SNOW Contemporary, Tokyo
Closed April 1
by Mayumi Hirano
On August 28, 2011, a worker of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant appeared on a surveillance camera monitoring the sites ravaged by last year’s tsunami. Clad in a thick, space-like protective suit, this man approaches the camera from far in the background while constantly checking the positioning of his body within the camera frame. He slowly turns his right arm, points his finger to center of the camera and stands in position for about 15 minutes before walking away. He then reappears in front of us, this time at a closer distance, and points at the camera again. This scene was broadcasted on the Internet in real time, and unsurprisingly, the finger-pointing worker caught the attention of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) officials within seconds. In response to the press conference by TEPCO following the event in which they clarified their intention not to identify the culprit, the finger-pointing worker posted a statement on his blog about this action. In his statement, the worker credited his mysterious action as an homage to Vito Acconci’s 1972 piece, Centers, opening up the dialogue surrounding the event into the realm of art. This re-enactment of Acconci’s work goes beyond the system of art and crosses into different territories by way of the internet—from the nuclear plant to the headquarters of TEPCO, the Cabinet and the unknown public; from Fukushima to the world.
In his exhibition, Open Secret, Kota Takeuchi brings the recorded footage of the TEPCO worker’s action into the gallery space, suggesting a relationship between the identities of the finger-pointing worker and the artist himself. A headset is installed in front of the projection, which allows one person at a time to hear the sound of the site worker’s troubled breathing recorded under his protective suit. In contrast to the unlimited access to the recorded video on the Internet, the exhibition is able to make the experience more intimate by setting up a one-on-one relationship between the piece and the viewer. In addition to the finger pointing to us, the suffocating sound through the headsets confuses the experience of watching and being watched even more.
Discussion About a Box, another central piece in the exhibition, also touches upon issues of surveillance and identity by limiting its own accessibility. Simply composed of a chair and a paper cup at one end of a string telephone, the work invites the viewer to converse with the artist, who is sitting on the other side of the string outside of the gallery. From the street, you can see only his back in a telephone booth-like shack, so the two interlocutors never see one another, but share only the sound conveyed through the vibration of the string. This brings the two into a psychological proximity reaching far beyond the mere exchange of information. The viewer gets to ask anything they want to the artist, while they are given no way to identify the person on the other side as Kota Takeuchi.
Including several other works made after 3.11, Open Secret presents an eclectic set of media ranging from recorded video streaming on the Internet, live chat and blogs, to photographs, sketches and personal dialogues. The sphere of information technology represented here in the white cube sheds its practical use and reveals itself as a set of artistic tools. Takeuchi uses this mix of media strategically to not only mark his body movements or actions, but employing them as a tool to reach beyond the art community into the larger public sphere. This triggers a viewers’ reaction by utilizing mediums of self-expression that they have easy access to—Twitter and comments on YouTube. Seeing this “action-reaction” reciprocality as key, Takeuchi attempts to reposition art within the conventional geography of social, political and aesthetic values.
Mayumi Hirano is Curator / Program Coordinator of Koganecho Bazaar, Yokohama.