| EN |

The 1st Tokorozawa Bienniel of Contemporary Art SIDING RAILROAD
Written by Tomohiro MASUDA   
Published: September 28 2009

     Today, it is not unusual for us to visit exhibitions which are held by remaking or using spaces - so-called alternative spaces - which have been used for industry or as storage areas. Exhibitions held in such spaces include young artist’s group exhibitions which have not yet been supported by commercial galleries or sponsors, and exhibitions which show a relatively small number of works which cannot be seen at museums or white cubic galleries. Therefore, whether for good or bad, in such spaces, we often encounter creations showing great ambition. Particularly in foreign countries, alternative spaces are often located in places where land prices are low, namely places that are rough and unsuitable for living, such as towns where there are a number of warehouses. They create a disturbing image. Nevertheless, this image may also evoke for us a sense of expectancy that something may be born from there.

     The venue of the “Tokorozawa Biennial of Contemporary Art Siding Rail Road” was used originally as Seibu Railway’s Tokorozawa rail sheds. It certainly created a stark and intense impression for me, similar to that evoked by the alternative spaces mentioned above. Nonetheless, if you had expected the venue to give you a stereotypical image of alternative spaces, you might have been disappointed.

     Most of the exhibits were really worth seeing in that they were created by well-known artists and young but highly reputed creators. The creations of Shigeo Toya and Motohiro Tomii seemed to especially noteworthy. Toya utilized the height of the ceiling of the exhibition site with his exhibit, while Tomii succeeded in giving the viewers a tense impression of the exhibition space through his creation by effectively combining the contextual meaning of his work, the local characteristics of the venue which had been used as a rail shed, and the regionality of Tokorozawa. Nevertheless, I felt that most of the exhibits were not appealing. In other words, they seemed just to have been placed there, which made me feel that most of the exhibitors were not fully conscious of the characteristics of the exhibition site. However, what we must keep in mind here is that most of the exhibitors, including Saburo Muraoka, are well-known for their own creative styles which have been already established. It would be needless for them to create works by considering the local characteristics of the venues. It is uncommon for them to show their works in exhibitions held in places which can be described as alternative spaces since such places are usually used to display experimental works or creations made by young artists.

     So, why were they asked to participate in this exhibition? As shown in the leaflet of the “Tokorozawa Biennial”, this was because “many artists, curators and art critics have come to lose their direction through relying on the economy after the bubble years, including the expansion and weakness of the economy in the field of art” and “a small handful of artworks have been extremely commoditized and commercialized, and have come to be regarded as entertainment.” In short, to meet the needs of viewers and attract them, museums which face financial difficulties in a sluggish economy tend to hold exhibitions which are easy to understand and which are already known widely among the public. Art magazines and the commercial art market are always seeking excitement and novelty, which creates an impression of superficiality. Under such circumstance, artworks are consumed extremely rapidly, which makes their expiry dates really short. Therefore, it is rare that we can focus on modern artists who have been developing their creative activities steadily. Indeed, there is no doubt that such a lack of opportunities to highlight modern artists is a waste and a disappointing trend. This is the reason the “Tokorozawa Biennial of Contemporary Art Siding Rail Road” was planned. There was a strong motivation and sense of urgency to newly create the venue because of the lack of places to present modern artworks.

     In spite of the motive of this exhibition described above, I found the venue fairly innocuous rather than presenting the disturbing and expectant images mentioned at the beginning of the article. The exhibition site near Tokorozawa station, which is located in a quiet suburb, was filled with soft sunlight filtering in, though it was rather dim on the whole. From the next building, which seemed to be junior high school, students’ voices as they took part in their club activities echoed throughout the silent venue. There was no sense of urgency. In fact, I found some exhibits were ones that had already been shown in the previous exhibition held last year; admittedly a preliminary show of this exhibition. In contrast to the compelling statement written in the catalogue of this exhibition, the venue, in fact, made me feel a sense of anticlimax.

     Among the exhibits, Shiro Masuyama’s creation seemed to represent the characteristics of the “Tokorozawa Biennial”. His installation entitled “The Artist Refugee” was created using the concept that Masuyama lives at the premises of the “Tokorozawa Biennial” while taking on a part-time job as a “migrant worker” since the gallery to which he belonged folded following the Lehman crisis, and therefore, even exhibitions in which he had already planned to participate were cancelled. This was not true only in his case. Nonetheless, as he describes a person who searches for a part-time job as a “migrant worker”, his base of activities is not in Japan but in foreign countries. Therefore, there seems to be a wide variance between the term “Refugee” which is included in the title, and the word “migrant worker” to which he points as his motivation of searching a job. This is because there is a large difference between a “migrant worker” and a “refugee”, since the former means “staying here with the aim of going there in the future”, while the latter means “staying here since it is impossible to remain there”. This variance can also be found clearly in a job interview which was being shown on a monitor displayed as part of the installation. For instance, in a hiring interview for a night-shift packaging job, an interviewer asks him, “What are your special qualifications?” He answers, “I am good at conversation in English, even though it may be useless for the job.” If we view this conversation favorably, it can be said that Masuyama succeeded in “keeping a criticism against his exhibit at a certain level by making viewers conscious of his self-criticism through the interview in which his humble self-consciousness was revealed”. Nevertheless, if he had really persisted in staying “here” (doing packaging work in Japan) as a “refugee”, the above answer would have completely missed the point. Needless to say, I am not so tasteless as to criticize the exhibit as false since he is not a “refugee” in the true sense of the term, as can be seen by referring to his statements which show that he is not committed to staying “here”. Rather, what I would like to emphasize here is the extremely cool response of society which artists face when they are poor and are forced to enter society themselves to find jobs. In other words, there is the lack of understanding of artists in society, as shown in the interviewer’s responses to Masuyama, such as, “Well, your last job was a freelance creator, right?” and the powerless and lightheartedness on the side of artists who cannot respond to such incomprehension of them.

     When artworks are displayed in a places such as this which was used as a railway shed originally, namely, when they are shown to viewers without authoritative intermediates, including museums or art magazines, they receive public exposure and can be described as artworks made by “freelance creators”. Therefore, in such places, an exhibit which does not create an intense impression comes to be assimilated into the exhibition space. On the other hand, a creation which has an impact on us stands out in the venue. In such exhibition sites, artworks are displayed close to each other, which makes it easy for us to compare them with others. It can be said that this kind of space is a relentlessly contested arena for artists. Nonetheless, the reason the venue of this exhibition created a moderate impression may be that the “Tokorozawa Biennial” did not offer opposition to the label “freelance creators”. The statement in the catalogue of this exhibition made me feel as if the exhibitors were telling us, “If you look at our creations closely, you may recognize we are not artists who can be described as mere freelance creators. Please listen to the real messages coming from our works.” Indeed, I can understand the above-mentioned intention, but actually, interviewers (viewers) are not always so kind as to recognize this kind of message from exhibitors and do not have time to think carefully about the minute and esoteric essences of their exhibits.

     Regarding the “Tokorozawa Biennial of Contemporary Art Siding Rail Road”, there was no sense that it was aware of the risk of becoming an exhibition of little significance if it failed to attract viewers interested in how the relationships between individuals and society have been weakening. In other words, not being a waiting area for “migrant workers” but being a proud “refugee” camp might have been one way for this venue to have succeeded in creating an unsettled and expectant mood. Nevertheless, I do not wish to reject totally the calm impression dominating this exhibition site. Also, it is true that this exhibition reflected the current Japanese situation in which we continue to live peaceful lives despite suffering the greatest recession of the century.
(Translated by Nozomi Nakayama)

Last Updated on May 10 2016

Related Articles

| EN |