at Yuka Sasahara Gallery
in the Kyobashi, Nihonbashi area
This event has ended - (2011-03-05 - 2011-04-16)
I went to Iichiro Tanaka’s “Peaceful Hobby” having seen only the promo picture and, as someone who is leaving Japan soon, went harbouring expectations of the faded pastels of Japan’s dusty playgrounds, evoking memories of long, humid ‘honest’ Japanese summers.
I didn’t get quite what I expected, but I did get a good dose of hilarity, a “Daruma Robot” and some homemade audio recordings.
This show is actually a combination of some of Tanaka’s previous works, including “Radio Ad Lib Exercise” and “Mingei Robo”, all of which illustrate the placidity and uniformity dozing just behind Japan’s pulsating neon facade. Anyone who has spent more than a passing holiday in Tokyo will know that just ten minutes away from the central aorta of Tokyo, obaasan (grandmothers) and housewives rule. Armed with mamachari (shopping bikes) and children, dressed in aprons and supermarket fashion, they are the queens of the quiet suburban streets and playgrounds.
Tanaka’s ‘Radio calisthenics “ad lib” ’ video installation shows him join this army in their daily stretching in the park (you know the one, with the ever so slightly creepy tape chanting, “ichi, ni, san, shi“). Whilst the troops sedately follow suit, Tanaka pulls off some hilarious Napolean Dynamite-esque moves, including wall running and a roly poly, while nobody pays him any mind whatsoever.
The video must have been filmed in the peak of summer, as the background soundtrack is the endless humming of cicadas; like in Evangelion, the calm before the storm, before robots made from everyone’s mothers bust out of the mountainside and disturb the hazy peace. This provides the ideal accompaniment to Tanaka’s photography. All the pictures are from the same viewpoint, featuring the same set of swings but with the swings arranged in different positions, creating symmetrical patterns with the chains. The fact that he had the time to create these minor disturbances is both very funny and enforces the sedateness of the Japanese suburbs.
Next to the photography are some audio recordings of him singing dates in chronological order: time gets sucked away in these places. Huge gold framed photographs from his “Street Destroyer” series dominate the corner of the small garage gallery, which sees Tanaka don Seventies sportswear and knock out some hilarious crime-fighting moves, putting cracks in pavements and punching old wooden houses. Then there is the “Traditional Robot” series, which is three robots built from traditional Russian and Japanese dolls — something only idle hands have time to do — gently poking fun at sedate daily life in Japan.
It wasn’t quite the “polaroidy” nostalgic trip I had been hoping for, but each of Tanaka’s pieces puts himself, or a robot, in comic juxtaposition to the placid reality of Japan. Whilst this could hint at slight misery, it is a fond, comforting feeling for many Japanese, and it certainly makes a very welcome alternative to the neon shots of Japan’s sprawling metropolis that are so often in the public eye.