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plaplax "Kage’s Nest" (2001)
Written by Maho TANAKA   
Published: January 12 2011

Plaplax created the interactive work of art "Kage's Nest." They are a unit of four people who experiment using technologies in art and design(*1). They often create works on the theme of shadow. For example, "tool's life" (created in 2001) is a work which consists of daily tools, such as forks or shovels, on a desk. When viewers touch them, various shadows hidden beneath the tools start to move and activate those inorganic objects. On "para para sight" (created in 2009) , two silhouette-like scenic images that symbolize two totally different worlds start to link with each other when viewers touch this exhibit. Here, they present two worlds and the shadows are links that connect them.

fig. 1  View from KAGE'S NEST at Kawasaki City Museum

fig. 2  View from KAGE'S NEST at Kawasaki City Museum

fig. 3  View from KAGE'S NEST at Kawasaki City Museum

fig. 4  View from KAGE'S NEST at Kawasaki City Museum

fig. 5  View from KAGE'S NEST at Kawasaki City Museum

fig. 6  View from KAGE'S NEST at Kawasaki City Museum

In the works of plaplax, which is very conscious of various possibilities of expression using shadows, “Kage's Nest” is of a size that a viewer can experiment with one's whole body while others are in a desktop size which one can experiment with using one's hands. In the dark exhibition space, a projector shines a light on the floor from above. It creates a spotlight-like light circle. When a viewer steps into the light circle, sensors detect that motion and shadows of various animals and plants come in and out of the light (see figure 1). It is notable that the shadow of the viewer is also projected into that circle and "shadows" emerge from the viewer's shadow(*2). When I stand on the edge of the circle and peer into the inside, a tree grows out from the projected shadow of my body with a series of cracking sounds (see figure 2). When I change my position a little and watch again, shadows of people fly off from my shadow like an astral projection. The blurred legs, the moans and the lambent movements make it look like a ghost. The word “Kage” in the title "Kage's Nest" means shadow. As well as just being a shadow, the shadow is a nest in which something hides and lurks.

Not only that, this exhibit solicits more images of "shadows." When I walk in the circle, suddenly ripples spread with a splash and two black and red carp cut across the light circle. The light circle becomes a pond. And it becomes an ocean when a marine turtle or a ray swim across (see figure 4). If the light circle is a pond or an ocean, my shadow projected on the surface of the water may be a mirror image (see figure 5). From the fact that plaplax calls a shadow "Kage" and also uses the word "Bunshin" (alter ego) interchangeably, I understand that "Kage" means nothing but myself.

However, this circle can become a sky. Flights of bats join together at the center of the circle and a huge moth flies off from there. The black shadows of these flying creatures may be the silhouettes of backlight. To think of it that way, the shadows are shadows of entities. I walked for a while but nothing came out. And then something clicked and I turned around. There was a big red flower blooming. Quietly bloomed flower petals started to fall already blurred and then disappeared like a transient illusion. Venturing to exhibit a red motif in the black shadows, emphasizes the characteristics of the unsubstantial images. As the curator Ms. Naoko Hirai describes in her commentary, the shadows create illusions with the intervention of the substantial "I." It cannot be perceived as reality (a shadow of an entity) nor as fiction (a virtual image in visual art)(*3).

As you watch the various shadows, you may start to remember the images you have seen in shadows when you were small. When we were small, shadows were more familiar existences. They always follow us, but you can never catch them no matter how hard you chase them. Although I was scared of shadows sometimes when I was a child, I used to do shadow plays or play shadow tag because I was fascinated by their ever-changing mysteriousness. While a shadow was something unknown that threatened me, it was my close friend and yet still myself in the mirror.

When I stand in the center of the light circle, small figures with wicked laughs suddenly appear along the edge of the circle…. and happily wriggle their hands. Viewers might feel that they are being amazed or mocked.

This is similar to a Japanese children's game "Kagome-Kagome." (*4, 5) Even though "Kagome-Kagome" is a children's game, I think it also has a function to make you aware of your position in a group and your solitariness. The words of the song ask when "the bird in the cage" meets, and it answers paradoxically, "in the evening of the dawn." Like these lyrics, the adorable yet eerie shadows of this work frighten me and yet attract me. It is like the feelings that I used to feel from the sounds of words like "ghost" or "doppelganger."

Shadows always stay "in front of behind you," which means that they exist between "myself" and others. In "Kage's Nest," shadows come out in response to viewers' movements, and viewers themselves are startled and baffled by the shadows as well. When a huge moth flies off, you will be looking up at it far away like small ants. When a small lizard runs off, you will be looking down at it closely. Your basis of watching changes as you become large or small, and are looking up or looking down. You will feel your position. That is to say, you will learn anew who and where you are.

Sometimes, a shadow like a searchlight comes out of the edge of the light circle. Something that is supposed to be a light by right is expressed as a shadow. It may be suggesting to us that, against our fixed way of looking at things like raking a field of view from one point, there is another way, which is to observe the underside of light. In reality, truth always turns out to be "the truth is still a mystery," and it rarely turns out to be black-and-white. Shadows are not just black darkness, and "I" exist somewhere in a gray gradation between darkness and light. The expression of the relationship of shadow and viewer was made possible only by the fact that this work is interactive art and you can experience it with your whole body.

With "Kage's Nest," you can play with adorable "shadows" that you see in picture books, and at the same time, you can re-acknowledge the meaning of the existence of shadows. "Shadows" are waiting for you to come in with bated breath.
(Translated by Yoshikazu Noda)


*1: plaplax was formed by Motoshi Chikamori, Kyoko Kunoh and Yasuaki Kakehi in 2004. They are now a group of four with Ai Ohara. Motoshi Chikamori's solo work "KAGE" won the grand prize in Japan Media Arts Festival in 1997. It was before he formed plaplax. The shadows in this work are not actual shadows of actual objects. Actual shadows are separated from objects and the computer graphics shadows take their place.

*2: It is mentioned in the introduction of plaplax's website as the following:
“As soon as you step into the light space, mysterious 'shadows' fly off from your shadow and disappear into the surrounding darkness. You look around but it is too dark to see what is lurking. There is one thing that is for certain. There is something there. Although you can't see the body, the mysterious 'shadows' that come and go express that something exists there. It is your alter ego that was born out of yourself.”

*3: Media and Art, a quote from the theme description panel of the exhibition "from Machine Art to Media Art":
“The visual images created by media art are not the shadows projected of the things passing in front of a fire as in Plato's analogy, nor virtual images created in movies. They transfigure as viewers touch them. They are shadows as well as virtual images as they have both characteristics. The shadows respond to 'me' and transfigure, when the substantial 'me' intervenes between them. They bear an illusion so you can hardly tell whether they are a reality or a fiction. They have created a plight of the new reality and phenomenon.”

*4: There are several interpretations for the words of the song Kagome-Kagome. I chose "meet" this time.

*5: To learn more about Kagome-Kagme, please refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kagome_Kagome

Referred exhibition

"from Machine Art to Media Art", Exhibition 4: Device of vision
2010/10/9 - 2011/1/16 at Kawasaki City Museum

Last Updated on October 20 2015

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