The photograph that confronts you on entering the group exhibition “One’s Behavior” has full frontal male nudity. There’s an element of theatricality about this, especially considering that the man baring all is the owner of the gallery, Ken Nakahashi, but the image itself is subdued and unassuming.
This snapshot, by Swedish-born artist Jorgan Axelvall, shows Nakahashi smoking a cigarette in his apartment at night, and is scanned from a Polaroid, so has the feeling of spontaneity and candidness that comes with the territory of instant film. Next to it is a photo of two tulips in a vase, also by Axelvall. These works are accompanied by the poem “And I reminisce,” in which Axelvall expresses his feeling of solidarity with the other artists on the opening night of the exhibition.
In general, this small group show is a chamber piece. Nakahashi says, while showing me round the works, that he’s interested in art as a form of healing, and that he started the gallery in 2014 after quitting a career in real estate. He has a commitment to raising awareness of LGBTQ issues, but also to supporting any marginalized voices. The title of the show expresses Nakahashi’s concern that extremism is on the rise, and that he hopes for more tolerance and neighborliness. “Extremism on the right?” I ask. “And the left; we should find a middle way,” he says.
Vulnerability is also a key issue in this exhibition. Next to Axelvall’s intimate depiction of the naked gallerist is a selection of blotchy child-like paintings on yellowish A4 paper by Mariko Matsushita. They depict faces and figures from Matsushita’s travels and are affixed to the wall very nonchalantly. The images come across as “offerings,” which is, Nakahashi confirms after I mention it, a key point that swayed the judges of the 2016 Contemporary Art Foundation Award and enabled Matsushita to nab the Grand Prix. The lack of affectation in her work is also pretty extraordinary.
Eiki Mori’s “Family Regained” series provides a truncated glimpse into a larger project, first exhibited and published as a monograph in 2017. Two of Mori’s images in the current show are 56 by 56 millimeter contact prints with black borders that take up more of the framed space than the images themselves. In one photo a naked male figure stands on a bed and playfully looks back over his shoulder at the camera, in the other a young man lies on a bed in a different apartment, bright sunlight bleaches out one side of his body as he looks up at some potted plants. Mori’s intention with using contact prints — prints made by placing negatives directly onto photographic paper — is to make images that have not been retouched or manipulated.
They are meant to be artefacts of memory; however, it can also be said the tunnel vision effect of trying to read the tiny prints embedded in black partly mimics the act of looking through a camera viewfinder, reminding us of our status as voyeurs.
Shinji Ihara’s installation of recordings on cassette, drawings, and photographs tucked into the cassette boxes provides disjointed visual and audio fragments of a trip to Antarctica. Ihara narrates stories of his encounters with other people on the cruise, such as trying to engage a member of the ship’s crew in conversation while he is working on deck. A beautiful pencil sketch of the sailor drawn on an envelope also appears in the exhibition.
Generally though, there is an awkwardness to Ihara’s work that is partly endemic to the situation — of spending an extended period of time with strangers in an extreme location — and partly due to Ihara using his encounters as material for breaking away from his comfort zone of painting.
I mention to Nakahashi that, though celebrating human connection is a theme in the exhibition, there is a strong sense in the show of how difficult it is for artists to connect with others.
“Well, you know that in Japanese, when you have an orgasm you say ‘iku‘ — ‘I’m going’ — and in English you say ‘I’m coming,’ he says. “Both are true, and I don’t think there’s any contradiction.”
“One’s Behavior” at Ken Nakahashi Gallery runs through Feb. 29; free. For more information, visit kennakahashi.net.