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Here and There introduces art, artists, galleries and museums around Japan that non-Japanese readers and first-time visitors may find of particular interest. The writer claims no art expertise, just a subjective viewpoint acquired over many years' residence in Japan.

Silence and Insanity: Essential Ongoing at Shin Minatomura
Alan Gleason
Art Center Ongoing's storefront gallery (upstairs) and cafe (downstairs) in Kichijoji, Tokyo. Photo courtesy of Art Center Ongoing The huge Shinko Pier Exhibition Hall, home to the Shin Minatomura exhibition until November 6, flanked by ships docked in Yokohama Harbor. Photo by Alan Gleason

Like the megalopolis itself, the greater Tokyo region's art scene is so sprawling and amorphous that one is always surprised by the amount of fascinating stuff fermenting outside the bounds of the established museums, galleries, and art fairs. Every once in a while, art that has been percolating well under the establishment radar suddenly pops up in a far more visible venue. One such example was Art Center Ongoing's September group show at Yokohama's Shin Minatomura Gallery.

Founded in 2008, Art Center Ongoing is located in a funky old storefront on the northern edge of western Tokyo's bustling Kichijoji district. Facing the street at ground level is a cafe in a gallery-like setting, with shelves of art books and art "goods" surrounding the tables. Upstairs is the main exhibition space, site of a rotating series of installations and performances, mostly by artists under 40. Evolving out of a project of the same name that held exhibitions every year in Tokyo and Yokohama between 2002 and 2006, Ongoing encourages public participation and interaction among young artists and viewers of the same generation. For the past three years the center has been quietly expanding its network of artists and fans on the west side of town. There is a strong esprit de corps in this community, as well as a healthy devil-may-care attitude toward the rest of Tokyo's art world that manifests itself in work that is utterly uncompromising and sometimes a bit hard to fathom.

A rare opportunity to see several Ongoing artists in a more conspicuous environment was provided this past month in Yokohama, 30 kilometers southeast of Kichijoji, where the center was invited to participate in Shin Minatomura, an ambitious exhibition running concurrently with the Yokohama Triennale. Built entirely inside a vast warehouse on Shinko Pier, Shin Minatomura is a temporary "village" of artistic and architectural experimentation that features installations a tad more fringe-y than those in the major Triennale venues. [See Nicolai Kruger's article about Shin Minatomura in this issue's Focus.]

From September 2 to 21, Ongoing occupied Shin Minatomura Gallery, a gallery-within-a-gallery partitioned off from the rest of the warehouse by high walls. Essential Ongoing managed to both surmount its potential isolation and cram works by ten very disparate artists into a very cozy space by utilizing every inch of these walls, both inside and outside. Thus paintings by Akiko Kinugawa and Itaru Ogawa covered the outer surfaces of the gallery, visually interacting with the other exhibits -- notably the village's magical "zoo" of animal sculptures just outside the gallery entrance.

The Essential Ongoing exhibit at Shin Minatomura Gallery. On the left is Tetsushi Higashino's installation The End of Uncensored Porn (2011); on the right is the movie leaflet-festooned tent housing Masahiro Wada's Now On Release. Floating sliver-like in front of the tent is Yuta Hayakawa's ethereal white sculpture about us (2011). Photo courtesy of Art Center Ongoing Now On Release (2011) by Masahiro Wada, photographed in mid-spin. Photo by Alan Gleason


Inside, the hodgepodge of works on display ranged from whimsical to bizarre. Satoru Tamura's gear-and-bicycle-chain contraptions Machine A and Star Machine were among the more visually coherent. At the other end of the comprehensibility spectrum was self-described "unproductive production artist" Tetsushi Higashino's mini-installation The End of Uncensored Porn. Far less prurient than its title might suggest, this included such objects as a bicycle, empty PET bottles arranged to form the katakana letters ne-ko (cat), and a gargantuan moth repellent box labeled EXPIRED (there is an elaborate pun at work here: the repellent's brand name, Mushuda, has become Internet slang for mushusei, "uncensored").

The most dynamic (though no less puzzling) piece, occupying its own tent in the corner, was Masahiro Wada's Now On Release, a fearsome-looking motorized sculpture rotating at high speed like a giant shish kebab on steroids. With silver foil covering the entire work as well as the enclosing walls, the eerie metallic light and the relentless whir of the spinning object generated an ominous, threatening mood amplified by the claustrophobic space.

Floating in the middle of the gallery was an object of singular beauty and simplicity: Yuta Hayakawa's about us, a flat, white, irregular ellipse suspended about 1.5 meters off the floor. Like a severe but gentle knife, it sliced the vertical space of the gallery in two, just below eye level. One could not help but see it as more than a bifurcation of space, but also of time, perhaps into "before" and "after."

All of these artists have exhibited at Ongoing in Kichijoji and maintain close ties with the center. In a round-table discussion that appears (with English translation) in the exhibition catalogue, Ongoing director Nozomu Ogawa and the artists bantered in a familiar and good-humored manner about one another's work. Befitting the show's subtitle -- "Silence and Insanity" -- the consensus seemed to be that a shared objective was to break down arbitrary distinctions between sense and nonsense -- "crying for the moon," as Higashino put it, or "seeking something beyond control," in the words of Itaru Ogawa.

The talk turned more serious when the subject of March 11 and the nuclear crisis came up. Nozomu Ogawa explained that the exhibition subtitle was inspired by the "absolute silence after the earthquake and tsunami. Then, radiation, the invisible insanity, came after us." Though several artists admitted to questioning the purpose of their work in the aftermath of the disasters, Yusuke Shibata pointed out that "it's kind of weird to change something in my works because of the earthquake. It's like, 'what was it you had been doing, then?'"

Though Ongoing's run in Yokohama has ended, a full schedule of events continues in Kichijoji. Ongoing-FES, a multimedia festival of dance, video, and music that closes October 9, climaxes in a workshop and performance by the music/dance group Tsumugine on October 8.


The outer walls of the gallery feature the paintings of Itaru Ogawa (left) and Akiko Kinugawa (right). [See this issue's Focus by Nicolai Kruger for another view.] Photo courtesy of Art Center Ongoing In the Shin Minatomura "village square," performance artist Mineki Murata delivers a drawing, made to order on the spot, to an eager customer. Photo by Alan Gleason

All photos by permission of Art Center Ongoing and Shin Minatomura

Art Center Ongoing
1-8-7 Kichijoji Higashi-cho, Musashino City, Tokyo
Phone: 0422-26-8454
Open 12 noon to 9 p.m.; closed Mondays and Tuesdays
Transportation: 8 minutes' walk from north exit of Kichijoji Station (JR Chuo Line and Keio Inokashira Line)
Shin Minatomura: A Small City for the Future
6 August - 6 November 2011
Shinko Pier, 2-5 Naka-ku, Yokohama
Open 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; closed Thursdays
Transportation: 15 minutes' walk from exit 6, Bashamichi Station (Yokohama Minatomirai Line)
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Alan Gleason
Alan Gleason is a translator, editor and writer based in Tokyo, where he has lived for 25 years. In addition to writing about the Japanese art scene he has edited and translated works on Japanese theater (from kabuki to the avant-garde) and music (both traditional and contemporary).
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