Infinite Art in Shinjuku’s Infinite Crowds

Opposite the Deco spires and brick façade of Shinjuku’s Isetan department store, Marui City is shifting premises, and retooling itself from inside.

poster for

"Shinjuku Art Infinity" Exhibition

at Former Marui City Shinjuku
in the Shinjuku area
This event has ended - (2007-04-28 - 2007-06-30)

In Reviews by Darryl Jingwen Wee 2007-06-24

There is a makeshift pedestrian walkway that shuttles people past the exhibit, sheltered from any stray falling objects by the scaffolding above it. While the construction of a new mall is underway, the public face of the worksite has been painted over with pastel stripes that form the background to this ‘exhibit.’ There are about fifteen panels of what looks like photographic paper, a surface flatter than a regular canvas.

The artwork, all of which is plastered onto the outside of the building-in-progress, mostly sustains the impression of flatness. Some of the pieces show elaborate draughtsmanship, but such detail feels lost in the surroundings, as most of it has been flattened to low levels of resolution. As if to pre-empt the inhospitability of its location, the art has consented to being reduced to a brand of window dressing in advance: this ‘exhibition’ is more of a temporary holding bay for deliberately poor reproductions, because of course anything more in this instance would be a waste. If you’re carefully sheltered in a gallery, you pore over the details, marvel at technicalities; but if you’re being carried along by the hustle of a busy street, this is impossible. The art here gets only scant attention from the unsympathetic stream of mostly oblivious passers-by, store window displays, billboards, drones handing out advertising flyers and all the other endlessly rotating attractions of modern advertising. It comes across as art Lite, a jumble of shorthanded iconography just incongruous enough to peek out from the advertising mix.

Then there is the troublesome issue of the “theme.” The press copy is only slightly portentous, promising the “possibility of infinity transmitted from Shinjuku.” “Infinity” signals a passage out of here; several pieces center around a dream sequence of the everyday. The vision is often interiorized, a mind map of associations calculated to shimmer on the surface, as in Daisuke Nagaoka’s Forest Deer, a line drawing that blends forest foliage with the puzzled deer peering out at us from behind it. Elsewhere, Chikara Matsumoto’s Bookshop is Wonderland turns Borges’ library of Babel into a wondrous book emporium with an exhaustive catalog, staffed by guardian fairies that flit up and down shelves to find what you’re after.

Just as shopping for books might be a fantasy of choice, our other errands take on a magical cast. Sahara Kazuhito’s Walk evokes the serendipity of walking the dog, going on a small ramble around the city, taking a spontaneous detour, and looking around with restless eyes that wilfully alight on some unexpected detail of the landscape; your casual stroll becomes an urban adventure with the promise of enchantment. The magic of the everyday, however, is by turns wishful playacting and dreary repetition. Assistant’s Me, too celebrates Tokyo’s shifting parade of self-conscious citizens, always dressed to assume different roles, and then discard them with the same glee that prompted their adoption in the first place. Daisuke Samejima is a lot less buoyant. In his Flat Balls, Tokyo is reduced to an endlessly generic scene captured within a snowglobe, all of which are in turn flattened onto this poorly resolved plastic canvas. Like Alephs of an imaginary nowhere, they transcribe the infinity of the city and yet no matter which way you turn, you see the same generic urban leftovers: train platforms, overhead bridges, power lines and road signs.

Infinity is a tall order. The imaginary worlds that these artists hope to tunnel toward and connect to are marooned next to a pedestrian thoroughfare, just part of the shifting props of Shinjuku’s commercial renewal and development – part of the woodwork, as they say. In fact, if you happen to get the chance to see this ‘woodwork’, as I did, it makes a more memorable impression: while the patrolling guard halts surrounding traffic, the screens part, and a truck reverses into the backstage area. There is a flash of sunlight on exposed steel beams, leaking water from pipes, and for a moment, all those perfumed ruins of the soul and guts of the building are exposed.

Darryl Jingwen Wee

Darryl Jingwen Wee. Born and raised in Singapore, Darryl graduated from Harvard College in 2006 with a BA in French, and currently works as a writer, translator and interpreter based in Tokyo. He edits and translates TAB event listings and writes about art, architecture and food for WSJ, Art Asia Pacific, Artforum.com, Bauwelt, Paper Sky and Singapore Architect. » See other writings

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