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side by side, australian & japanese media art

wendy haslem in tokyo at the sendai mediatheque

Wendy Haslem writes extensively about film and teaches in Cinema Studies, University of Melbourne.

HOW DO WE DEFINE THE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM? TO WHAT DEGREE CAN COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGIES AND THE EFFECTS OF GLOBALISATION MEDIATE NATIONAL BOUNDARIES? ARE JAPANESE CITIES COOKIE CUTTER REPLICAS OF ONE ANOTHER? THE RE:SEARCH EXHIBITION, AN ART COLLABORATION BETWEEN AUSTRALIA AND JAPAN, SETS OUT TO ADDRESS QUESTIONS CONCERNING THE EFFECTS OF GLOBALISATION ON CULTURAL IDENTITIES AND THE POTENTIAL FOR CONNECTION BETWEEN PEOPLE AND SPACES.
Norimichi Hirakawa, Global Bearing Norimichi Hirakawa, Global Bearing
In 2006 Experimenta Media Arts collaborated with the Sendai Mediatheque to offer Australian and Japanese artists a two-month residency at Sendai, in the Miyagi Prefecture. Curated by Kent Shimizu, the resulting exhibition reveals a diverse range of dynamic new media art that imagines Sendai at the centre of a matrix of local, national and global networks.

The Re:search exhibition is a hybrid of the traditionally lit and hung ‘white cube’ gallery with the darkened environment of the participatory ‘black box’ experience conventionally used to exhibit innovations in science. Re:search displays art created from materials including moving and still images, digital and analogue sound, maps, global positioning devices, satellite images and black and white, low definition footage seemingly from closed circuit television cameras. Themes that emerge include: the fracturing of identity, the escalation of paranoia and alienation within surveillance cultures and the potential for deception within commodity driven societies. Such themes are explored in relation to Sendai, Japan, Australia, the planet and some even extend into the universe.

Re:search opens with Norimichi Hirakawa’s Global Bearing, a large concave screen, upon which is projected a satellite map of the globe, complete with meridian lines. Global Bearing prioritises the Sendai Mediatheque by placing it at the centre of the map and measuring the distance between it and the rest of the world. The curved screen extends beyond the limits of peripheral vision, and the participant is invited to navigate the globe using what seems to be an oversized joystick. Travel is initially deceptively simple, but it becomes more difficult as the map begins to spin and flip. The participant is challenged to control the direction, speed and stability of the virtual map. Whilst this might suggest the difficulty of travel, or possibly the dislocation between virtual and physical spaces, more likely Global Bearing is a reminder of the inability of humans to control their environments.

In Conversations, Intimate moments with random strangers, Alex Davies explores the dual impulse of connection and alienation in an environment of dislocation and surveillance. Communication is at the centre of this exhibit, but Conversations is less about verbal discourse and more focused on investigating the possibility of connection through the eyes of anonymous people. Individuals are singled out from a crowd as they glance towards the camera/viewer. In elongating the duration of the moments of visual connection, Conversations seems to promise imminent contact. But because these intimate moments are fleeting and finally fail, ultimately this exhibit emphasizes unrequited desire. A similar illusion of proximity and imminence through the manipulation of spatial and temporal elements continues in Davies’ second exhibit, Swarm. Here he includes the visitor within the exhibit as a horizontal screen extends to reveal composite footage of visitors to the gallery, past and present.

