Apr 20, 2017 | By Sandy Chu
Tokyo’s largest dedicated photography gallery, much missed by art lovers while it underwent a radical facelift that took two long years, is open once again under the new name of the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum (TOP Museum for short). And marking this long-waited return, a stirring show sees celebrated creator Hiroshi Sugimoto meditating upon the extinction of the human race.
The exhibition called ‘Lost Human Genetic Archive’ also celebrates 20 years since the venue opened as the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Though best known for stark monochrome shots of seascapes, nature and contemporary architecture, NYC-based Sugimoto has come to be active in fields as diverse as installation art, bunraku puppetry and archaeology. A Tokyo-specific update of an exhibition originally shown at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo back in 2014, ‘Lost Human…’ combines these and other disciplines to sound a theatrically ominous, and at times wryly humorous, death knell for us all.
Sugimoto has employed weathered corrugated metal to partition an entire murkily-lit floor of the building into a series of 33 dioramas each presenting a rumination on mankind’s demise from the perspective of a fictional character: some are archetypes that we might readily blame for the world’s ruin (‘The Politician’, ‘The Militarist’), while others are less obviously so (‘The Contemporary Artist’, ‘The Comedian’). Still others are of more ambiguous liability, such as ‘The Robot Engineer’ or the highly realistic sex doll that curiously is the only individual to be named (‘Ange’).
Each scenario contains a photograph or two shot by Sugimoto along with a miscellany of objects relating to an end-times reflection supposedly written by the character it is dedicated to: these range from fossilised turtles dated to around 100 million years ago to crates full of Viagra; from Yves Saint Laurent fabric to a glass sphere used in developing the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in WW2. Elsewhere and more animatedly, a lobster dances and sings while bunraku puppets nod their heads sagely via tiny motors.
Visually arresting and thought-provoking to varying degrees (the standout pieces achieve both), taken together the dioramas evoke something like an intellectual take on the ‘cabinet of curiosities’ exhibits of Victorian England. ‘The Art Historian’ is literally electrifying as it periodically crackles with energy generated by a Faraday Cage, flanked by a thunder god effigy from 13th century Japan. The fashion and design-conscious visitors will want to take note of ‘The Aesthete’. The centrepiece here is a prone figure wearing a gold and white geometrically-patterned costume and an androgynous mask both taken from Noh theatre: with the glass dome placed over the figure’s head it wouldn’t look out of place in an Issey Miyake collection.
Emerging from darkness of the show and into the light is a revamped foyer that includes a photography-focused branch of leading Tokyo art bookshop Nadiff, as well as an upmarket cafe with a bistro-style menu.
City by City’s takeaway from the experience was more positive than pessimistic: a reminder of the precariousness of life on this planet, and how we all have a part to play in maintaining it – no matter which of Sugimoto’s archetypal characters we might most closely resemble.
‘Hiroshi Sugimoto: Lost Human Genetic Archive’
Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
Yebisu Garden Place, 1-13-3 Mita, Meguro-ku / 81 (0)3 3280 0099
Until November 13, 2016
Photography credit: gadaboutmag.com, okyoapartmentinc.com, galleryyukomori.cocolog-nifty.com
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