19 Sep

For a change, the little précis about the Japanese pavilion nails it: “… Japanese media art, which has been refined as part of a phenomenon known as the Galapagos Syndrome in which Japan, isolated from world standards, has evolved in wholly peculiar manner.”

This is perhaps also a typically Japanese understatement with a slight hint of apology. The Japanese art scene and what they consider proper art are (to my mind, anyway) thrillingly open-minded and unconcerned about the overly serious and self-important stuff that holds sway elsewhere. Sometimes this means that the sense of accessible, jolly inclusiveness disguises content that’s not as interesting as the aesthetic: but that’s exactly my point. Japanese art- and to some extent all east Asian art outside of the mainland Chinese art industry’s brutalising, acquisitive influence- is about ideas and feelings but doesn’t always see the need to go automatically for the very biggest ideas and feelings.  Small ideas and feelings can be beautiful. Sometimes it’s fine for art to just be pretty or clever or fun, whereas Western artists seem to have it drilled into them that all three of these things are strictly verboten and that they always have to pretend they’re the most intelligent person in the room: most especially if they really aren’t very bright at all.

Japan’s mirrored animation installation plays games with optics, space and one’s sense of distance in a similar way to James Turrell’s installation over at the Arsenale, but since it’s Japanese it does so by giving the impression of having your head stuck in a pinball machine instead of Turrell’s puritan minimalism- which I also like in a different way. I got no sense that Tabaimo’s ideas or the experience was anywhere as deep or wide as Turrell’s, or that the content was anywhere near as interesting as the technically accomplished production and set design. I’ve mentioned this kind of failure a few times already, but I’m more forgiving of style over substance victories when people don’t come along afterwards and try to lay down an intellectual smokescreen to cover up the resulting void of intellectual merit.

Nearby, the work in Korea’s pavilion looks like the work of three different artists: enormous fibreglass mannequins and the moulds they were cast from obviously having relationship issues; heavily armed, florally-camouflaged soldiers creep through an equally flowery environment in photos and video works; mirrors shatter themselves when looked into by visitors. Actually it’s all the work of one artist, Lee Yongbaek, and I really liked it all. In my experience, Korean galleries and artists rarely disappoint. Lee obviously skips around and follows his ideas all over the intellectual, artistic and genre landscape (as I try to do and love doing, and often cause bewilderment to art world people by doing), so there’s obviously a personal connection here too. A nice discovery.

Navin Rawanchaikul’s Thai pavilion is a kitsch spew of quasi-communist and cult of personality parody and ridiculous camp, but enjoyable rather than irritating. I don’t know whether it’s strange or entirely fitting that half of the Thai pavilion is actually a cocktail bar.


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