This year’s First Steps exhibition will be the third held at the Grey Art Gallery and will, like the previous shows in 1997 and 1999, present cutting-edge works in diverse media by emerging Japanese artists. First Steps is a biennial competition, established in 1996, to discover, nurture, and support young artists in Japan and stimulate international recognition for their work.
The winners—Sayaka Akiyama, Noriaki Hayashi, MMM Project, Yuki Okumura, Risa Sato, Hiroko Shimizu, and Kenji Ueda—whose works will be exhibited at the Grey were selected from a pool of 100 finalists by an international jury of art professionals. The members of the jury were Ida Gianelli, Director, Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin, Italy; Lynn Gumpert, Director, Grey Art Gallery; Kathy Halbreich, Director, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Kasper König, Independent Curator/Rector, Professor, Städelschule, Germany; Kwok Kian Chow, Director, Singapore Art Museum; Yongwoo Lee, art historian and critic, and Professor, Korea University, Seoul; and Tadayasu Sakai, Director, The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura, Japan. A three-person jury, composed of Lynn Gumpert; Yuko Hasegawa, Chief Curator, Kanazawa Contemporary Art Museum; and Fumio Nanjo, a Tokyo-based independent curator and art critic, made the initial selection from over 1,000 entries. Works by all 100 finalists were exhibited at the Yebisu Garden Hall in Tokyo from April 24 to May 7, 2000.
The Grey Art Gallery’s presentation of works by recipients of the Philip Morris Art Award serves not only to introduce New York audiences to the newest artistic trends from Japan but also, through educational programs, to provide a forum for in-depth discussion and exchange of ideas
In her video installation, Tricky, Hiroko Shimizu plays with our fascination with illusion, using animated shadows. Deceptively guileless, the installation features a figure with mouse-like ears who plays the role of magician. We see only his shadow, spotlit on a small tiered stage, as he performs his various tricks: whipping aside his magic cloth, he reveals an oversized spider dancing on his arms; gesturing with his wand, he is joined on stage by a sexy female attendant. Shimizu is attracted to animation’s ability to present illusory actions in a realistic fashion. Simple yet profound, the video presents a magician’s silent, endless reenactment of his all-too-brief repertoire—lasting only two minutes—again and again, reminding us of the basic human need to subscribe to the maxim “seeing is believing.”
Kenji Ueda’s perception of reality is governed by the aesthetics and values of video games. Identifying with a generation of young Japanese who are called otaku—an equivalent of American “techies” or “nerds”—Ueda sees the world as contrived of cheap and artificial images and sounds. In an ironic homage to the pioneering video games of the early 1980s, his installation Paper Game Machine Project 2000 features small paper patterns of the icon for the first Nintendo machine. Piles of patterns are stacked on a crude table, and viewers are invited to sit, cut, and reassemble them. Free for the taking or left on display, some of them were personalized by Japanese audiences in earlier exhibitions. Reconfiguring the symbol of the technologically sophisticated video game into a painstaking and primitive paper cutout, Ueda ruminates on the enigma of built-in obsolescence in a cyberspace age.
For more about Kenji Ueda’s work click here.
Yuki Okumura expands the realm of body art, constructing two recent series of works from fingernail clippings and from saliva. For Drop, he focused his digital video camera on the hands of different people cutting their fingernails. This act, very personal yet rendered anonymously, puts the viewer in the position of voyeur. Okumura then gathered the clippings, forming them into small, irregular spheres, and showed them lined up in the centers of common tin cans on a shelf, evoking a disturbing display of medical oddities or specimens. Clearly intending to provoke, Okumura exploits the uneasy tension between the animate and inanimate. For Carcass, the artist collects his own saliva, which he reduces to charred lacy abstract designs, recalling the unearthly transformations of a modern-day alchemist. These he mounts on small square acrylic slides, once again suggesting medical or scientific experiments.
The nature of human relationships figures strongly in the installation and performance work of Risa Sato. For her Risa Campaign series, she has engaged in different activities in various locales, all of which she records on video. For Vol. 2 of this multi-tome series, she constructed an enormous inflated doll-like head, a strange hybrid of a manga cartoon character and a Kewpie doll, out of parachute silk. Wearing it, she paraded through the streets of Tokyo, garnering strange stares and startled glances. In a more recent work, Risa Campaign in California—Mother’s Life, she visited her estranged mother, who had moved to the United States. There, she maneuvered through suburban streets on a strange contraption—a tricycle sporting a primitive oversized head. In yet another variation, she donned a costume and a different enormous head, this time atop a columnar pink dress.
Born 1976 to 1980. Graduated from Keio University (Okano); studying at Keio University (Okamura, Onodera); attending graduate school at Keio University, Tokyo (Ishimura, Ogawa, Toyabe) and at University of Tokyo (Nakasugi).
The “MMM” of this collaborative group’s name stands for “Multi-Media Modeling.” The original seven members—Shota Ishimura, Hiroaki Nakasugi, Hideaki Ogawa, Yukiko Okamura, Yohei Okano, Satoshi Onodera, and Sakura Toyabe—began working together in 1991 while all were undergraduates at Keio University. Now, under the direction of Ogawa, the group continues to employ digital technologies to explore time and space in an environment increasingly defined by multimedia. The poetic and hypnotic video installation shown here, Memory of Media, presents different views of various individuals and events. In this case, commuters on a train and a woman walking on a pathway converge at a railroad crossing at the outer gate of a Shinto shrine, a scene seemingly frozen for eternity in the large, suspended black-and-white photograph at the installation’s entrance.
Sayaka Akiyama’s art functions as a visual diary. Sewing different colored threads onto enlarged maps silkscreened on canvas, she traces the routes that she takes to attend classes, go to the post office, shop for groceries, and so on. In some works, a diagram of her studio apartment provides the parameters within which she documents her activities. In this way, she explores the physical aspects of her own existence in relation to her immediate environment. She sometimes writes on the works as well: the words, in her view, create an organic link between the unemotional topographical maps and the chaotic tangle of threads that indicate her daily meanderings. Akiyama deliberately personalizes the impersonal. Her Aluku series focuses on Sagamiono in Kanagawa Prefecture, a prototypical, unremarkable suburban town not far from Tokyo.
In his Perfect World Series, Noriaki Hayashi investigates the notion of utopia, exposing the absurd within the ideal. *Twinkle*Twinkle* features thirty small paintings, each depicting a section of the universe with the stars rearranged in a regular, ordered fashion. Hung in rows forming a grid, the paintings themselves seemingly repeat ad infinitum an idealized world in which the unknowable has become predictable. In the Building series, skyscrapers are represented as minimal geometric grids of miniscule black-outlined white rectangles silhouetted against midnight blue skies. The red lights at either corner—warning beacons for airplanes—invoke an eerily contemporary reminder of an increasingly technological society. Similarly, his laser prints on photographic paper of silhouetted sheep appear chillingly generic, devoid of any emotion.