While I tend to enjoy the possibilities suggested by, and brain exercise created from, the question mark, others might find situations that are left perpetually up in the air discomforting rather than appealing. The work of Nobuko Tsuchiya in her curiously titled exhibition: Once Upon a Time, in a Distant Place There Was a Parking Fish Project”, currently at SCAI The Bathhouse, possibly tests which camp the viewer lands in through an installation that tends to be more about query than resolution. Tsuchiya, born in Yokohama and currently living in London, states on the Saatchi Gallery’s website: “Not everything is as it appears in my work, not everything is done on purpose. My decisions are made by using what you could call a different form of thinking, and are made to operate between harmony and discord, control and the lack of it.” Artwork that intentionally runs circles around a rational and singular interpretation is certainly nothing new, especially in the post modern age, so the notion, quoted from the exhibition’s press release, that “Europeans and Americans” exposed to Tsuchiya’s work have in the past been “frustrated at their inability to grasp the meaning of (her) works…” reads like a condescending stereotype. Nonetheless the disquiet generated by these wonderfully weird creations remains something worth experiencing.
Though the 11 pieces in the modestly sized gallery represent a series of individual works, the minimal color scheme – metal grey, fleshy pink, and white with an occasional blood red thread – is one common element that links the objects. The clinical sterility of the grey and white, as well as titles like R2→S2, hint vaguely at a scientific experiment in progress. One of my favorite groupings comprises three little animal-like objects with whimsical names: …mmm…, a fuzzy Star Trek-like tribble with tubes (and for almost all the objects the sci-fi comparison is apt); …Lee… an elegantly anthropomorphized file holder that also calls to mind a slinky; and …haa…, the dominant member of the trio, hovering over the others on tall, skinny legs while protecting three egg-like forms clustered beneath. The central tableau, entitled Silicon Sanpo Ruler, reinforces the experiment metaphor through the set-up of a lab table with sled runners, combined with a connecting series of metal apparatuses, tubes, and wires. It is both funny and menacing and embodies the tension contained in the entire exhibit, by using elements to suggest experimentation and that most rational of disciplines, science, while at the same time undercutting that rationality with a dream-like confusion. The ‘experiments’ seem to have a life of their own, and, if they make any kind of sense at all, it is strictly on their own terms.
A pair of objects near the far wall also has a sinister humor. In one part, the sharp steel tines of a circular saw blade are paired with a cottony white substance and this form looks poised to interact with the long, pink half-tube placed in front of it. Has the tube been split by the blade? The rough, fibrous edges suggest a shearing off, but it has opened up to reveal an empty core. Is what was contained inside now lurking about, alien-like? The shiny pink and fibrous object resting on a tall stand in another piece entitled alee…? may represent life in its most elemental form. Like a self-sustaining, wet organ, it looks as if it could almost breathe, although the plastic tube, metal clip and darker fleshy object inside suggests a Frankenstein-like connection to its maker – it can’t live on its own. With this exhibition Tsuchiya is the mad scientist in charge of a bizarre laboratory full of his creations, and now these little monsters may be just on the verge of breaking loose.