Isnin, 30 September 2013

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Gazing at Japan's transformation through photos


Travelling photography exhibition seeks to show the modern divide in Japan.

JAPAN is a country all of us are familiar with. It is the land of sushi and Hello Kitty. It is the birthplace of the infamous Godzilla and kids will tell you, the birthplace of Ultraman. And who can forget the dreadful WWII bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

So, yes, we know Japan very well indeed … or do we?

Does anyone know how an ordinary citizen of Japan lives? Can anyone speak with authority on the mundane and simple things about this country? Perhaps, our view and understanding of Japan is one of myopia and it this very situation that the latest art exhibition by the Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur (JFKL) wishes to challenge.

Entitled rather appropriately Gazing At The Contemporary World, this exhibition of photographs by some of the most noted photographers of Japan such as Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki and Norio Kobayashi will give visitors an intimate look at Japan – from the 1970s to 2006 – through the gaze and lens of these photographers.

Indeed, the subtitle "Japanese Photography From The 1970s To The Present" points to this underlying theme, the single thread as it were, that holds this exhibition together.

"The theme of the exhibition, as the title suggests, is to show how the photographers looked at their era and time in regards to the society and the people. There are two parts to this exhibition. The first part is entitled "Changing Society"' and it focuses more on people," explained Mio Yachita, JKFL's Head of Cultural Affairs Department, in a recent interview.

"It is the photographers' gaze on what the society is and how it is changing and how their everyday lives look like. The second part is entitled "Changing Landscape" and it focuses on landscapes such as suburban areas and developments."

The art enthusiast added that the exhibition's goal is to highlight the ordinary and everyday life in Japan with the country's development from the 1970s to the early 2000s as the backdrop.

Tokuko Ushioda's Ice Box series reveals a family's culture by showing what's inside the refrigerator.

Tokuko Ushioda's Ice Box series reveals a family's culture by showing what's inside the refrigerator.

Yachita said the photographers had captured how the Japanese society changed over time and through that, expressed "how they were feeling about the society. It is not through some higher viewpoint but through the people's viewpoint. You will see that most of the photographs show the ordinary Japan. It's not about the prime minister or the emperor or some big events."

And ordinary they were. One only has to walk into the exhibition space, the Kuala Lumpur Library, and immediately, one will realise no neon colours of Tokyo's nightlife or breathtaking skyscrapers meets the eye. In the vast, expansive space of the gallery, the photographs are almost negligible, mere frames of blacks and whites on the wall.

But the moment you stop and gaze into each of the photographs, a different world swims into view. A Japan that is not so common to most of us, the ordinary Japan, emerges and at once, you will begin to appreciate the genius of the photographers and their innate ability to capture the simple when mega changes were rapidly happening around them.

"We are using art photography as a medium to show how dynamic the Japanese society was from the 1970s to the early 2000s. It is an aesthetic exhibition but it's also very meaningful for us to do this exhibition in many countries so that your image of Japan will become more diverse. It's not only about Samurai or eating sushi!" Yachita jested.

This travelling exhibition, which began in 2007, has been to, among others, Lithuania, Papua New Guinea, Uzbekistan, El Salvador, Honduras and Mongolia.

One of the notable photographs at the exhibition is the "Ice Box" series by Tokuko Ushioda. A series of four photos, two from 1988 and two from 1989, "Ice Box" is simply about, as the title suggests, refrigerators. The first photo shows a closed fridge at a home and the second photo shows the same fridge but opened, revealing all that is inside the fridge.

So, what is so special about these refrigerators? Yes, the photographers have captured the ordinary life in Japan and that is the theme of the exhibition but what can one learn about the changing society in Japan through photographs of refrigerators?

"These pictures are in line with the changing society section of the exhibition because the refrigerator tells a lot about your family culture, like what's inside, how packed it is and how many notes are stuck on the door," shared Yachita.

As for the "Changing Landscape" section, besides photographs of developments around Japan and the construction of building and bridges, one powerful picture is that of the Kobe earthquake in 1995. Photographed by Ryuji Miyamoto and named Kobe 1995 After the Earthquake, Yachita reasoned that not only developments marked the changes that were happening in Japan but this earthquake was a big punctuation mark in the developmental history of the country.

Ryuji Miyamoto's photograph on the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake, which also changed Japan.

