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Yokohama Trienniale: art as screen

Chris Reid

Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, Memorial Project Nha Trang Vietnam–towards the complex–for the Courageous, the Curious and the Cowards, 2001 Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, Memorial Project Nha Trang Vietnam–towards the complex–for the Courageous, the Curious and the Cowards, 2001
The moving image is inescapable. Imagery can be retouched, manipulated or fabricated, it can be projected onto cloth, walls, moulded surfaces, the floor, and through TV and computer screens. It can be cued by the viewer. It can be blunt or surreptitious, naïve or cryptic, romantic or coldly passionless, intellectual or infantile, political or vacuous, archival or hallucinatory. We’re moths in moth heaven—a zone of infinite bright lights, all beckoning. We’re always alert to a potential story.

Much new work is designed for the art museum/gallery, staged in large cubicles and sometimes allied with static elements. Much is televisable or internet/computer transmissible. The form is endlessly variable—quasi-documentary, pictorial imagery, narrative, computer graphic.

Maybe half of the 100 or so artists in the inaugural and meticulously mounted Yokohama Triennale in Japan use screen-based imagery of some kind.

Political concerns are foremost in many works. Mats Hjelm’s Man to Man (Sweden), involving a split screen, made its point by juxtaposing adroitly edited imagery constructed from material left behind by Hjelm’s late father, a documentary maker. It includes scenes from prisons, American POWs fresh from Vietnam condemning the war, a French clown singing a patriotic song, young South American girls playing musical chairs, third world construction workers, cattle starving in an African drought. Hjelm collapses key issues in world politics into a powerful 45-minute montage and shows how they’re still relevant.

In Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Tijuana Projection (Poland/US), female Mexican labourers describe the abuse they have suffered, wearing the camera just under the chin to narrow the image of their faces. The video is of a performance before an audience who watch the women’s faces projected onto a large screen, the women just visible sitting at a table below the screen as they speak.

There is much beauty, even pathos. Fiona Tan’s enchanting St Sebastian (Indonesia/ Netherlands) shows girls from Kyoto practising archery. Across Japan, girls of 20 (the age of adulthood) go through various ceremonies, wearing their ‘coming out’ kimono. The video shows close-ups of faces, hair, skin, the drawing back of the bow and the practising of the movements, as they contemplate the meaning of the ritual.

Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba’s delightful video, Memorial Project Nha Trang Vietnam—towards the complex—for the Courageous, the Curious and the Cowards (Vietnam), shows several young men pulling and riding old Vietnamese tri-shaws underwater. They pause regularly to surface for breath before continuing their work. There follows a scene of the underwater topography, and white tents of mosquito netting, suggesting an empty, submerged village—a moving portrayal of post-colonial Vietnam.

Pipilotti Rist’s fun Related Legs (Yokohama Dandelions) (Switzerland) is in a space hung with white lace curtain materials, onto which are projected images of people, eg a face pressed against a pane of glass. One projector rotates to shift the image from curtain to curtain, the work suggesting something ephemeral, inconsequential. Oladélé Ajiboyé Bamgboyé’s video (Nigeria/UK) is a few minutes of unfocused shots, like an abstract painting that moves, backgrounded by a gentle keyboard soundtrack. Marijke Van Warmerdam’s scratchy, 8mm B&W movie (Netherlands) continuously shows falling blossoms transmuting into leaves and then scattering in the wind, the camera then returning to the tree shedding the blossoms.

There are great animations. Tabaimo’s Japanese Commuter Train (Japan) is a cartoon rear-projected on all sides of a narrow arena—viewers are inside the train with the commuters. Akimoto Kitune’s stunning computer-generated cartoon UFO (Japan) is a surreal trip through space, with a groovy dance track, rear-projected onto an opaque white paper window in a child’s room. Monster heads adorn the room’s walls. While computer animation is the means rather than the end, UFO shows how far the medium has come, and reminds us how central cartoons are.

Sowon Kwon’s oblique work (Korea/US) uses pieces of archival footage of Olympic gymnasts or people walking about, and traces the figures with a coloured line to emphasise the movement. Though recalling Muybridge, the work says more about perception and figure drawing than kinaesthesia or biomechanics. And it defeats association with the subject, eg Nadia Comaneci.

