Art reviews

In the Kinky City

Photo by Pawel Jaszczuk

I entertain myself on trains in Tokyo by watching one of Japan’s most enduring stereotypes; salarymen. Usually found in their natural habitat of a colourless office, members of this penguin-coloured species commonly subsists on a slurry of canned coffee, menthol cigarettes, large tankards of beer and hurriedly slurped noodles. Aesthetically uniform and ubiquitous, they become part of the familiar and predictable wallpaper of the city; white shirt, black suit, tired eyes, pointy shoes. Staring down the train carriage at the rows of slumped, identikit drones, it is easy to imagine that their lives are equally colourless and repetitive. But wait; hold that thought. Fix your eyes on one; imagine him stripped to the waist and being flagellated by two girls half his age wearing cartoon character masks. It’ll make the train ride go a lot quicker, I promise you.”

If you cut into the present, the future leaks out

droog design chair
Do Hit Chair, by Droog Design’s Marijn van der Poll

“The chair is to design what the silhouette is to fashion; constrained only by the simplest of definitions, it reflects the Zeitgeist in its countless innovations and permutations. It is therefore the most effective way to illustrate this conceptual break. This cube may be dented, but it still has the brazen cheek to break the very definition of a chair; you cannot sit on it. It is merely posing as a chair, much like a chihuahua poses as a dog. Is this what the future of design looks like?”

Sentimental Journeys 

araki sentimental journey
Nobuyoshi Araki’s “Sentimental Journey”

Stay long enough in an urban environment in Japan and you will be infected with a nostalgic yearning for the more “traditional” side of the country. Despite being normalized to the daily bombardment of aural intrusions – the clatter and pant of the trains, the chattering public screens and screaming electioneers, the roar of pachinko – even the most enthusiastic city dweller admits a desire to escape. Residents often crave the greenery and uncluttered simplicity that rapid industrialization and its “pave-and-build” mentality robbed them of. While natives don’t quite perceive the same incongruities and clashes between tradition and modernity that foreign visitors are struck by, there is a palpable nostalgia for the rituals, flavours and comforts of “traditional” Japan.”


Yayoi Kusama: at 85, ‘the ideas just keep coming’ – The Sunday Telegraph

“Kusama remains endearingly insecure in spite of her success. She oscillates between reassuring herself of her popularity, by rattling through a list of recent international exhibitions – “São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Seoul, New York” – and desperately seeking affirmation from everyone around her. Of all the endless questions she asks her staff (“What did the gas man want?”, “What is this canvas doing here?”, “Where’s the exhibition schedule?”) the most frequent seems to be, ‘What do you think of this one?’”

Tsuneo Enari: The war through different lenses 

“To represent the psychological scars that have outlived the faded physical ones, Enari juxtaposes their faces against photographs of fire-charred artefacts, including melted glass, a mass of plastic with a bone poking through it, and a scorched Holy Mary statue with blackened eyes. Most of the 20 survivors pictured lost their families, and those who have not considered suicide are the exception. It seems clear that Japan’s rapid economic rise in the latter half of the 20th century was in part due to the strength of such survivors.”

Guerrillas in the Midst

“Were they artful tricksters, intelligent commentators, fame-hungry kids attempting to be art star celebrities while ironically trying to subvert it? Or just revelling in how much attention people will pay to a false rebellion in a country where even eating on the train is an act of social disobedience?”

The Queasy Trinity

“It is hard not to be reminded of Damien Hirst’s famous formaldehyde shark; he also tried to confront viewers with their own mortality by displaying carcasses in modern surroundings. But whereas he continued to flog that dead horse – or rather lethal sea creature – for years, with endless rows of dissected sheep, Nawa has progressed beyond his earlier works to produce something altogether more unsettling.”

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