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Makoto Aida at the Mizuma Gallery

by Monty DiPietro

For several years now, the Tokyo art scene has been trying its best to keep up with the work of Makoto Aida, a task made difficult by the fact that it is nearly impossible to anticipate where the enigmatic artist will go next. At the ripe old age of 35, Aida has covered most of the artistic angles with an oeuvre that includes manga, painting, video, and installation, executed with such a wide range of expressive qualities that it is difficult to believe all could have been created by a single artist.

So while most were amused, few were surprised to discover that the entranceway for the scruffy artistís latest show requires visitors to climb a three-step ladder, hoist themselves through a hole in the wall and slide down a three-meter-long "tongue" in order to get inside. Making an artful and fun entrance is what the show, "Otoko no Sake," is mostly about Ė the splashy installation that cover the floors and walls of the Mizuma Gallery in Tokyoís Shibuya Ward evolved over a period two weeks, as Aida worked with the eager assistance of 40 community college student apprentices.

The lightweight art filling the tin foil and cardboard-covered gallery includes a wall full of crepe paper flowers, a large water tower photograph, a crude cardboard mobile featuring giant mop, broom, and toilet plunger, and several painting on board pieces that resemble theater scenery Ė the most impressive of these depicting a blender filled with human bodies.

"I didnít really think about anything for this show," laughs the artist at an opening party filled with the participating students and their drunk and giggling friends. "Itís like a school festival, and acts as a counterpoint to my serious work."

Aida may be best-known for his disturbing Nihonga paintings of young female amputees, some of them leashed like a dog. He has also exhibited a "Fake Suicide Machine," built a cardboard castle for the Shinjuku homeless, and done a splendid series of mock childrenís paintings on themes such as "Save Nature," and "Be Punctual."

Some recent examples of what Aida calls his "more serious work" can be found in the group show "Ground Zero Japan," now on at the Art Tower Mito in Ibaragi. Here Aida is showing byobu (folding screen) paintings from his ongoing "War Picture Returns" series. The mixed-media constructions find flag-waving Koreans, the Hiroshima atom bombing memorial dome, and a four meter wide panorama of mother-of-pearl Japanese Zero fighter planes buzzing a burning New York City, in a commentary on the propaganda paintings glorifying the Imperial Army that artists such as Yokoyama Taikan painted during the Second World War.

A political-activist in college, Aida says he believed that "English-language education was an intrigue by American imperialism," and so resolved not to learn the language. Strains of nationalism can be evidenced in the artistís work, most obviously in his "War Picture Returns" series but also in other pieces such as the video "Lonely Planet," in which the artist makes anonymous telephone calls to non-English-speaking countries. In an attendant note to "Lonely Planet," Aida bemoans his discovery that Africans can speak French. Somebody might want to tell Aida that many Koreans can speak Japanese, and then explain the reason why.

Thankfully, Aida plans to relocate to New York City in February of next year. A little time in a cosmopolitan environment will do the clever artist a world of good, and enable him to see his country from a new perspective. And then, again, we in the Tokyo art scene can wait and wonder, with the same question: What on earth is Makoto Aida going to think of next?


Notes: Until Jan 29, (3499-0226). The ATM show runs to Jan 23.
Makoto Aida gallery

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