Motohiko Odani at P-House

by Monty DiPietro

It is one of the shows people are talking about this fall. A promising young artistís solo debut, a multi-media exhibition featuring photography, sculpture and installation. It is on at a hip, artist-run space in Tokyoís Shibuya Ward, produced by one of the cityís hottest young curators. It is Motohiko Odaniís "Phantom-Limb," and it is a bloody mess.


"I donít know how they did it, but the gallery got permission from a doctor and arranged for a nurse to meet me and take my blood," explains the 25 year-old artist, "She drew about 200 cubic centimeters each time, and after seven sessions I had the 1.4 liters I needed."

"Fair Completion" is an illuminated white plastic and steel rectangular object which stands almost three meters high in a corner of P-houseís whitewashed, L-shaped exhibition space. When activated, a small fan whirls and sputters, and soon a series of soap bubbles float out from a sinister steel grill at the top of the installation. Pregnant in the belly of each sphere is a drop of the artistís blood. After a few seconds the soap bubbles burst - as soap bubbles will - and the blood-payload is released, falling to splatter itself on the white surfaces of the piece. Heat generated by the lights inside "Fair Completion" bake the blood into an earthy-brown, blistering film.

"I know people will feel uncomfortable with it," says Odani, "but imagine if one of your relatives or loved ones were bleeding - you wouldnít worry about their blood, would you? I want to bring people to this point with my art."

Odani is not the first sanguine-provocateur in the art world. Hungarian ĎNeoistí Istvan Kantorís ongoing ĎBlood Campaigní [which began in the 1970s], also forces a confrontation with the sticky fluid. Kantorís work has evolved into near-terrorism - in 1985 he sprayed a wall of the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art with his blood before distributing a manifesto to the stunned museum director "Leave it there and watch it - eventually it will turn to gold!"

But there is none of this sort of urgency in Odaniís work - his approach is studied, even clinical, and consequently non-threatening. As the packed room of young opening party guests realize that the lovely bubbles contain blood, there is no recoiling in disgust - indeed a teenage girl sitting beside me turns to her companion and whispers "Isnít it beautiful?" as the blood-bubbles explode.

The years he invested at this countryís most hallowed art university, Geidai [Tokyo University of Fine Arts], are paying off for recent graduate Odani, who supports himself by working part-time for his Geidai professor. Earlier this year the artist approached the avant-garde Rontgen Kunstraum gallery in the Aoyama district of Tokyoís Minato Ward, and explained that he wanted a show. Staff member and rising producer Yuko Yamamoto was so impressed by Odaniís proposal that she leap-frogged her galleryís two-years of advance-booking to organize the P-house exhibition.

The sculptures and six 1480 x 1100cm photographs in "Phantom-Limb" are as unsettling as Odaniís blood-bubble machine. The color prints feature a precocious six year-old girl in a white dress, her long hair fanned out under her, lying on her back. The girlís palms are stained with bright red juice she has squeezed from the raspberries clenched in her tiny hands. I ask the artist about his modelís pose - knees bent to reveal thighs in a manner suggestive of the often nearly-pedophiliac work of Nobuyoshi Araki. Long-haired Odani, dapper in a 1970s-style brown velvet blazer and black leather pants, pauses briefly before shaking his head from side to side, "It is completely different," he says, "the girl in my photos is beyond anything sexual, she has been sanctified."

"Phantom-Limb" hijacks the Japanese art scene - it is one of a handful of exhibitions each year that threaten to change the way we look at contemporary culture in this country.

The viewer may turn away, but the young artist Motohiko Odani cannot turn back - and that may be the most terrifying and important thing about "Phantom-Limb."

notes: until Nov 23 1997
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