Soto Ichikawa at NW House

by Monty DiPietro

Although we have been trying since the Babylonians first scratched land surveys into clay over four millennium ago, mankind has still not been able to make the perfect map. This is not the fault of cartographers – it is simply not possible to accurately represent the earth’s areas, distances, and directions without compromising accuracy in one way or another, and will remain so as long as our planet is round and our maps are flat.

Sota Ichikawa thinks he may have come up with a neat way to circumvent the problem we have in looking at our world, by pulling perspective all the way through the center of the planet. And while the computer printouts Ichikawa has mounted on the walls of Tokyo’s Gallery NW House certainly won’t help you route your winter vacation to Mexico (unless you are planning to burrow through the earth), they do offer those interested in a fresh approach to map-making something very deep to look at.

"I wanted to find a new way to eliminate a dimension," says Ishikawa in reference to his multi-panel "The Skin of the Earth" (4.8x6m, 1998). "To take the three dimensions in the physical world and cut one out, it’s like when we are thinking, in our minds we have the physical dimensions and also we have the emotions, many different dimensions. But when we use language or draw, we remove dimensions – that is what I am interested in, that is architecture for me."

Tokyo Fine Arts University graduate Ichikawa, 26, does not limit his dimensional deconstruction and physical re-assessments to our planet, he feels his technique is equally suited to viewing the human body from the inside out, as evidenced in "The Skin of a Human Body," (4.8x6m, 1998), which, along with a video installation and "Zero-Point Ruler," make up the exhibition "Two Skins – Architecture Without Building."

Don’t expect a fantastic voyage through the temperaments, for "The Skin of a Human Body," like its cartographical compliment, is so unflinchingly technical, with its lines and distance figures and body part labels ("Right Eye," "Left Big Toe," "Right Nasal Hole," and so on) printed out in black on white, that one might as well be viewing wind tunnel test results. This is technical stuff, computer stuff.

Yet the pieces in the show do succeed in bringing the visitor inside the art, there is a sense that Ichikawa has not let his weighty conceptual side totally overwhelm the execution and presentation of his work – noteworthy are the floor-mounted compass-like white disc and attendant video projections onto the gallery’s concrete ceiling, affording a good aesthetic balance to the show. In particular, the above-mentioned wall panel pieces have an uncanny ability to intrigue the viewer, and this could be a function of the interplay between the open white spaces and the density created in the many impacted intersections of near parallel, overlapping lines. These are no de Koonings, but they do establish depth beyond the picture plane.

"Two Skins – Architecture Without Building" is the kind of show that could only happen at one of a handful of Tokyo commercial galleries that show innovative young artists, albeit usually graduates of major art schools. The 12 year-old NW House (for "Nishi Waseda," where the space is located), occupies some 30 square meters of a Kunihiko Hayakawa-designed building. And although located far from the city’s major gallery districts, NW House is a welcome player on the Tokyo art map. It may be appropriate that Sota Ichikawa is showing us a new way of thinking about such things as maps and distances.

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