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The Unseen at Galerie Deux

by Monty DiPietro

There was a time when we were privy to the two phenomena which bookend human life: birth and death. Babies were born at home, and old people passed away there. My great aunt, for example, was laid out for mourners on the kitchen table in the parlor of her Ville Emard home after she died. But now, old folks are farmed out to nursing homes to expire, and mothers-to-be are whisked into maternity wards at the first hint of labor pains, to return home a week later with a squeaky-clean infant. In our world, birth and death occur, for the most part, unseen. And, of course, what we don’t see has a diminished ability to affect us.

And so the title of Galerie Deux’s new photography exhibition "The Unseen," which, the press release informs, is about love and sex and time and death, intrigues in its implication that the three participating artists – Noritoshi Hirakawa, Taiji Matsue, and Sam Samore – mean to present us with a glimpse of what we’ve been missing.

A natural first impression upon entering the gallery might be that when it comes to the unseen, less is more. For although the Meguro Ward art space is one of Tokyo’s largest, the high Galerie Deux walls are all but empty. So we look closer.

And one of the first things we see is quite a sight, in Japan at least.

Hirakawa, 39, undertakes the task of reifying death in his installation "Whereabouts of Affections." The don’t-let-the-police-get-a-look-at-this-or-it-will-be-taken-down-immediately piece frames visitors’ faces in mirrors on which close-up black-and-white images of coitus and oral sex are being projected. Explains the artist, whose previous work has included attempts to photographically recreate suicides, "These are things you have to really face, that to have sex is to face death, and at the same time this [superimposing of the viewer’s face over the sexual image] represents the physical part of existence and mentally reinforces the function of life. This is, says Hirakawa, "death engulfed by fantasy."

For his part, Matsue, 36, represents time with his characteristic gray-toned photographs of the ground. Usually without strong points of focus, the pictures up for this show date back to the early ‘90s, and while many look like aerial photos, they were in fact all taken from earthly vantage points. There is an engaging ambiguity here, a skewing of scale in the prints, which are arranged in a five by five grid. The viewer may be lured in closer, then drift back in an attempt to make sense of some of these images: Are they close-ups of sand, shale and earth, or are they landscapes dotted by far-away sagebrush and trees?

Samore, who does not divulge his age, is showing us Eros with his signature "Allegories of Beauty" series, which are photographs of mouths, close-cropped and stacked to form a sort of lip column in the gallery. The pictures, also black and white, are, again, ambiguous, this time on the question of which gender each of the big chops belong to.

In all, the exhibition is a well-balanced look at a difficult trio of subjects by one of Tokyo’s most ambitious galleries. There could be more here, but, in the final analysis, a hundred rooms this size would still not suffice for a complete treatment of the themes addressed. The three artists are a nice fit, and the Hirakawa piece is something the likes of which has never been seen in a Tokyo art space before. And that alone is reason to salute the Galerie Deux for showing "The Unseen."

Notes: Until Apr 28, 3717-0020. Pictured is Allegories of Beauty, by Sam Samore.
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