Xing Danwen (China/US) projects New York and Beijing Street scenes into an open cubicle that has a glass-box-like a treasure chest at its entrance. The box houses objects and more projected images counterposing those on the wall. It’s as if we’re inside the artist’s head, watching memories. More literally cranial is Bigert and Bergström’s 3-metre wide hemispherical dome (Sweden) with projections on its inside surface. Equally introspective is Uri Tzaig’s streetlight that projects a metre-wide circular image onto the floor, adjacent to park benches from which people can watch.

There is concern with the architectural and topographical. Florian Claar’s work (Germany/Japan) comprises light projections on sculpted surfaces to suggest landscape. Tacita Dean’s (UK) video, shot inside a revolving restaurant, induces a meditative state as you absorb the banality of the diners, waiters and the slowly shifting background, the outside world as mere scenery. Bahc Yiso (Korea) has roughly cut one wall out of his cubicle, placed it on its side and projects onto it a direct image of the sky above the exhibition hall. Florian Pumhosl’s work (Austria) comprises 3 large projector screens, hanging in space to define a zone, showing videos of buildings in Europe and Madagascar (and fireflies).

Many works combined screen imagery with other elements. Jason Rhoades’ cryptic installation (US) of found and other objects on an artificial lawn included TVs both as object and information source. Oki Keitsuke’s Bodyfuture—have you ever seen your brain? (Japan) has hundreds of white plastic brains on the floor, with CAD 3D illustrations of brains. In La Charme, Emiko Kasahara (Japan/US) covers a floor with circular wigs a metre and a half wide and shows a video of women with matching hair colours sitting on these mats. Candy Factory’s Re:move (Japan) comprises a timber gallows painted a garish yellow, around which are placed wheelchairs and exercise equipment. An adjacent laptop computer displays a video of people learning to use a wheelchair. Candy Factory’s computer-based work is generated collaboratively using the internet.

Yang FuDong’s disturbing work (China) has 3 elements: 4 large screens showing a traditional Chinese garden with superimposed, miniaturised images of naked girls as nymphs/ fairies, while normal-sized people move about obliviously; a cluster of 16 small TVs showing scenes of lovers in a park or men exercising; and 3 other TVs showing scenes suggesting women waiting in a brothel. What separates surveillance, documentary, voyeurism and fantasy?

Rirkrit Tiravanija (Argentina/Thailand/ US/Germany) brought his small van stacked with video players connected to TVs outside it, each with a chair for viewing the videos he shot from the van while driving around Japan. This itinerant artist is more often associated with performance or installation—he once made a replica of his New York apartment and placed it in a Köln museum. Watching his videos is like entering his history, taking part in his interaction with the world.

The Triennale extended outside its exhibition halls and into the adjacent shopping mall. Aernout Mik (Netherlands) depicted a stock market floor with stricken traders amid the carnage of a crash. This surreal work repeated seamlessly, suggesting to bemused shoppers an endless cycle.

The screen is even mocked. Alexandra Ranner’s glass-enclosed room (Germany), containing seating arranged to view a lamp post visible through a window, evokes the absent, impotent television. Adel Abessemed’s Adel has resigned (Algeria/US) is an endlessly repeating 5 second image of a woman’s face as she states “Adel has resigned”, shown on a TV monitor that sits in the corner of an empty room. The artist indeed appears to have taken his leave. With time, this mantra might be hypnotic or meditative, but I didn’t wait.

William Kentridge’s haunting work (South Africa) is a glass bathroom-cabinet, with a rear projection inside it, showing animations he makes by photographing sequences of his drawings—news headlines interspersed with depictions of the troubled citizen.

The video is a panopticon. It can condense the photographic, the narrative, the performative and the representationally abstract. The aesthetic is flexible, indeterminate. If there is any story, it’s typically remote, conjectural. If not, you look for symbol and metaphor, or respond reflexively. The screen image’s power lies in its ability to shift our thinking and emotions, and it is becoming a dominant artform. Amidst more conventional artworks, screen works stand out in Yokohama.

Yokohama 2001 International Triennale of Contemporary Art, Mega Wave—Towards a New Synthesis, Yokohama, Japan, Sept 2 - Nov 11

RealTime issue #46 Dec-Jan 2001 pg. 29

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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