Ryuji Miyamoto's photograph on the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake in 1995, which also changed Japan.

It is always good to pause and look back through the veil of time at how a country has changed over the years. And the Gazing At The Contemporary World exhibition depicts just that.

Japan, as we know it, immediately changes before our very eyes, seen through the lens of these photographers. And even as we drive or walk to this gallery, adjacent to Dataran Merdeka and overlooking the KL Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers, you cannot but reminisce on how much our very own country has changed.

> The Gazing At The Contemporary World: Japanese Photography From The 1970s To The Present exhibition is on at the KL Library, No.1, Jalan Raja (next to Dataran Merdeka) in Kuala Lumpur from now until Oct 30. Opening times: Monday 2pm-6.45pm; Tuesday-Friday, 10am-6.45pm; Saturday-Sunday, 10am-5pm. Closed on first weekend of the month. The exhibition moves to Muzium & Galeri Tunku Fauziah, Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang from Nov 8 till Dec 14. Admission is free.

A fine parade at Art Expo Malaysia 2013


With a balance of commerce and contemporary cool, Art Expo Malaysia 2013 exceeded expectations.

WOULD you plonk RM200,000 on a small pumpkin? It's no ordinary pumpkin, actually. It's a work from famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, the outrageous Grandma of Pop Art. This work featured at Japan's Yod Kogure booth (alongside a Damien Hirst – his Skulls work) at the recent Art Expo Malaysia 2013 at Matrade Exhibition & Convention Centre in Kuala Lumpur (Sept 19-22).

By far, it was the most successful edition of Art Expo Malaysia, especially in terms of sales.

At 84, the frail but flamboyant Yayoi is said not to be able to paint any longer, although Singapore's Cultural Medallion artist Lim Tze Peng (at artist-gallerist Terence Teo's Cape of Good Hope Art Gallery), who is 90, still wields a very mean brush. But at the Art Basel Hong Kong last May, I met a Yayoi "Cosplay" wannabe (with a toyboy in tow) who looked like her, dressed like her but was not her, but who claimed to be a close friend of Yayoi and said that Yayoi could still paint.

While these Silent-Generation (those born between the 1930s and 1940s) art treasures are revered with a price to match, the seventh edition of Art Expo Malaysia (AEM) will be remembered for the Big "C" – as in "Contemporary." Yes, while the last two years have seen a perceptible transition, the money in 2013 was on the Big "C."

AEM project co-director Sim Po-Lenn revealed: "This year's AEM registered a significant uptick in sales from both the local and foreign galleries, and a few have confirmed returning next year, and have asked for a bigger booth!"

That the leading local galleries were taking part in full force this time after a bout of folding-arms hesitancy, was a vindication of the AEM, which essentially is organised for them – to help them showcase Malaysian art and those from other countries, on a one-global platform. They must have been pleased with the overall robust sales record.

Azrin Mohd's 'The Day The Circus Came To Town', a mixed media standing installation presented by Malaysia's G13 Gallery.

Azrin Mohd's The Day The Circus Came To Town, a mixed media standing installation presented by Malaysia's G13 Gallery.

After all, the Singapore galleries – which are far more international and cosmopolitan – have been clued in about this AEM event years ago, and they are part of the AEM's growth and success stories and their own success.

The AEM has inadvertently branded itself as an "Art Fair With A Face, And A Heart" and much of its success is based on a cultivated culture of goodwill (after-hours fraternising) and "partnership", in that the organisers also tried to help make it worth the while of the paying exhibitors.

But on the second day of the AEM, a seismic shock hit the Henry Butcher Art Auction booth, when it announced that the sole single consignor of The Modernist auction had controversially and unprecedentedly withdrawn from the much-awaited Sept 22 auction. It is now concentrating on its main Nov 3 auction. Two other auctioneers, KL Lifestyle Art Space (KLAS) and Masterpiece, had also taken up booths at the AEM to advertise their auctions on Sept 21 and Oct 13 respectively.

Interest was still there on the old and deceased such as Yayoi, Chen Yi-Fei, M.F. Husain, Li Chi Mao but the Big C was calling the shots. The accent was on "Art In The Here and Now", with the bewildering array of Hyper-Realism; pseudo-Pop in a playful whimsical way; space-gobblers/transgressors; caricature Fantasy-Gothic and other soul-excoriating works. But they all shared one thing in common: BIG!

