Cutting-edge art in a tight spot


Special To The Japan Times

If you’re in the mood for an abstruse, slightly puzzling moment, head to Naka-Meguro, one of Tokyo’s acknowledged artistic odd spots, and get yourself to The Container: literally a metal cargo container — but one set in the midst of a hair salon. As soon as you arrive, you may be assailed by feelings of “why the heck did I come here?,” as you are forced — if you are even a little above average male height — to stoop into the cramped and slightly malodorous space. The thought “Is that burned hair?” might even pass through your mind.

I suspect the weirdness of the venue is deliberate, as one of the declared objectives of contemporary art is to disorient. That is what The Container definitely does: You don’t quite feel that you’re at an exhibition, but you’re not there to get your hair cut either. Or are you?

The present show, “Be Seeing You,” comprises two video installations and a couple of sheets of paper with what appears to be a transcribed garbled conversation lifted from someone’s Facebook or Twitter account — all by London-based artist Ami Clarke.

The show applies a slightly dated 1960s radicalism to present debates regarding the freedom of the Internet, but that’s just my reading combined with the message from the press release. This is the kind of show you can’t really understand without additional information or your own subjective input, as the actual contents give little away.

One of the videos is just a blinking eye with a pulsating iris on continuous loop, while the other is a slight reworking of a scene from the 1960s cult TV series “The Prisoner,” featuring one of the large “Rovers,” animated balloon objects that police the village in that otherworldly TV show.

Most of the clues lie in the free pamphlet titled “UN-PUBLISH,” which is comprised of two real conversations and an imagined one between Bradley Manning, now under prosecution for leaking classified military information to Wikileaks, and others. The title, a tag line from “The Prisoner,” is perhaps a reference to some of the Orwellian tendencies of modern information-management.

“The management of online data is exceptionally open to abuse in that it is very easy to delete so that no trace is evident of it ever having been there,” Clarke explained by email. “You would have had to know it was there in the first place. Julian Assange (WikiLeaks’ founder), whilst in conversation with Hans Ulrich Olbrist (art curator/critic), talks about ideas relating to this, which he calls: ‘Un-publishing’ “

While the idea matrix that Clarke is attempting to set up is interesting, the show doesn’t work. Unfortunately, the videos don’t hold your attention, while “UN-PUBLISH” succeeds in “unpublishing” itself by being the kind of unreadable nonsense that constitutes most online conversations.

“Be Seeing You: Ami Clarke” at The Container (inside Bross hair salon, 1F Hills, Daikanyama. 1-8-30 Kami-Meguro, Meguro-ku) runs till April 9. Open Mon., Wed.-Fri. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.- 8 p.m. Free admission. Closed Tue.