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Crazy Hat & Long Ears, Our Full Courses Crazy Hat & Long Ears, Our Full Courses
courtesy the artists
SPOOKY ACTION AT A DISTANCE, CURATED BY AMELIA GROOM, PRESENTED THE WORK OF SEVEN YOUNG ARTISTS FROM JAPAN EXHIBITING FOR THE FIRST TIME IN AUSTRALIA. COMMON TO THE WORKS IS A SENSE OF PLAY—GENUINE AND COMMITTED PLAY IN WHICH NAIVETY ALLOWS FOR TOTAL FREEDOM. APTLY TITLED THE WORKS OFFER VISIONS OF THE WORLD WARPED, EXPANDED AND MAGNIFIED, YET MOSTLY BENIGN—WE WITNESS FROM A COMFORTABLE DISTANCE.

Silver & Gold by Kiiiiiii is in fact nothing but play as the girlband duo presents video clips for their songs including a cutesy thrash version of ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” It’s reminiscent of a community TV kids show with a few frenzied gig shots thrown in—think Sailor Moon meets Peaches on Sesame Street.

The work of Crazy Hat & Long Ears also expresses a childlike abandon but their thematic of food and eating offers more conceptual depth. Our Full Courses presents a series of vignettes in which food is remodeled, animated and eventually splattered all over the protagonist—an Alice in Wonderland figure who has been wandering around eating vegetables from posters on walls, feasting on bacon and extracting green milk from puppet cows. The scenarios are vivid yet the tone of the work is quiet and underplayed and the sound track of soft humming and crunchy foley renders the work particularly intriguing.
Ine wo Ueru hito, One day, I meet… Part 1 Ine wo Ueru hito, One day, I meet… Part 1
courtesy the artists
While the work of the duo Ine wo Ueru hito is similar to Crazy Hat & Long Ears in its use of absurdist scenarios they offer a slicker and more mature vision. One Day, I Meet… parts 1 + 2 are linked by a woman in purple flowered dress, face obscured by hair, patiently vacuuming outdoor spaces. Part one is particularly engaging as scenes are intercut with sculptures of strange stuffed hybrid animals—a lamb with a unicorn’s head, a squirrel with hypodermics attached—rotating in an eerie Mathew Barney-esque white room. A particularly striking moment sees the woman vacuuming a large mound of dirt to reveal a giant sculpture of a bullock. While there are darker moments (a grotesque face made of chocolate grinding its teeth; the woman in silhouette repeatedly thrashing something with the vacuum nozzle), the atmosphere is curiously ambivalent giving the work of Ine Wo Uero Ito a sense of detachment more often felt in dreams.
installation by KATHY, Black & Blue Gallery, Surry Hills installation by KATHY, Black & Blue Gallery, Surry Hills
courtesy the artists
In Daydream, KATHY also exploits an ambivalent darkness. Three performers in quaint evening dresses, blonde wigs and with black pantyhose over their faces (dangly legs still attached) conjure an amusing analogue recreation of the faceless ghosts of Japanese horror. While there is no blood splatter, KATHY use duration to generate tension, as we see the trio continuously stumbling and falling toward the camera from the end of a long street, or twirling compulsively on the furniture in a fancy apartment. These girls are definitely possessed, but by what remains a mystery.

In the works of Tetushi Higashino, Yukihiro Taguchi and Daito Manabe the sense of play turns what might be described as boy’s-own: the kind that involves kit sets from Dick Smith (or Tokyo’s Electric City). Tetushi Higashino’s KINE is a collection of kinetic constructions: a billowing plastic bag attached to an oscillating fan; a small square of Astroturf spinning slowly in a field of grass; a moustache (a Dali reference perhaps?) sliding backwards and forwards across a motorised track. The works are simple, verging on the banal, yet this simplicity suggests a contemporary animism, drawing attention to the essential ‘thingness’ of things.

Yukihiro Taguchi’s activation of objects is particularly impressive. Using stop motion animation, he literally vivifies his Berlin apartment in Nest: the furniture moves around, rooms are totally covered in paper and the bathtub fills to overflowing with foam. Even more amazing for the interplay of object and environment are Moment 1 & 2 in which the floorboards of a gallery are pulled up and ingeniously reconfigured both inside the gallery (creating a nightclub, a banquet hall) and outside where they wander the streets of Berlin, creating temporary public art structures. Taguchi’s work is exceptional in its attention to detail and scale not to mention the sheer labour of its execution.
Daito Manabe (with Shizou) performing live at Big In Japan, CarriageWorks, Dec 2 Daito Manabe (with Shizou) performing live at Big In Japan, CarriageWorks, Dec 2
photo Daniel Boud
Daito Manabe’s video documentation of recent experiments looks potentially malevolent, as he faces the camera with electrodes stuck to his face, but in reality it’s more play. Creating music compositions (of the white noise glitchy beat variety) the electrodes stimulate the muscles in the face, essentially making it dance. This reaches its zenith when the screen shows 16 willing human guinea pigs, whose wired-up faces spasm in unison—a truly hysterical sight. In another experiment Manabe reverses the flow making his facial ticks trigger the sound. In these works (which he also performs live) interactivity reached a new extreme.

The artist collective Chim↑Pom also tends towards the extreme. The 45 minute DVD, Super Rat and Other Adventures, is a collection of the group’s antics around Tokyo. Their strongest action, documented in several locations, is one where they ride the streets on a scooter broadcasting crow calls and waving a stuffed bird, which bizarrely tricks the multitude of real crows found around Tokyo to flock and follow the team—instant Hitchcock over Shibuya. In another segment they catch rats late at night and dress them up like stuffed Picachus (from Pokemon). In another scene, in Bali, one of the group works in the rubbish dump while a glamorous female flies in a chartered helicopter, littering from above. Many of the other activities, including a guy blowing into his foreskin with a straw to make his penis dance, look like naughty drunken party tricks, but even here there is something about the childlike abandon with which they are undertaken (given the context of such an extremely polite society in which it is considered rude to eat on the streets) that seems genuinely transgressive.

Spooky Action at a Distance, the first time curatorial project for Amelia Groom, offered a fascinating selection of works introducing the practices of some very interesting young Japanese artists. (It’s worth a google to check out the other aspects of their installation and performance practices). The strong curatorial logic of the collection and the resonances that emerged between the works—childlike freedom, playful transgression and animation of the banal—presented a very particular kind of surrealism, a dreaming that feels…well…essentially Japanese.


Spooky Action at a Distance. presented as part of Kirin’s Big in Japan, curator Amelia Groom; Black & Blue Gallery, Sydney, Dec 4-19, 2009; www.biginjapan.com.au

RealTime issue #95 Feb-March 2010 pg. 26

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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