Indonesia's ArtXchange was a popular destination at Art Expo 2013. Pictured is a work by Agung Mangu Putra called 'Dia Menatapku.'

Indonesia's ArtXchange was a popular destination at Art Expo 2013. Pictured is a work by Agung Mangu Putra called Dia Menatapku.

The bold double-header from Malaysia's Core Design Gallery, which featured Zulkifli Yusoff and Hamir Soib, made heads turn at the exhibition billed under the "Great Malaysian Contemporary Art" banner. With a stellar cast that also had Multhalib Musa, Eng Hwe Chu, Shoosie Sulaiman and Husin Hourmain, it was really what the works were about that counted, and impressed most!

Other leading local galleries such as G13, Artemis, Segaris, Pelita Hati, NN Gallery and RA Fine Arts had a fine parade of their own stable of artists, revealing a trend towards exclusivity to certain artists. This is only for the better, but not so workable on the ground, in the open cat-scratch-cat business level. Others such as Yahong Art Gallery and EQ Art focused on one artist, with Yahong's Chuah Seow Keng being the batik-art heir of the great House of Teng (world-acknowledged batik-art founder Datuk Chuah Thean Teng) who was taking part alone for the fifth year; and EQ being the collagist Eric Quah. Another, Malaysian-born Wenchi Lucas, who had a booth, is a naturalised Briton now.

Benny Oentoro's ArtXchange Gallery (Indonesia) has been a huge draw since 2011, and among its star performers this year were Heri Dono, Agung Mangu Putra, Jange Rae (Evi Muheriyawan), Masagoeng and Suwandi Waeng.

The more popular artists were Gustavo Charif (Fuman Art, France/KL), the Minimalist Masayuki Tsubota (H-Art Beat, Japan), Rudi Mardijanto and I Bagus Purwa (H Gallery, Indonesia), Val (Redsea Gallery, Singapore), Kim Eun-Ok (Zoom Gallery, South Korea), Edo Pillo and Kim MyingYoung (Art Front Gallery, Singapore).

Not everything was a BUY-BUY frenzy. It had become like an annual James Bond/007 treat with the Miao Xiao-Chun 3D animatrix – a truly stupendous animation theatre of pure genius. This year's offering was Limitless. It was part of the AEM's expanding China Pavilion – apart from the individual booths of Chinoiserie from Chit Fung Art (Li Xiaoke, Jia YouFu, Wang XiJing, PanGongkai, Li DingCheng); William Art Salon, where its Duxi had finally come home after several years of promotion, and the MAD Museum of Art and Design's tribute to Chen Wen-Hsi (1906-1991).

Elsewhere, Blue Dots Art had China's rising star 31-year-old sculptor Chen Jin Qing, with his cutesy sculptures based on the face of his young son – a Chinese version of Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry's The Little Prince. Then, there was also Zi Peng (Y2 Arts) with his jade-centred works – with one piece mocking Damien Hirst's shark (The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living).

Apart from the special booths for Wang Xi Jing, there was also the Li Chi Mao Museum. Others in the China Pavilion were Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts, China National Academy of Painting, Shaanxi Artists Association, Szechuan New Wave, 6th Ring International Art Zone (Beijing), Perpetuum, and a tribute to Hong Kong's Liu Meng Kuan.

Spain's ATR Gallery, which has been with the AEM since the inaugural expo in 2007, has painstakingly promoted Jesus Curia to the huge success he is now.

The best statement of the man's pedigree was his half bust sculpture with his trademark androgynous figure (with wings spread out). From the success of a special series of prints by the great Joan Miro (1893-1983) and prints by Pablo Picasso, ATR had gone more ambitious by bringing in three rare Miro marquettes done at the Mallorca studio. Making his debut was another established Spanish artist-sculptor Gines Serran Pagan, whose works are increasingly inspired by the cultures of the Asia-Pacific.

The Embassy Zone – dedicated to countries whose artists were rarely seen in these parts – also proved popular. Booths from Brazil, Colombia, Cuba (Enrique Wong Dias), Ecuador, Iran, Kazakhstan and Italy were among the more visited destinations from the 10 participating countries.


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