Higashi Furugori and Masaki Nishi at the Sagacho Exhibit Space

by Monty DiPietro

The first thing that happens - you become an ant. Hiroshi Furugoriís dense forest of red terra cotta pipes, hundreds of them rising five-meters up and into the ceiling, bring about a scale that makes the visitor feel very small indeed upon entering "Gohasan," an ambitious two-person mixed-media installation now on at the always ambitious Sagacho Exhibit Space, located just across the Sumida River in Tokyoís Koto Ward.

"There are challenges in having two-person shows which are not at all like having a one-man show or even a group show," reads a Sagacho press release. The gallery is experimenting with the two-artist format this summer in their exhibitions "Duo Series 1-3," of which "Gohasan" is the first installment.

Experimentation is nothing new for the Sagacho. Occupying some 300 square meters of a tired but charming 1927 building that once housed Japanís main rice market, the gallery has been taking chances since it was founded by Musashino Art University professor Kazuko Koike 15 years ago. Marooned in an warehouse wasteland a good ten minutes from the closest train station, Koikeís gallery has nonetheless debuted many now-famous Japanese artists - including Yasumasa Morimura and Rie Naito - and always featured a smart selection of avant-garde foreign artists. With a near perfect combination of vision, a large space in which to realize it, and the determination to do so, it is easy to see why many Tokyo art insiders regard the Sagacho as the best gallery in the city. Part of the reason "Duo Series" is off to a good start is the galleryís savvy in pairing these particular artists.

Just as the overwhelming presence of Saitama-born Furugoriís work gives way to a calming, open space in the gallery, a closer inspection of what appears to be beautiful stained glass windows reveals that they are in fact back-lighted photographs of the beautiful form and color resulting from atomic bomb detonations. One of the pictures, shot from the Enola Gay, depicts the destruction of Hiroshima, home town to the second artist in the show, Masaaki Nishi.

Beside Nishiís mushroom-cloud photographs, the artist has juxtaposed another faux stained-glass window, this one featuring pictures of 18 kitch love-hotel interiors. One of the rooms has a tacky sunset mural on the wall, another attempts a space-capsule motif, one sees a ceiling of stars above a red waterbed. Nishi, 52, points to a bolted steel panel he has installed dead-center between his two photo-installations. "My concept is very simple, there is a button behind this door," he says, "and wires lead from it toward both sides. If the button is pushed, we cannot say whether it will go this way (to the atomic bombs), or this way (to the love hotels), we cannot decide, both are natural and both are the same."

Nishi laughs when I ask him who should push the button. "You push it," he says, "I donít want to."

The artist has also installed two aluminum objects - one a rather phallic old bomb casing, the other a bloated submarine ballast tank - in the center of a steel-cable ringed steel boxing ring. Their union consummates the uneasy marriage of fragility and brutality, of man and nature, of sex and death, that fills the room.

The idea of having two artists show simultaneously is a curious one - galleries tend to either turn their spaces over to a single artist or show a selection of many artistsí work based on a single theme. While one might imagine that a "duo" show would entail some sort of collaboration, Nishi says that wasnít the case. "I finished a few days ago, then Furugori came in and put up his work" he explains, "I saw Furugoriís work for the first time today, but we know each other so maybe (the two pieces) support each other."

They do. Furugoriís steel-scaffold-mounted terra cotta forest envelops an upside-down cherry tree, topped with a tangle of rust-stained fabric and paper, roots painted red and snaking across the ceiling. A water-filled black tarpaulin lies on the concrete floor, beneath the suspended tree, and reflects the six halogen floods which illuminate the installation. This is a magical environment, all impenetrable and foreboding while at the same time suggesting a sort of forgiveness from nature for the folly of man. Furugori, 50, echos Nishiís opinion that while the two did not actually plan their works together, the show is a collaboration in the sense that each somehow shared an awareness of what the other was doing.

Call it trust, faith, whatever - "Gohasan" works.

notes: until July 19, 1998 (3630-3243).
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