Nobuhira Narumi at the Taro Nasu Galleryby Monty DiPietro
Gosh, my spell-check tells me that there is no such word as "dogumentary," and I bet the reason for this is that the people over at Microsoft Word have yet to experience the work of Tokyo-born, New York-based artist Nobuhira Narumi. For how better could one term Narumiís work, which brings us an up-close-and-personal look at the world courtesy of next-generation, 20g video cameras strapped onto the heads of the artistís pack of assistants, all of which are Ė you guessed it Ė dogs.
A dogís eye-view certainly provides us a new perspective on the streets of New York, Tokyo, or Hong Kong. Narumi visited these and other locales to shoot the eight mini-films that make up his exhibition "Dogís Progress," now showing at the Taro Nasu gallery in Tokyoís Koto Ward. The videos are complimented by 16 still pictures for a show that, once you get past the novelty of Narumiís approach, still manages to stay surprisingly engaging.
To shoot a particular piece, Narumi first tries to spend at least a week with dog and owner (is "owner" a no-no in the canine dictionary of political correctness?). After earning the trust of both, Narumi straps the tiny bonnet-like camera onto the dogís head and then instructs the owner to walk the dog on its usual route. Once the pair have gotten accustomed to the camera, Narumi begins recording. For this show, the monochrome results were looped and are screening on eight wall-mounted, paperback-book-sized monitors.
"My work is really about people," says Narumi, 30, "because the dog of today is an almost completely artificial animal." Narumi believes that domestication of the dog has engendered a relationship of mutual dependency between man and his best friend. Noteworthy, says Narumi, is that different dogs lead different lives and perform different functions Ė just like in the society of man. For example, the subjects in this show include a top-flight working sheepdog who lives on a farm in Christchurch, a London homeless manís flea-bitten mutt, and the loveable little Welsh Terrier who first started Narumi off on the project, Dylan Thomas.
Once the companion of Za Moca Foundation head Johnnie Walker, Dylan Thomas (1986-1997) came to collaborate with a number of artists (among them Nobuyoshi Araki) during his Tokyo years. The dog was also the subject of a 1996 documentary in his native Britain. The Channel Four program looked at Dylanís pioneering work with Narumi, a series of walks through Shinjuku which found the pooch urinating on Roy Lichtensteinís "Wave" sculpture and nosing up to hostesses in Kabukicho. By way of tribute, this piece in included in Narumiís current exhibition.
Although Narumi means to illustrate the connection between humans and canines, his work shows us the differences as well. Of course, dogs tend to look up at things that we would see at eye-level Ė to a dog, trouser cuffs say a lot about the person, so pick your pants carefully if youíre trying to impress your friendís dachshund. Also, there are quite a few things that dogs find far more interesting than people Ė other dogs, for example, and trash piles. Finally, because dogs use their sense of smell much more than humans do, they like to get real close to things.
On the occasion of the last lunar New Year, Narumi met a Hong Kong restaurant owner who was preparing to move out of the city and planned to turn his mixed terrier out into the streets when he left. The dog was brought on a tour of a dog pound, where abandoned dogs await slaughter. There he pressed his nose against the close mesh of the doomed dogsí cages in a desperate and heart-wrenching walk down a dogís death row. It is Narumiís opinion that the soon-to-be-abandoned terrier, with no experience fending for himself, will probably end up on the other side of one of those cages in a matter of time.
The dissonant chord struck by the Hong Kong video takes some of the bouncy fun out of "Dogís Progress," and gives us in its place a heavy lump of unpleasant reality to contemplate. In a city sparkled with cute art, that is more than enough to makes Narumiís latest a standout effort.
notes: Until Aug 7 (3630-7759)