Craig Walsh’s Big in Japan exhibits the artist himself inflated to a huge scale, towering over the city on a billboard. Big in Japan constructs levels of deception, obviously in the reversal of the dynamics of scale between the human and the metropolis, but also by employing a model to portray the image of the artist. The work questions the position of art within commodity-driven cultures, engaging the eccentricities of advertising. On opening night, Walsh employed female models to hand out tissue packets emblazoned with the billboard image. Across two adjacent screens, Walsh produces what appears to be closed circuit imagery (complete with time codes) as hidden cameras record locations within Sendai. Initially disquieting in its invitation to voyeurism, closer examination reveals that the low definition footage is carefully constructed.
David Haines & Joyce Hinterding, Electromagnetique Composition for Building, <BR />Plants & Stars (2006) David Haines & Joyce Hinterding, Electromagnetique Composition for Building,
Plants & Stars (2006)
photo Michael Myers
Another outstanding exhibit is the David Haines and Joyce Hinterding collaboration in the production of Electromagnetique Composition for Building, Plants & Stars. Haines-Hinterding’s imagery of vivid green, lush, overgrown foliage slightly swaying in the breeze is juxtaposed with a soundscape comprising low frequency noise from within the Mediatheque, extending to an 18 kilometre radius of Sendai and including sounds emanating from the Milky Way. The soundscape is picked up on the copper wire antenna that spirals around the vertical rods of Mediatheque’s architecture. Image and sound combine to produce compelling links between the immediate space, the local city and the universe. The incredible beauty and simplicity of the imagery and the surprising range of the soundscape results in a sublime imagining of nature and science.

Also using soundwaves to great effect, The Sine Wave Orchestra’s contribution, Compath, a participatory sound project, relies on the user to create their own sine wave as a form of communication, each wave merging with others to create a collective soundscape. Employing fader levels, Compath appears to use old technologies to create distinctive effects. The emerging sounds are unique due to the range of options available to the participant.

The magic of Lieko Shiga’s photographs is created using manual techniques in re-photographing and printing. The Golden Mirage series was produced during her residency in Brisbane earlier in 2006 and it reveals a fascination with the impact of the elements on Australian landscapes and inhabitants. Iconic images of backyard bonfires and weathered faces of Australian men stand out in a range of dreamlike portraits of humans situated within surreal landscapes. Space is crucial to Shiga’s photographs and some locations work to suggest alienated inhabitants. In one of the untitled photographs from this series, the emptiness of a restaurant represents little help for a woman who sits at a large table, the blur of her head suggesting that she is suffering a seizure. Bizarre, paranoia-fuelled nightmarish compositions combine with a luminescent aesthetic to create images that are compelling and beautiful.

The Veil series of haunting and evocative photographs was produced during Shiga’s residency at Sendai. It constructs eccentric images of Sendai at night. A fluorescent pink shed in a backyard appears disconcerting not only in the vivacity of its colour but the darkness beneath the building also offers an impression of levitation. In another evocative landscape, Shiga attached cotton buds to a dead tree producing a stunning, luminescent image of revitalization within an arid landscape. In an eerie domestic scene, a light hanging above a ransacked lounge room seems to have sucked up any sign of life, only the whirlwind fragments of detritus remain. One of the most poetic images of desire and dislocation is the visualisation of the dream as an incarnation of a woman floating above a sleeping man, suspended by invisible forces.

The Sendai Mediatheque is an appropriate site for the Re:search exhibition. Designed by Toyo Ito, the mediatheque’s glass façade (or skin) acts simultaneously as an invitation to enter and as a reflection of its surroundings. Each level is linked by shafts of light that connect and illuminate the spaces. These shafts also house 13 vertical steel lattice tubular columns that appear like tree trunks rising from the ground floor to the rooftop. The mediatheque features archives, reading spaces, as well as a permanent display of the work of local artists. Intertwining the local with the global, nature with science, the Sendai Mediatheque is the perfect host for such an exhibition of visionary and creative new media art.


Re:search: an art collaboration between Australia and Japan, Sendai Mediatheque, curator Kent Shimizu, in collaboration with Experimenta, 2006 Australia-Japan Year of Exchange; Tokyo, Nov 25-Dec 25, 2006

Wendy Haslem writes extensively about film and teaches in Cinema Studies, University of Melbourne.

RealTime issue #77 Feb-March 2007 pg. 30

© Wendy Haslem; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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