Asian Art News
By Lucy Birmingham
"London-Tokyo Project: Walking Distance 11975 Min. at Space/Annex"
Producing a successful international exhibition between London and Tokyo is no small challenge for professionals, but when produced by students it's truly impressive. "London-Tokyo Project: Walking Distance 11975 Min." was a unique collaborative effort between 16 students at the Chelsea College of Art & Design (University of Arts London) and four students from Tokyo Zokei University and Tama Art University, held at the Space/Annex gallery in Tokyo.
The curious title was based on an advertising technique used by Japanese real estate agencies. Properties are listed with the time in minutes it takes to walk to key sites in the surrounding neighborhoods. This approach was applied to the distance between the first "trial" London exhibition in April and the Tokyo exhibition in August, to emphasize the difference in time and space. The artists were asked to make works on the theme of “distance, time and/or time difference” but the results were a variety of unexpected renderings that added depth and flavor to the show.
Despite the lack of financial support, English and Japanese language issues and the distance and time factors, the effort was worth it for Arisa Nishiyama, a BA student at Chelsea and the exhibition's head organizer. As a Japanese student studying at a London art university, Nishiyama felt she could help create a bridge that would bring aspiring university art students and recent graduates across cultural borders. For the students it could be an opportunity to share and discuss not only issues related to art but also the two cultures as a whole.
For Nishiyama, presenting the exhibition in Japan was a culture shock since she had only shown her work in London. She found that in Japan it's important for artists to be technically savvy in an aesthetic way. The work needs to "look good," she said. For Western-based artists she has encountered, the concept is discussed more than the visual appearance.
During their search for an exhibition space, Nishiyama and the other London-based artists were surprised at the cleanliness of the Tokyo rental galleries available, and surprised at the high cost. She explained that in London there are many cheap rental places available for emerging artists to show their work such as warehouses and even crypts under churches. She said they did not want to show in a "white cube" and looked for an alternative, reasonably priced space, but that it was impossible to find.
Although this was a discouraging discovery, Nishiyama and the other students were not deterred. "Each exhibition is important for our growth, even if we can't sell any of the work," she explained.
Nishiyama's mixed media work, "untitled (4/1/2009/17:30)" was an intriguing experiment in time and transience. A photograph of delicate, discarded, papery materials riddled with dots, holes and penetrating nails, played with the concept of impermanence. While conscious of the importance of preserving the "now," Nishiyama revealed the inevitable destruction of materials. Nishiyama did her part as constructive creator during preparations for the exhibition with the birth of her first baby.
Mamina Kitazono, a Tama Art University recent graduate with a major in printmaking, revealed her talent for doodling with her video titled, "Secondary Creation." With a soundtrack reminiscent of a well-known Japanese anime, Kitazono's lucidly morphing 22 cartoon characters magnified the meaning of time and transition. Her work, like many of the Tokyo-based artists, reflected the lighter side of the exhibition.
Francis Mason's work titled, "Disruption 4 (2009)" was also molded with a time theme through destruction and reconstruction on architectural forms. Based in London, Mason uses materials such as concrete, wood, plaster and digital prints as they act as different layers in the built environment that can be shaped and eroded. The use of these materials also reinforces the architectural illusion in the work. Using a controlled method of physical destruction and reconstruction, his work aims to disrupt the rational, controlled processes and dominant status of much urban architecture.
Mason wrote in an e-mail that he joined the "London-Tokyo Project" for the challenge of creating work that is concerned with transition between two places on different sides of the world. The work he produced, part of his "Disruption" series, was shown as a solid framed piece in London, which was then broken up, deconstructed and sent in small packages to be shown in fragmented form in Tokyo.
"One of the similarities between the Japanese and UK artists in this exhibition was the attention to detail and precision they applied to their work," wrote Mason. "Although it’s hard to generalize, some Japanese artists used a more playful approach than the UK artists."