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Here and There :
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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.

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image image Yasuhiro Suzuki's "Spontaneous Garden" of Earthly Delights
Alan Gleason
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Aerial Being, Beijing (2017)

Multimedia artist Yasuhiro Suzuki is a jokester with a protean imagination. Spontaneous Garden, his current solo exhibition in the Main Gallery at The Hakone Open-Air Museum, treats the viewer to an outpouring of conceptual works. They are sometimes sublime, sometimes merely wacky (and quite often wackily sublime), but always mind-titillating.

Suzuki's stated aim is to "discover new points of contact between human beings and nature in our relationship with things that potentially occur naturally or accidentally in our daily lives." His strategy is to "cast familiar motifs in a new light," and this rather broad self-mandate allows for a range of approaches, from the silly to the profound.

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Installation view, Large-Sized Aerial Being (2009), "Mitate Garden," Main Gallery Second Floor. Photo by Keizo Kioku

Like that of Yoko Ono, Suzuki's conceptual work is always ripe with whimsy, but in his case expresses no overt political or spiritual messages. If you simply tour the exhibits without preconceptions, you will be amused and entertained, but not necessarily compelled to contemplate any profundities about nature and life. One suspects that this is just fine with Suzuki, who in a video interview declares that "there is design potential in reconsidering how we organize time." Perhaps his goal is simply to toy with our perceptions of time and space just enough to get us to realize how arbitrary our assumptions about the world really are. If you prefer to access the artist's thoughts on each piece, however, I recommend first purchasing the exhibition catalog, a compact booklet, fully bilingual, that provides excellent English translations of the glosses for every work in the show.

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Installation view, "Air and Water Garden," Main Gallery First Floor. Photo by Keizo Kioku

The exhibition is divided into three sections on different levels. Suzuki has turned the first and largest space into an "Air and Water Garden," where condensed moisture drips from a maze of copper tubing that snakes around the room overhead. Most of the droplets concentrate at the lowest point of the tube, where they fall onto a white plastic tree stump, forming concentric ripples that perfectly mimic the rings of a tree. (The same work appears in the Untamed Mind exhibition at Tokyo's 21_21 Design Sight until 4 February; you can see a photo at the bottom of this page.)

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Balance Scale for Lightness (2017), "Air and Water Garden," Main Gallery First Floor. Photo by Keizo Kioku

The floor of the hall is covered with white paper leaves, a ghostly autumnal motif that Suzuki dallies with in novel ways: placing the moistened leaves on a pair of scales, for example, which shift position as the leaves dry out. This interplay of air and water is inspired, Suzuki says, by the sculptures that adorn the museum grounds outside the gallery -- seemingly immutable objects that are in fact undergoing change at every moment with their constant exposure to the elements.

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Balance Scale for Lightness (2017) in a water tank with rising air bubbles, "Inverted Garden," Main Gallery Mezzanine Floor. Photo by Keizo Kioku

The next room is a smaller space that looks out onto the gallery's inner garden. Titled "Inverted Garden," this section contains some of Suzuki's most attractive pieces, all of which involve some form of inversion or distortion of scale. Nature's Time Metronome can be set to any interval between one second and 10,000 years (for the display it ticks at a relatively rapid two beats per minute). Balance Scale for Lightness features another pair of scales, but these are installed upside-down in a tank of water. As rising air bubbles get trapped in the pans, they abruptly switch position at random intervals. One of the loveliest tableaux is a circular mirror placed flat on the floor, with a single apple atop it perfectly reflected below. The mirror also reflects the foliage outside the window, giving it the appearance of a portal to a subterranean forest.

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Why an Apple Doesn't Fall into the Mirror (2003)

The third room is devoted to Suzuki's "Mitate Garden," an installation of scores of gizmos and gadgets that invites viewers to "take a fresh look at everyday items" and thereby "turn their personal experiences into universal ones" (mitate roughly means "allusion"). The allusive items range from hand soap shaped like a human hand to yet another plastic tree stump, this one fashioned into a bucket. One of the wildest and most fully realized ideas is a boat shaped like a zipper fastener. As a video testifies, Suzuki actually did build a remote-control Zip-Fastener Ship and sent it on rides across a lake. But the coup de grace is Large-Sized Aerial Being, a gargantuan inflated human figure of clear polyvinyl chloride that rests on the floor in supine position, reminiscent of the meditative cosmic infant in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Neighborhood Globe Journey Tools (2001-), Main Gallery Second Floor

Special note should be given to an installation within this installation. Neighborhood Globe Journey Tools is a smorgasbord of hilariously imaginative objects -- many of them visual puns -- that fill a large acrylic showcase shaped like a transparent valise (complete with handle). A helpful English-language leaflet describes the 40 or so items therein. Among the highlights: a moon-cratered golf ball, a notebook made of paper leaves like the ones that fill the "Air and Water Garden," a silver-wrapped chocolate model of Kyoto's Silver Pavilion, and a compass with a needle shaped like the Japanese archipelago.

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Compass of the Japanese Islands (2011), which is also one of the Neighborhood Globe Journey Tools

One of Suzuki's most celebrated works occupies its own gallery in another building, the museum's Multi Hall. This is Blinking Leaves, a brilliantly conceived participatory piece in which a graceful flute-like chimney draws air from below and expels it from the top. The surrounding floor is covered with Suzuki's ubiquitous white paper leaves, but the ones here are all festooned with eyes -- an open eye on one side and a shut eye on the other. Visitors are encouraged to scoop handfuls of these eye-leaves off the floor and shove them into the aperture at the bottom of the chimney, which blows them up and out in a flurry of blinking eyes that cascade down on the participants. Kids in particular can't get enough of it.

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Installation view, Blinking Leaves (2003), "Momentary Garden," Multi Hall. Photo by Keizo Kioku

This is indeed a show that has something for children of all ages, by an artist who has clearly mastered the secret of remaining forever young. His work suggests that one key to eternal youth is to step back once in a while and view the world around us upside-down, just for a little perspective.


All works shown are by Yasuhiro Suzuki; all images are courtesy of The Hakone Open-Air Museum.


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Yasuhiro Suzuki: Spontaneous Garden (in Japanese only)
5 August 2017 - 25 February 2018
The Hakone Open-Air Museum (English)
1121 Ninotaira, Hakone-machi, Kanagawa Prefecture
Phone: 0460-82-1161
Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. year-round; admission until 4:30 p.m.
Transportation: 2 minutes' walk from Chokoku-no-Mori Station on the Hakone Tozan Line (35 minutes from Hakone-Yumoto Station on the Odakyu Line)
 
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Alan Gleason
Alan Gleason is a translator, editor and writer based in Tokyo, where he has lived for 30 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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