Taro Chiezo at the Kirin Art Space

by Monty DiPietro

"I never think of making work to shock society," says Taro Chiezo at the recent opening of his exhibition ‘Robot Love - Others as Illusion / Desire of Machine.’

Mingling with a gang of fans, supporters, and handlers, the 36 year-old artist does not cut a shocking figure - dressed in casual trousers, an untucked shirt and black sneakers, a tangle of hair hanging on the shoulders of his unbuttoned white blazer - Chiezo is one of the most casual people attending his personality-packed party at the Kirin Art Space in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward.

As Chiezo stops to accept a pat on the back or speak with one of the guests, a hint of uneasiness shows on his soft round face. When the artist’s hands disappear behind his back and he executes the perfunctory bow that concludes an exchange, Chiezo seems to relax again as he returns to circulating.

There is a fair amount of pressure on the artist.

Based in Manhattan, Chiezo is one of perhaps a dozen Japanese visual artists to have made a name for themselves overseas in the last decade. And despite his contention that he does not want to shock, shock is precisely what the artist did with his 1993 solo show at New York’s Sandra Gering Gallery, also presented at NICAF [Japan International Contemporary Art Fair] in Yokohama the same year.

The exhibition featured an installation of frilled, pastel-shaded, child-sized dresses, mounted on battery-powered, wheeled chassis. The adorable/horrible headless robots’ movements around the gallery space were informed by a program developed with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Dr. Richard Brooks.

This was to become Chiezo’s motif.

Much has been written by critics overseas regarding the artist’s juxtaposition of cuteness and technology. Here in Japan we might regard the phenomenon as more of a natural marriage - consider the Tamagochi. Not unlike other successful Japanese artists living abroad, Chiezo’s success can be attributed to his ability to detach himself from this country’s culture, make an analysis of social trends here, and caricature these trends artistically for a Western audience. In the next few months, Chiezo will show in Paris and at London’s prestigious Tate Gallery.

"Robot Love - Others as Illusion / Desire of Machine" is a survey of the artist’s development over the last ten years, a de facto Chiezo retrospective. The work is being exhibited in rooms titled ‘History,’ ‘Present,’ and ‘Nostalgic Future.’ There are the little girl’s kinetic dresses, a selection of animal and geometric-shape morphed sculptures in bronze and plastic, 14 large, forgettable oil paintings dominated by pink, red and purple, a wall of smaller mixed-media collages, and a tubed and wired up plastic rabbit that is submerged in a bubbling aquarium. And while the last piece has a sort of ‘mad scientist lite’ feel to it, the artist succeeds in not shocking.

Chiezo has extended his motif in that his latest robots, featured in the ‘Nostalgic Future’ room, roam over a field of light-prisming laser discs. Says the artist, "Laser discs contain lots of information that we cannot see - we only see a reflection."

So it is. The addition of the several hundred laser discs mounted on two walls of the ‘Nostalgic Future’ room serves as little more than a glittering foil for the same stuff found in the other two rooms of this show - Chiezo seems reluctant to show us a qualitative advance in his work.

Perhaps some of the artist’s uneasiness at the opening comes from his realization that, while he still has a world to take his compelling visions to, his long-time supporters visiting the Kirin Art Space tonight have already seen most of this work.

Which does not detract from the show’s worth. Here is a world of insightful, humorous social commentary expressed in a varied, colorful and visually engrossing mixed media exhibition. ‘Robot Love - Others as Illusion / Desire of Machine’ promises to delight those who are unfamiliar with this important Japanese contemporary artist.

notes: until Dec 7, 1997 (5485-6321).
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