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Toshio Iguchi at the Gallery Senkukan

by Monty DiPietro

It's always a pleasure to discover a new exhibition space in Tokyo, especially during these difficult economic times, when the news from the art front is more likely to be negative. The Gallery Senkukan, tucked down a tiny Yoyogi side street, is not, strictly speaking, 'new,' as it opened a little over a year ago. But it has only recently shown up on the radar (well, mine anyhow). This is a great little space, with an eight-tatami-size exhibition space on each of its two floors. It is a hybrid kashi/kikaku gallery -- in Japanese artspeak this means that some of the shows are arranged on a 'kashi,' or rental basis, the artist paying to exhibit; while others are done in the world-standard 'kikaku,' or commercial style, the gallery working on a commission basis with the artist.

The Senkukan's current offering is "Tiny Trace, Calm View," an installation by Toshio Iguchi. The 41 year old Nagano-born, Tokyo based artist has a long interest in unorthodox materials and processes. Recent work shown in a Tokyo office building featured strips of Styrofoam painstakingly sliced into tree-like constructions, then stuck up on the ceiling where they drooped down in as invasive a manner as tree-like constructions can be expected to assume. With his Senkukan show, Iguchi's art has reached a new level of maturity.

Iguchi has installed a series of 14 new works in the gallery's first floor space, these hung away from the walls so that the viewer walks around and through a sort of mini-labyrinth to view them individually. The pieces are about a meter high and 60cm across, and might at first appear to be abstract designs in white paint on glass. On closer inspection, however, it is apparent that they are actually carefully cut pieces of tracing paper sandwiched between sheets of transparent acrylic. Some of the thin line patterns look as if they were derived from patterns found in nature, such as waves on water, or microscopic views of plant cells; while others are the sort of aerial views of streets found in common city maps. The soft-spoken Iguchi doesn't like to comment on the real-world sources of his designs: "I don't want to say exactly where they are taken from," he explains at the opening reception, "because I want them to remain mysterious."

Iguchi is less reticent when explaining his intent: "People go through life responding to the things around them," he says. "But rather than simply looking at the scene before us, it happens that we superimpose upon it the memories it evokes, and these peculiar images are the ones we come to hold. [This installation presents] image after image layered one upon the next, and the boundaries of the places they form thus expandů"

One feels a sense of discovery walking through Iguchi's schematics of impression -- have I seen this before; I been here before? The effect of looking through more than one piece at a time multiplies ambiance in a manner that can be either jarring or harmonious, depending on your point of view in the space. Because some of the works are based on city streets while others are born of natural phenomena, there is also an interesting man vs. nature subtext to the installation -- who is the superior architect, man or God? Finally, there is a certain beauty in the fragility of the works, cut as they are from the thinnest of paper. In all, Iguchi has made something refreshingly different here.

Iguchi is showing some 20 smaller works on the gallery's second floor, and noteworthy among these is a series of Rubik's Cube sized transparent boxes, also constructed of nets of tracing paper between sheets of acrylic. Although they take the artist about six hours each to make, these uniques are priced at just 5,000 yen. Iguchi laughs when I point out that convenience store part-timers earn a higher hourly wage selling onigari than he does making this part of his oeuvre. New gallery spaces notwithstanding, some things in the contemporary art world will never change.

Toshio Iguchi's "Tiny Trace, Calm View" is showing to March 13 2002 at the Gallery Senkukan (1-28-1 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-5350-8330). The gallery is open 11-7, closed Thursdays.
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