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Chikaku. Time and memory in Japan. Contemporary Japanese Art

Chikaku. Time and memory in Japan. Contemporary Japanese Art


7 October 2005 - 22 January 2006
Exhibition hall on the ground floor
From Tuesday to Saturday (including holidays), from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Japan Foundation/MARCO, Museo de Arte Contemporánea de Vigo, in partnership with Casa Asia, Barcelona
Toshiharu Ito coa colaboración de Miki Okabe

Works on exhibition

The exhibition is composed of paintings, sculptures, installations, photographs, videos, cinema and architecture selected from a deliberately eclectic point of view with the aim of establishing new relationships between artists of different periods and creative fields.


The Japanese word chikaku, often translated as 'perception,' is a compound of two characters -chi or 'knowing' and kaku or 'sensing'. Chi has a logical meaning -in the way it is used to create the word chie or ‘wisdom.' Kaku is used to create the word kankaku or sense. The combining of the two -chi and kaku- results in the single word chikaku, a word that represents both thinking and feeling. Chikaku has always been a word that represents two different meanings.

This is the title of the exhibition that in its Spanish venue will be hosted exclusively in MARCO, Vigo. The exhibition analyses the development of Japanese art through the last fifty years by means of a selection of artworks by 16 artists belonging to different generations and with a particular focus on three concepts: the forms of perception, the sense of time, and the structures of memory.

Since the late nineteenth century, and after 300 years of isolation, Japan has embarked in an extremely rapid modernization race. The significant growth achieved during three key periods -the social reconstruction in the post-war years in the fifties, the rapid economic growth in the seventies and the revolution of the information technologies in the nineties- has turned it into an outstanding modernist country due to its economical power and technological development.

The speedy emergence of Japanese culture from its historical isolation has resulted in the birth of an extraordinarily different way of understanding existence. Contemporary Japanese art is created under the influence of modernization and technological progress. However, despite these dramatic changes, the Japanese still keep alive their own lifestyle with deep physical and cultural roots; the struggle between the world of traditional values and the world of the most futurist modernity can be seen in the artworks of the main Japanese artists.

The Western view on so fascinating and contradictory a country as Japan has traditionally been full of clichéd and even mythical images. Apart from commentaries on Japan's economic success and cultural differences at large, the truth is that our knowledge about other aspects of Japanese culture is more often than not fragmentary and determined by certain clichés.

From a conceptual point of view, this exhibition analyses the assumption that the different forms of international postmodernist perception, time and memory have their roots in Japan. It could be said that the particular circumstances in which the revolution of Japanese art took place, with constant polarizations, are now reflected in the conditions that, under the name of globalization, the world as a whole is nowadays facing.

While analysing these fundamental issues relating the evolution of Japanese art during the last fifty years, new dimensions of artistic activity are being explored. Thus, the exhibition aims to re-analyse Western aesthetic values, to reconsider the meaning of art in the twenty-first century and to identify new paths for Japanese art in the complex framework of contemporary life, taking into account above all the latest artistic transformations in communication and multimedia systems and the role of technological advances, more and more evident in our everyday life.

The period covered by the exhibition -from the fifties to the present date- includes a wide range of artworks, considered with the intention of identifying and establishing new relationships among different generations and creative fields: from historic photographers such as Taro Okamoto, Takuma Nakahira and Daido Moriyama, or young Motohiko Odani -whose spectacular installations recall remains abandoned in a post nuclear landscape-, to universally acknowledged Hiroshi Sugimoto -whose photographs explore time and memories in a very personal way-, Yayoi Kusama -whose artworks shock us because of their formal baroque style, so alien a priori to Japanese perception-, and Yutaka Sone, -who invents poetic places that do not even exist.

There are artists who reinterpret tradition, such as Rieko Hidaka -whose delicate paintings wed precision pencil drawing to the Nihonga Japanese painting tradition-, Yoshihiro Suda -a master in the Japanese woodcarving tradition, who meticulously reproduces life-size garden flora-, or Tetsuya Nakamura -whose refined large sculptures reproduce non-functional sinks and tubs lacquered with traditional Japanese flower patterns. On the other hand, Hiroyuki Moriwaki makes use of the latest technologies in a surprising way, creating "living" light objects that dim or shine as people approach, interactive behaviour shaped by a Japanese view of natural life. Miwa Yanagi also uses digital technologies to explore new dimensions of time and memory, but the results are completely different. Halfway between installation and performance, Emiko Kasahara examines the body and gender through her art.

The exhibition includes disparate videos as well. Takashi Ito has created a body of experimental film and video that draw the viewer into retinal labyrinths, and Vietnamese filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha, the only non-Japanese artist on this exhibition, shows us in her film The Fourth Dimension her own approach to this country and probes deep into Japanese daily life from perspectives far removed from any stereotypical view of Japan.

