Kei Nakamura at Informuse

by Monty DiPietro

One day last year, while Kyoto-born artist Kei Nakamura was looking for a clever way to attract the Yoshikawa Kami Shoji paper corporation’s attention and land a show at their contemporary art exhibition space, the Muse rolled into the artist’s bathroom.

The artist’s proposal to create art with toilet paper impressed the gallery curator, who got the nod from the paper giant. Nakamura headed out to his local discount shop to stock up on his media of preference - Coop 100% recycled toilet paper, 380 yen for 22 rolls - then went to work building layer after wet layer of the fragile paper onto incrementally larger and larger spherical molds, to realize "Mind Machinery - Feelings of Beginnings and Endings," an exhibition now on at Informuse gallery in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi.

Although the show’s title has become the butt of more than a few jokes and puns, there is no coprological content in the paper, wire, wood and light installation. If there were, the work never would have made it into a Japanese corporate art space - even one that has a reputation for hosting unusual shows, and is somewhat of a curiosity itself.

Entering Informuse is like strolling onto the set of an original Star Trek episode. Whatever might the space’s interior designer have been thinking nine years ago when he plopped a six-meter long whale’s rib-cage-like entrance corridor into the grey, molded concrete room? The tacky walkway robs the 130 square meter bubble-era gallery of almost half its potential exhibition space. Against Informuse’s west wall sits a 2 meter diameter rock-filled dial-like thing, and wondering what it is will get you nowhere, so just try to ignore it while you peruse the art.

You probably won’t notice it until your eyes adjust to the dim light in this urban-grotto, but there is an art installation here.


Ah, there is Nakamura’s work, hovering in the corner of the cave, flickering gently, like a family of fireflies in a still dusk. A stream of air from the an overhead ventilation duct twirls 16 pencil-sized metal sticks mounted on a wooden dowel that forms this part of the installation’s center axis. At either end of every stick, a fingernail-sized 30 milliamp light turns off and on as an electrical current is interrupted and re-established. Another 16 fireflies dance to life high up in a corner of the gallery. Set against the cold concrete, the effect is nicely elusive and gentle - suggesting simpler times now buried in the depths of one’s memory.

"I want people to recall something from their past when they look at my art," says Nakamura, 32, "I don’t care what it is, but I hope it’s pleasant." Nakamura, who now works as a teaching assistant at the Musashino Art University, looks at a cheap pocket watch pulled from his blue jeans and adjusts the camera he is using to document his show. He is intense but friendly, and like his art, understated.

A few meters away, it is the peeling, back-lit membranes of Coop toilet paper that eventually draw my attention. Thirty onion-skin layers of decaying, pock-marked white tissue describe 12 pregnant spheres of varying size in a 1x4 meter tableau on the space’s west wall - just above that wierd sci-fi dial.

All of the work is new, and if there is a critical point on the relatively undramatic show it is that Nakamura has chosen to leave things to chance, this being evidenced specifically in his use of the gallery’s ventilation system as the catalyst for the kinetic portion of the installation. Many local artists would have carefully aimed an electric fan at the piece instead.

Nakamura shows some imagination, and "Mind Machinery - Feelings of Beginings and Endings" is the better for it.

notes: until Feb 27, 1998 (3665-1835).
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