Mysteries happily unsolved

Tam Ochiai’s “spies are only revealed when they get caught” at the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art.

poster for Tam Ochiai

Tam Ochiai "Spies are only revealed when they get caught"

at Watari-um, The Watari Museum of Contemporary Art
in the Omotesando, Aoyama area
This event has ended - (2010-05-22 - 2010-08-08)

In Reviews by Erika Raberg 2010-07-15

In Japanese-born, New York City-based artist Tam Ochiai’s solo exhibit at the Watari, we are invited to view a selection of mixed media pieces informed by the quirky title “spies are only revealed when they get caught.” Ochiai makes use of an unpredictable collection of materials, including acrylic on sheets of plastic, fur, old magazines, canvas, colored pencil on paper, yarn, clay, photography, and video. Serious and playful in equal measure, “spies are only revealed when they get caught” highlights a creative energy in objects and scenarios that may likely otherwise be overlooked.

Having turned on his video camera one day and, discovering that it was broken, Ochiai then presents its ever-changing images beautifully in one of the central pieces titled ‘broken camera’. And, in ‘a photograph who travels’, Ochiai creates a new work out of an image found on an exhibition flyer thirteen years ago. Literally re-presented here and now, Ochiai writes, “It has since traveled a completely unknown road to be exhibited in a totally different place.”

Furthermore, Ochiai displays two quiet moments that resonated with him somehow in the two five-minute videos titled “wave” and “sun.” “wave” is a still and strange clip of the sea in Atlantic City in the middle of the night, illuminated only by the neon lights of casino resorts. Another video, “fake sun,” shows us “something like the sun” documented by Tam Ochiai, 'broken camera' (2009)the artist while walking in the East Village one evening. All we know about this radiating round object that has worked its way into the cityscape is, as Ochiai explains, “It is an artificial sun.” Mystery: happily unsolved.

Ochiai’s sense of humor is further revealed in ‘squirrels in the city’, a series of snapshots taken of strangers walking down the street in New York carrying instruments on their backs. From behind, as Ochiai playfully shows us, these “musicians walk down the street looking like the back of a squirrel.”

The exhibit’s accompanying pamphlet is also delightfully quirky. The pieces are in a way narrated by Ochiai, who has written brief yet puzzling descriptions that seem to ask more questions than provide answers. The exhibit is complicated by this relationship between image and text, between the artist’s words and the physical object in front of you. The descriptions are difficult to de-code, but of course that is what makes it such a pleasure to consider. The one phrase in particular that comes to mind is the description of “a spider web of a Siamese cat, a Siamese cat of a spider web.” I can’t help but smile.

Through this surprising and curious collection of multimedia pieces, we are able to take immediate delight in Ochiai’s visual gifts and also let the quirkiness of it all linger for a long time afterwards. Ochiai’s work invites the viewer to look closer, to consider the dynamics stirring under the surface of the often-understated visual form. As Ochiai concludes, the collection intends to explore the notion of “holding opposite strengths simultaneously,” of art itself as simultaneously “so free yet so impossible to find.” We may never know the answer, but it certainly is an enjoyable thing to wonder about.

Tam Ochiai, '4475g sculpture' (2010)
“spies are only revealed when they get caught” by Tam Ochiai
May 22 to August 8 at Watari-um
3-7-6 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001
Phone: 03-3402-3001
Closed on Mondays (Open on July 19)
From 11:00 To 19:00
Wednesdays closing at 21:00
Adults ¥1000, Students ¥800 (multiple entry)

Erika Raberg

Erika Raberg. Though raised in Lexington, Massachusetts, otherwise known as “the birthplace of American liberty,” Erika has often found herself in many a non-East Coast locale due to an incessant desire to try new things and learn as many foreign languages as possible. After gaining a solid foundation in Indecisive Studies during her undergrad, Erika’s wanderlust landed her in Tokyo on a two-year fellowship through the Oberlin Shansi Foundation. Erika spends her days teaching university students, hauling around her delightfully archaic large format camera, and seeing as much art as the hours of the day will allow. » See other writings


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