Neither Utopia nor Dystopia in Decoding the Changing Landscape Today: A Review of Landscape 2017

To decode the 21st century landscape in Asia that is rapidly changing from different aspects in technology, economy, and society in the age of globalization; TUAs Graduate School of Global Arts and Art Institute Kitakyushu presented LANDSCAPE: Hotel Asia Project 2017 – a three days exhibition and symposium (27th until 29th of January 2017). It was held at the Department of Music Exhibition Room in Tokyo University of the Arts, Ueno Campus.

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The video work of Babu titled GOSH! is seen prominently on the wall.

Originally a touring exhibition initiated by Hotel Asia Project that first took off from Gallery Soap in Kitakyushu (2015) and went traveling around China and Thailand, its exhibition aim is to “reconstruct landscapes surrounding us” that was already branded and commodified by Real Estates and quasi-State projects affecting the living systems of people. Using video and different contemporary forms of media; participating artists examined thoroughly the effect of changing landscapes in the urban cities between the said countries. Together in the exhibition, they questioned systems of possession, occupation, and control that play behind the changing landscape today. However, for their next destination, which is Tokyo; their short and significant stop focused on the concept of “Landscape” itself and its current conditions in Japan.

It was participated by artists and researchers from different fields and nationalities namely: Ai Kano (Japan), Babu (Japan), Bongsou Kim (Korea), Catherine Harrington (UK), Siriphol (Thailand), Eri Shibata (Japan), Fumiwo Iwamoto (Japan), Gen Sasaki (Japan), Jong Pairez (Philippines), Keiichi Miyagawa (Japan), Lily Shu (China), Mei Miyauchi (Japan), Midori Miyakawa (Japan), Miti Ruangkritya (Thailand), Ni Kun (China), Second Planet (Japan), Suntag Noh (Korea), Wang Haichuan (China), Yoshitaka Mouri (Japan), Yu Guo (China), and many more.

The focused concern of the Tokyo leg exhibition is the impact of Fukushima Nuclear Crisis in relation to the changing perception of the landscape today in Japan. A video work titled “GOSH!” by Babu (Japan) – a graphic artist and skateboarder, best described this pressing problem that apparently marked the unlikeness of this exhibition from the previous, however, deeply related and dependent.

In the video two skateboarders dangerously visited one among many highly radioactive towns in Fukushima. In their full protective gears, they braved to skate the once lively Futaba-cho town that is now uninhabited due to more than 50 millisieverts of radioactive contaminations per year. The place was declared “difficult-to-return-zone” by the government.

As an extreme sport, skateboarding in a dangerously radioactive landscape is nothing but a faithful performance of the said sport. But beyond it, the breaching of the restricted landscape to trace its forgotten contours using the skateboard is a re-embodiment of knowledge that was deemed inaccessible. By making it illegally accessible is to take back the opportunity to reflect and regain consciousness that was once interrupted by the consequential accident caused by the speed of turbo-capitalism as described in Paul Virilio’s Dromology.

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Eri Shibata’s free standing piece about the Kawaii (cute) culture setting a definition of contemporary Japanese landscape that hides the darker reality behind it

In contemporary warfare and communication, speed is a vital aspect of taking in control and remaining in power according to Paul Virilio’s further description of his Dromology concept. In the case of miracle economy in Japan, what catapulted the country to a superpower status after their devastating defeat in second world war is the obsession of speed.

Dotting the entire country with nuclear power plants equipped Japan to gear towards full speed reconstruction that made miracle economy possible and the likely bubble it consequentially produced. In another video work titled “Landscape Theory: An Interview with Masao Adachi” by Hotel Asia Project, maverick filmmaker Masao Adachi eloquently described the changing landscape of Japan that is now synchronized in the electro-machine sequence of capitalist globalization. His sensibility to this particular thought about the continuing landscape that was interrupted after the bubble will most likely reach the dystopian endgame. Adachi is known for his cutting-edge experimental filmmaking back in the 60s before he eventually became a fugitive for thirty years after joining the armed militant group Japanese Red Army.

What the exhibition try to imply could be understood in different ways. However, one particular reading that I could possibly see is the warning sign it tries to suggest as seen in the works of Babu, Hotel Asia Project, and others. Secondly, the sign is asking to be decoded to enable us to reimagine a different landscape that is neither promising a utopia as seen in branding and commoditization nor dystopia as described by Masao Adachi and Babu.

Jong Pairez
2 February 2017

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