Assembled Interiors, Weathered Exteriors

SCAI x SCAI presents the work of two Art Initiative Tokyo’s artists-in-residence.

poster for

"The BAR vol. 2: Donna Ong and Thiago Rocha Pitta" Exhibition

at SCAI X SCAI
in the Roppongi, Nogizaka area
This event has ended - (2008-06-14 - 2008-06-28)

In Reviews Uncategorized by Darryl Jingwen Wee 2008-06-21

Lodged in a narrow crevice between an Italian restaurant with a terrace and an abandoned-then-occupied-then-once-again-abandoned building (the former Imoaraizaka complex of galleries that closed in February this year), SCAI x SCAI is Masami Shiraishi’s guerilla second space devoted to the work of younger artists, a little hutch of a gallery occupying an apartment at the far end of a “mansion” corridor. Compared to the larger installations and more ambitious schemes that get displayed in the high-ceilinged SCAI The Bathhouse in Yanaka, this gallery has the feel of a cold-storage art cabinet, currently showing modest and small-scale but fastidiously composed works that have been given space and time to incubate.

Donna Ong, 'Project: Eden' (2007) Mixed-media installation

Working in miniature for the first time, installation artist Donna Ong from Singapore has created several small pieces that embody exactly this state of latent potential and wonder. Perched silently on black shelves are toy-like models of what seem like dollhouse furniture, fantasy kitchens and interiors in a two-tone palette of black and grey. Looking closer lets you peer into the private lives of the inhabitants missing from the diorama, but there is no clear narrative to the work. Impassive and as immaculately arranged as a finely-crafted architectural model, the installations have the feel of a showroom for the imagination, a sort of template for the projection of the viewer’s own wistful reveries of dream living arrangements – an invitation to daydream that is particularly pointed in a city that often strangles personal space, preventing the leisurely inhabitation of that space with sundry ornaments, talismans and lived-in stories.

With components culled laboriously from Tokyo’s antique and hobbyist shops, as well as its emporiums of encyclopedic Stuff (Tokyu Hands, for instance), Ong’s work calls to mind the obsessiveness of other assemblages of objects lovingly tended to in this city – cluttered coffeeshops and kissaten, shambolic nurseries of potted plants and bushes that help to green the concrete — the art of cataloging and ordering a life within a yon-jo-han (4.5 tatami mat) lot. As with the Japanese miniature art of bonsai, which condenses nature and prunes its dimensions, abolishing the garden while retaining the idea of it, Ong’s miniature interiors evoke the unrealized potential of a domestic sanctuary in Tokyo. Without the possibility of a more generously spaced abode, these installations seem to cling to a wistful ideal of an interior that defies the reality of clutter and congestion in Tokyo spaces.

Thiago Rocha Pitta, 'requiem' (2007) 50 × 70cm

Thiago Rocha Pitta, from Brazil, deals with accumulations of another kind – not of objects in space, but of time, and its mark on the environment. Despite the plastic veneer and inorganic materials that make up much of the city, there are still large swathes of the city made of wood, concrete and stone, continually weathered by operations in this wet climate. With moisture percolating through these materials, the weather leaves the skin of time behind on a surface that leads a sedimentary existence – having perhaps some visible accumulation of matter on it (moss, rust), but characterized mostly by changes in color and texture. Focusing his attention on these surfaces in the city – the “blind walls” of buildings with no windows, for instance – Rocha Pitta delineates in a series of drawings this temporal process that accumulates invisibly on the surfaces of buildings in Tokyo. With varying shades of ink on Japanese washi paper, the drawings show not contours of spatial depth, but rather phases of time whose durations are distinguished pictorially by difference in hue, and either the wash or thickness of the pigment. This notion of temporal sedimentation is materialized especially beautifully in an outcropping of salt crystals that blossom in the top left corner of one of Rocha Pitta’s framed canvases, balanced at the lower end by a the singed browning-over of a flame held to the paper. One element demonstrates the gradual sedimentation of form over time, the other a chemical reaction that erupts and expires in an instant.

Thus both Ong and Rocha Pitta present a finely nuanced, perhaps accidentally complementary exhibition that prompts a reconsideration both of interior spaces and spatial accumulation, as well as exterior spaces and temporal accumulation – a thematic that carries all the more weight in a city that is in many ways an extreme case in both respects: a surfeit of objects, all fairly recently produced and acquired, distributed within a space straining to contain them, leading to the paradox of both unruly outdoor streetscapes battling the weather, and orderly interiors that resist disintegration and chaos.

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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