at Tokyo Big Sight
in the Odaiba, Kachidoki area
This event has ended - (2006-09-17)
It turned out that while there is a huge number of works on display, it was far more manageable than I had imagined.
There was a lot of live drawing and painting taking place, which I was glad to see, and I was also struck by how many people were dressed up bizarre costumes, doing performance art or even a guy whizzing around in a pod, stopping for no one.
While the latter aspect was novel and entertaining, I can’t help feeling it’s a shame that in Japan today you generally have to come to this kind of safe, controlled environment in order to experience performance art. When you read about the diverse art groups and movements that developed in Japan’s post-war years, like Gutai, Neo-Dada, Fluxus and Hi Red Center, you see that their performances were often held in the streets and on public transport and were really quite subversive. But times have changed and trying to figure out why that is is not for this article.
To be honest, I didn’t see a lot of work at GEISAI that really caught my attention as something different and special. I thought that most of what was on display showed some potential, but the artists will have to refine their work for a few more years before they could become commercially successful. That said, there was a decent number of people who are clearly going to be very successful.
Here are the three highlights of my visit. I don’t know if we’ll ever hear from these people again, but I hope so.
Kondo’s work is an original fusion of painting, sculpture and craft. He weaves his portraits into upright, lifesize images which can be seen from both sides.
Having recently taken part in a group exhibition at the Voice Gallery in Kyoto, 23 year old Kondo has also exhibited at GEISAI twice before: at GEISAI #6 in 2004, where he won the Kiki Award and at GEISAI #8 in 2005, where he won the Building Award, the B Gallery Award and the Smart Award. By the time I left in the middle of the afternoon, he had already been nominated for two awards and had had a reservation on his next work made by at least one major Tokyo art dealer.
Fujita, a third-year student in the painting department of Tama University, appears to have turned towards making miniature sculptures which incorporate video works that depict domestic scenes. One work was a white box with a small wooden door in the side. Peering inside, you see a Western style room with patterned wallpaper, a high-backed wooden chair by a window and a small cabinet in the corner. The view out of the window is a video of people playing in the garden outside.
Somehow the artist has tapped into an air of English nostalgia and domesticity, which was a very unusual surprise to have in the very non-domestic interior of Tokyo Big Sight.
The work next to this one was a model house, and the view in through one of the windows was a video of a girl in her bed. This work felt less comforting: the perspective you have as a viewer looming over this small structure, observing someone in their most private space makes you feel almost predatory.
Bug Project, the creative team which produced the large booklets distributed at this year’ GEISAI, had a booth situated at the right hand side of the exhibition hall, together with the other established galleries. As a playful diversion from their usual activities, they organized the Imekuri project, which is short for ‘Image Creation’.
Hanging on the wall of their booth were rows and rows of flat, envelope-like packages. What were they? Believe it or not, they were people’s secrets on sale for 500 yen each. Divided into categories of secret — criminal, sexual, funky, crazy, and vintage — each packet contained a Polaroid of a total stranger covering their eyes to preserve their anonymity. Together with a profile on the back of the package that reveals their age, where they are from, their occupation, marital status, personality type and somewhere they go to often, just enough information is given to give you a sense of who they might be as a person. Inside, I was told, their secret was safe inside a sealed envelope and the one rule the participants had to adhere to was to reveal a secret which they had never told anyone else before.
Absolutely intrigued, I bought two. After spending a long time looking at all the Polaroids trying to decide on which of these strangers I liked the look of most, I eventually settled on one criminal secret from a 29 year old female office worker from Tokyo identified only as ‘Don’, and one vintage secret from a 31 year old male project manager, aka ‘74tony’, also from Tokyo. I wondered what this office worker could have done and hoped it was something outrageous, but knew that there was also the chance it could be very mundane. There was something about 74tony that told me he had something interesting to say.
The office worker’s secret was so-so. While she was at junior high school, she stole something from a convenience store and got caught. While she was in the police car on the way to the station, she reached into her pocket and managed to peel the price tag off the item she had stolen and got rid of it, so nobody could prove anything in the end. And she says she’s sorry. Yeah, whatever.
But 74tony’s “secret” was great. He made a slightly broader interpretation of the brief he was given, and instead of revealing to me a secret ‘act’ he had once committed, instead he told me something that I can’t reveal: the condition is that it remains an ongoing secret between us. All I can say is that the fantastic thing he wrote brought a real smile to my face and I suddenly felt personally connected to someone I don’t know, have never met, and will probably never meet. It’s impossible to explain more without breaking that condition… so I’ll have to leave it at that.
But 74tony, if you ever read this, thank you so much and I’ll keep my eyes open!