As for the installation, the display of the artworks in the hall has been carefully considered. The spatial distribution of the artworks has been designed for this occasion by architect Makoto Sei Watanabe, who has been given two roles at this exhibition: the role of exhibition architect who designs the exhibition, and the role of participating artist. In the text he wrote for the catalogue, Watanabe himself describes the solutions devised to maximize the visitors' perceptive powers. This has been achieved mainly by his intervention in the central panopticon:

"All I wanted was for all the exhibition rooms to be visible as the visitor looked around the space. I decided to depict a fake opening on these walls so that visitors could see a representation of the exhibition rooms that lay beyond. The trompe l'oeil treatment dilutes the presence of these walls and results in the emergence of a view that expands radially as in the original plan. The forgotten mechanism of the past -the mechanism of evoking chikaku- has now been revived".



 Daido Moriyama
 Emiko Kasahara
 Hiroshi Sugimoto
 Hiroyuki Moriwaki
 Makoto Sei Watanabe
 Miwa Yanagi
 Motohiko Odani
 Rieko Hidaka
 Takashi Ito
 Takuma Nakahira
 Taro Okamoto
 Tetsuya Nakamura
 Trinh T. Minh-ha
 Yayoi Kusama
 Yoshihiro Suda
 Yutaka Sone

Curatorial text

"Starting from the 1868 Meiji Restoration, Japan modernized earliest and most rapidly among the nations of Asia; especially since World War II, Japan has undergone unparalleled transformations and brought forth new economic realities with record speed. Yet despite these rapid changes, the Japanese still preserve their own physically and culturally grounded way of life (...) The escape from speed into extensive time bears deeply upon quintessential Japanese perceptions and collective unconsciousness, slowing ever further asymptotically toward timelessness. Speed and perpetuity: two coexistent poles of the Japanese psyche, a duality embodied in diverse gestures and behaviours.

Japanese art has also confronted the rapid changes of late-twentieth to twenty-first century speed-space, and brought forth many expressions of this duality. Indeed, the view through such dyadic perceptual structures would seem to constitute a major distinguishing factor in Japanese art. The fusion of vibrant flux with the immutable into a vertiginous sense of multi-layered being, the counter-perspective transformations and distortions, the material register of memory, the keen focus upon voids and negative space, the simultaneous past-present vision, the interplay of reality and fantasy -these special characteristics, the very identity of Japanese art may well derive from the multi-mode manner in which the Japanese live. This exhibition examines from various viewpoints these special characteristics of Japanese art over the last fifty years in order to discover their renewed meaning today.


In her first digital video feature The Fourth Dimension, renowned Vietnamese-born writer-filmmaker Trinh Minh-ha probes deep into Japanese daily life from perspectives far removed from any stereotypical view of Japan, examining unconscious gestures, memory-laden practices and rituals deeply ingrained among the Japanese, so as to reveal underlying attitudes toward time and retrieve elements long overlooked in Japan's rush toward modernization (...) In The Fourth Dimension, Trinh shows us a society pursuing digitisation, efficiency and convenience in every aspect of life, chasing after hyper-real dreams scarcely glimpsed between one technological advancement and the next, ripping apart in the physical act of trying to outstrip the very thresholds of time.

These physically stressful aspects of Japanese perception today may be especially pronounced to her outside eye-though this vision is to some extent surely shared by the Japanese artists who have come up though the society (...) Film is the experience of time and light, now pushed into the realm of "enhanced time" via advanced digital technologies. In this regard, Japanese art has been struggling to come to terms with these conditions from perhaps earlier on than that of any other country; thus the perception of such time has been more readily apparent in the currents of Japanese modernity to postmodernism.

These last fifty years Japanese art has been laboured under a special kind of gravitation, a force that constantly confronts artists and informs the structure, qualities and formats of their expression. The dynamic developments seen in Japanese art in the late twentieth to twenty-first century all bear uniquely upon questions of perception, time and memory.

Torn between body and speed amidst unprecedented rapid modernisation and industrialisation, Japanese art has probed complex pathways into issues of our humanity and environment. And now that these once-special circumstances appear ever more global in scope, it is time to extract the essential problematics of this history and find clues toward a new powers of expression, new dimensions in creativity. This, then, is the aim of our exhibition: we must reassess the values of Western art and reconsider its meaning for the twenty-first century, so as to point the way to new possibilities in Japanese art at the juncture of dramatic changes in media and communications and the daily life personalisation of technology."

Toshiharu Ito
Curator of the Exhibition
[From the text "The Fourth Dimension of Perception: New Coordinates for Japanese Contemporary Art",
in the Exhibition Catalogue]




Toshiharu Ito coa colaboración de Miki Okabe

Born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1953, Toshiharu Ito is an art historian, art and communication theorist and exhibition curator. He was professor at the Tama Art University of Tokyo from 1990 to 2001, and at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music since 2001. He is Artistic Director at the Intermedia Institute of Osaka since 1995, and from 1992 to 1998 curator at the Inter Communication Center of Tokyo; he worked as Artistic Director at Tokyo AAD Studio from 2000 to 2003. A selection of his published works includes the following titles: History of 20th Century Photography (Tokyo, Chikuma Shobo Pub., 1988); Machine Art (Tokyo, Iwanami Pub., 1991); Electronic Art (Tokyo, NTT Press, 1999).