Command N, Tokyo 16 - 29 March 2000
For some people TV is the lowest form of communication- it is meaningless crap which infiltrates our lives with continual consumer politics. And yet, despite this 'low' reputation of the medium, it fills the majority of homes all across the world. The TV presents many contradictory fabrics within contemporary consumer landscape - global and yet local, the familiar and yet unfamiliar, the trivial and yet sublime. Some have argued that TV is the symbol of postmodernism - encapsulating all the positive/ negative definitions of the various theories by illustrating everyday consumerism, and thus, identity politics. These contradictions, paradoxes and ironies are not forgotten by the Japanese artist-run Command N's project Akihabara TV.
For the visual arts discourse TV as a medium for debate is not new, nor is the usage of department store windows. Contextualised in the heart of Tokyo's 'electric city' Akihabara, Akihabara TV2 does not seek to be about 'newness' but rather to illustrate some of the complex consumer vernaculars afforded to contemporary cultures and thus artists. The second instalment Akihabara TV2 reaches from gallery space to company shop window, leaking and merging boundaries between art and consumerism. Consisting of work by 34 artists from 12 countries (including Australia), it presents various modes of representations from computer-generated to TV-like rhetoric.
Some works are more easily identifiably 'art' and induct viewers into a simulated and hyperreal landscape of amorphic/ genetic possibilities/ fears, while others play with TV-type vocabularies and mass media codes. From Australia Patricia Piccinini's The Breathing Room: Option Anxiety consists of a belly bottom-type face in a pool of skin breathing in and out and occasionally hyperventilating. It is both a familiar and yet unfamiliar form, a hybrid of intimacy stitching alien and yet human forms. Similarly, fellow Australian artist Ian Haig in The Human Machine Mltdown, takes the computer-generated trope but instead utilises Japan's 'electronic' history through robot codes. German artist Gregory Maass hypnotises with an molecular ever-changing and reforming narration, while Spanish artist Manuel Saiz in ilego reconstructs and transforms Lego. Japanese artist Masayuki Watanabe's video of a computer-generated man taking off in a helicopter alludes to some of the complex politics involved within new technologies, while Hideki Nakazawa amalgamates the often-conflicting landscapes between history and the contemporary by constructing a hypnotic abstract pattern of kanji characters.
In addition to computer-generated video works, many video artists are playing with the indivisibility of consumerism and art by employing strategies often found in TV discourses. The French artist Philippe Chatelain's apnea consists of various 'pashing' (kissing passionately) couples in front of TV monitors (and thus being mimicked through the shop's monitors). Chatelain's play with the 'correct' etiquette in front of the TV teases assumptions about TV within public and private contexts. While TV may bring the 'public' to the 'private', reversing the roles is not an easy or acceptable equation even with the advent of 'reality TV'.
Belgian artist Erich Weiss' voyeuristic video consists of us watching a girl playing with her hair as she watches TV. Yukio Fujimoto also utilises a play with the politics of 'documenting' - more often than not a form of 'mockumenting' (critiquing the notion of fact and fiction as discrete and separate) - by recording and playing what looks like the main street of Akihabara. This video is interesting for the Akihabara 'locals' as it is not Akihabara but Osaka's equivalent electric city "Nihombashi-suji Street". While a simple exercise in 'recording', this video not only teases the politics of consumer codes of sameness and difference but also invites specific significance for local Akihabara context.
The play with mass media codes, TV genres and narrations is also taken up within Akihabara TV2.. Japanese artist Takeshi Kusu takes simple 'postcard' scenes of nature and animals framed by kanji text such as "to live" and "to think". Spanish artist Josep M. Martin's video consists of a blow-up spotty dog frenetically bouncing up and down in the back of a car looking like a candidate for TV's funniest moments. Australian artist Jacinta Schreuder's Smart-Girl Action consists of a red haired 'business woman' going through the paces like a quasi 'wonderwoman' except with additional electronic devices (ie mobile phone).
An examination of TV presents some complex debates about contemporary culture, particularly in relation to the now central focus of the internet and what this infers about American Imperialism (ie globalism) and English as the dominant language of communication. Thus, Command N's project, Akihabara TV 2 presents many complex on-going negotiations between ideas of the local and global, public and private beyond the discourse of just TV. Rather than bring the TV into the gallery site to affirm its definition as 'art', Akihabara TV 2 takes the 'art' into consumer 'public' sites, illustrating an indivisibility between 'art' and 'consumerism'. Like TV and the Internet, Akihabara TV2 blurs boundaries between public and private, local and global under an illuminated electronic haze. It could be art, it could be a good advertisement, or it could be 'other' spectators in the shop being surveyed. It could be, like so many of the fascinating shop displays here, better than art.