hammered through the lenses; another has a generic striped tie around its head. Others, he says, have been inspired by the anger and upsets of daily life.

The pieces are a little bleak, but McLean’s love of low-tech materials, such as salvaged timber, paper clay and items from the ¥100 store, save them from being simply depressing. Instead, the spontaneous, handcrafted look about them makes them amusing, yet oddly sinister. And given the cramped space (this is no place for the claustrophobic), it truly is like getting inside the head of someone heading to the salt mine.

Works at this show are available to buy, with 25 percent of sales being donated to rescue efforts in Sendai. To encourage more buyers, prices have also been reduced to ¥40,000 for sketches and ¥60,000-80,000 for sculptures. “Salt Mine” runs till May 23 at The Container, which is inside Bross hair salon, 1F Hills Daikanyama, 1-8-30 Kami-Meguro, Meguro-ku. Open Mon., Wed.-Fri. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., closed Tues. Admission free. Nearest station: Naka-Meguro. For more information, visit