There is a curious disclaimer at the entrance to the Tomoko Konoike exhibit at Tokyo Opera City. It reads: “This exhibition includes galleries with low entrances, dark spaces, slopes, and works that are designed to stimulate the visitor’s sense of touch and smell including lily. Please inform the reception if you are allergic to animal fur.”
Should a museum need to warn its visitors that other senses, beyond the visual, will be engaged? Never mind the fur, which elicits a wince from the former vegetarian in me. Beyond this is another piece of signage, hand-painted and constructed of wood to resemble a trail marker, that points to the entrance of “Inter-Traveler.” From here the visitor must make a leap, from museum-goer to explorer, in tacit agreement with the artist to keep an open mind about the nature of the museum experience and ultimately about how we judge, and relate to, art.
“Inter-Traveler” begins with the artist’s ‘Hidden Mountain – Fusama Painting’, created on traditional Japanese sliding doors. While this work has previously been displayed with the doors closed, on this occasion they are open and induce the visitor cum journeyer to pass through them. On the other side, we are met by Mimio, a small, white, furry, and oddly faceless character who appears as the subject of an early Konoike animation. Select still drawings are displayed as well, in a spiral, serving to create a frame-by-frame introduction to the iconography of Konoike – the wolves, daggers, and woods, for example, that reoccur in this work and throughout the exhibition.
The determined route, designated at each junction with more trail markers offering arbitrary negative distances (“-2885” marks a mid-way point), takes the “Inter-Traveler” further into the artist’s body of work and into her creative process. It is structured, indeed as the disclaimer suggests, like a fun house: requiring active participants to duck and climb, pass through curtains and proceed with mild trepidation about what the next room might present. The finale is dizzying and bizarre, utterly sensory and beyond my linguistic capability to describe; nor would I want to give it away. All along this strange trip, however, the artist herself acts as a generous guide. Text accompanies a number of the works, offering explanations, anecdotes, and narratives; this is Konoike’s first major, inclusive exhibition and it seems she has a lot to say, as well as show and induce.
At one point Konoike suggests, in text alongside ‘Book Burning – World of Wonder’, that we are traveling with her to a world “where beauty and disgust do not yet exist.” With these words she dares us to peel away our very human cognitive processing and connect with her work, beautiful, disgusting, or otherwise, on an instinctive level. Easier said than done, right?
With “Inter-Traveler” the artist leads us to a point where, if not entirely possible to think and feel anew, we are at least given the opportunity to make some degree of a leap in perception (thanks, in part, to the aforementioned sensory stimulation). Furthermore, this exhibition, which draws on Konoike’s collective body of work and includes several new pieces displayed for the first time, shows us the process of how the artist herself got to that very point.
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A sci-fi scenario in which wolves are unleashed in Tokyo and the city becomes a tremendous futuristic forest!