Patrick Martinez and Kei Shimogawa at ICC

by Monty DiPietro

It is more than a little strange to be greeted at the entranceway to an art exhibition by a sign which warns that the work on the walls inside might be better appreciated if visitors lowered their expectations. But the text posted outside the Intercommunication Center’s current "New Media New Face 01" show says just about that in its description of "works which, while they may lack in technical development or may not be sufficiently refined, attempt to develop a variety of fresh and highly interesting ideas." As for the participating artists, the sign goes on to describe them as "creators (who) will only later reach perfection."

The exhibition is the first in a series of smaller-scale techno-art shows planned for ICC, and features three rooms of mixed-media works by French-born Patrick Martinez and local artist Kei Shimogawa, both 29 years of age.

Beyond the rather patronizing introductory message, visitors will encounter five monitors screening 1996 and 1997 videos by Martinez, each of which runs from one-and-a-half to 22 minutes, and is looped to play continuously. Most of the videos are light and playful, in an affected way – one finds the artist boxing with the on/off string that hangs from an overhead light in an otherwise nondescript room. Another features Martinez ascending and descending a staircase in, it would seem, as many different ways as he could think up while the camera was recording.

In a room to the rear is Martinez’s principle piece, "Feu" (1998), an installation which consists of hand-drawn, fire-like images thrown on the wall by a slide projector. A microphone picks up the slick mechanical sound produced each time a slide is changed and the machine’s carousel-cartridge rotates, and this audio signal is sent, via what might be a fuzz box, to an adjacent bass-guitar amplifier from which it lumbers in deep register and echoes through the room.

In an attendant essay subtitled "The Humour of Patrick Martinez," ICC chief curator Keiji Nakamura notes that Martinez "makes us all breathe a sigh of relief at his witty use of this meaningless noise."

Martinez’s work is complemented by Kei Shimogawa’s "The Genealogy" (1998), a room-filling installation that satisfies the commitment to interactive techno-art spelled out in ICC’s Concept Book. Shimogawa’s piece consists of 81 cigarette-package-sized plastic sheets mounted in a grid on four walls, each of which has at its center a designer-style bar code. Visitors are instructed to use one of two hand-held imagers to read the codes – a process which delivers, depending on which bar code is read, one of a variety of programmed metronome sounds, all of which are annoying.

The whole exercise, truthfully, proves about as interesting and exciting as training for a job at the convenience store.

The ICC permanent collection illustrates how cutting-edge technology can compensate for less-inspired content. And while it is certainly nice to see the telecommunication-giant NTT-sponsored 5-billion yen art and exhibition space so charitably opening its doors to work that is "not sufficiently refined," it must be pointed out to those who wrote the condescending texts for this show that what is absent from "New Media New Face" is not refinement, but rather artistic conviction and passion.

To be fair, the show does have its moments, notably Martinez’s videotaped ride through the French countryside on a motorcycle, all the while chasing a dog silhouette generated by the stencil-masked headlight of his motorcycle in "Moteur" (1997). Also good are the aesthetics in Shimogawa’s installation layout.

But in the final analysis, these two artists fall victim to a curatorial process that sees no real difference between art and technology. In fact, ICC often goes out of its way to preach its etymological contention that the two words are derived from the same Greek root. And as long as we all continue to pay our phone bills, ICC can afford to preach whatever it pleases.

This month marks the second anniversary of what could be one of Tokyo’s most truly avant-garde art spaces, a project intended to be part-Pompidou, part-EPCOT Center which has instead seen initial daily attendance figures of over 2,000 per day plummet to about one-tenth that amount.

Let’s hope the good people at ICC take the hint – the next installment of "New Media New Face" would be a good place to start.

notes: "New Media New Face 01" is on at the Intercommunication Center (ICC) until Apr 11, 1999.

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