Japan’s cutting-edge galleries had big plans for this spring. An 11-gallery group including Mujin-to Production, XYZ Collective, and Misako & Rosen were to invite international counterparts to an informal art summit at the hot spring town of Atami in late March. The Japanese galleries would then open their doors to work from the overseas galleries, which included Jan Kaps from Köln, Galería Agustina Ferreyra from Mexico City, and Arcadia Missa from London. The COVID-19 situation put a crimp in those plans, however, so the galleries are doing what so many around the world are: bringing their work online. The event previously known as Onsen Confidential (onsen meaning hot spring) has been renamed Online Confidential. Now through April 19, you can view works of video art from participating galleries online.
There are currently 18 videos running a total of around 230 minutes. Videos range from around one minute to 29 minutes. Here are a few highlights.
Standout works from the collection include Mr. S & Doraemon, a 15-minute 2012 work from artist Hikaru Suzuki, represented by the gallery Kayokoyuki. Dealing with the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster, the video intersperses rewound news clips, footage from daily life in Japan, and scenes from the popular cartoon Doraemon. The work literally reverts to the past and blends fiction and reality in a way that resonates with the experience of that time.
The gallery Aoyama | Meguro presents a slideshow for the masterful postwar photographer Mitsutoshi Hanaga. In black and white street shots of social and political events such as the student protests and art movements including Hi-Red Center, avant-garde theater, and Butoh, Hanaga captured the zeitgeist of 1960s Japan. This slideshow features 1200 images that run for nearly 40 minutes in three parts.
Tsubasa Kato of Mujin-to Production has a history of creating interactive works that deal with themes of borders and cooperation. For last year’s “Domani: The Art of Tomorrow” exhibition, he showed footage of his “Songs While Bound” project in which musicians attempted to play national anthems while tethered to ropes distancing them from their instruments. Now more poignant than ever in our socially isolated times, his Listen to the Same Wall (2015) shows a screen split three ways, each section containing a single musician (pianist, guitarist, violinist) who is separated from the others. They cannot see each other or hear one another play, but still they do their best to perform a shared piece of chamber music.
Identity and fraying links with the past are the subjects of two videos in the collection. Emine (2018) by Melike Kara from Jan Kaps records the artist’s Turkish grandmother speaking a language lost to the rest of the family. In Under the Kamejima Bridge (2015), artists Hiroaki Morita, who is Japanese, and Jon Sasaki, who is third-generation Japanese-Canadian, come together to uncover objects thrown into a river as a way of reconnecting with their ancestral past.
Funke (2014) by Yukihiro Taguchi is a delightful stop-motion piece that speaks to the human tendency to gather and create. Pieces of scrap wood are lit for fires that attract small groups, and the burned wood becomes charcoal for drawing. Watch this video as an antidote to disconnection.
Online Confidential also offers plenty by way of the ponderous and experimental. In Silent Revolution (2018) by Stefanie Schwarzwimmer, something strange is happening with a plate and no one in the world can quite figure it out. Give Us a Meow by Urara Tsuchiya is a Goldilocks-esque tale about a mysterious intruder. Restless Leg Saga (2012) by Shana Moulton is like a fever dream about medication advertisements. Finally, Dance Dance Revolution (2019) by Violet Dennison combines the popular arcade game with psychotherapy and sine waves while pondering whether life is a simulation that can be mastered.
The diversity of the works on show is a strength of Online Confidential. To be sure, many would be enhanced in a gallery setting where they could be viewed as snippets and surrounded by other works. However, many benefit from uninterrupted viewings, something the online format grants them. Take this as a chance to go deep with these profound and puzzling works.