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la Biennale di Venezia

Japanese Pavilion, the 49th Venice Biennale 2001

Artists: Yukio Fujimoto, Naoya Hatakeyama, Masato Nakamura
Commissioner: Eriko Osaka (Chief curator, Contemporary Art Center, ART TOWER MITO)

For the first Biennale of Venice in the 21st century, I chose "FAST and SLOW" to be the theme of the exhibit at the Japanese Pavilion.
While everything seems to be accelerating toward the same direction in the world's cities today, the exhibit explores the existence of a perspective that seeks alternate directions. In the past several years, people around the world have been bent on living faster, simpler, and more efficiently.
The kind of convenience we enjoy today, in which identical things can be obtained practically no matter where we go, has also aided in the process of internally breaking down the differences that separate individual regional cultures, propelling them toward uniformity.

The process of economic globalization has also left the world's cities with a similar appearance. In the pursuit of a more convenient and comfortable life, unflagging energy has been poured into research and technological innovation. Meanwhile, the same pursuit has given rise to various problems, such as severe environmental destruction and warming on a global scale.

Japan has devoured and digested many fragments of Western economy and culture -- almost in the manner of a black hole -- creating giant cities that may seem uniform on the surface, but are hardly identical to Western cities. In cities where objects and information overflow in abundance, we are no longer able to rest satisfied with the kind of lifestyle that pursues a unilateral direction. But it is not an easy task for us to recognize that.

In the Japanese exhibition, which dwells on the theme of "FAST and SLOW," three artists present multiple perspectives on the appearance and shape of the city.

Plan of the Japanese Pavilion Exhibit

This year's exhibition at the Japanese Pavilion features presentations by three artists, who, conscious of their partnership, also act independently and thus sometimes conflict with one another. The participating artists employ differing media for their expressive activities: Naoya Hatakeyama uses photographs, Masato Nakamura uses visual installations, and Yukio Fujimoto uses sounds. The organization of the exhibit takes advantage of the special two-story architecture of the Japanese Pavilion, with a small, temporary room set upon the lower pilings, and the artwork being displayed in two galleries stacked on top of each other. However, that does not mean the exhibitions on the two levels are completely separated. Instead, the "spirit" of the twogalleries has been allowed to flow back and forth through a hole cut out of the upper hall floor, conjoining the "FAST" and "SLOW" exhibits in a subtle fashion.

FAST (Gallery 1)
As visitors enter the "FAST" exhibit, they first run across collages of aerial photographs of Tokyo, taken by Naoya Hatakeyama from 70 fixed observation points, along with two photographs of the Osaka Stadium.
He thus allows us to gain a vivid sense of the dynamic nature of the changing city. Masato Nakamura's new work, a giant, blown-up version of the McDonald's trademark that stands 4.4m (14.5ft) tall, fills the entire gallery with a yellowish light. His installation especially emphasizes two things: (1) the existence of trademarks that young people around the world share as a sort of lingua franca, even though they may not speak each other's particular native tongue, and (2) the standardization of service at McDonald's through the use of common manuals. Besides being bathed in the yellow light, visitors wandering through the pavilion are greeted by musical chords -- composed by Yukio Fujimoto -- emanating from electronic keyboards.
The sounds, which symbolize the unique space-time that is characteristic of cities, are intended to create an environment that envelops the whole gallery. Through such visual and auditory stimuli, a space is created that embodies the speed, energy, uniformity, and electronic sounds of the city.

SLOW (Gallery 2)
The room of the smaller "SLOW" exhibit is washed in a charcoal-gray color.
Here, Hatakeyama presents two photographs, entitled "Underground," that he took of the underground sewers of Shibuya in Tokyo. Although sewers, with waste water flowing through them, are considered unclean and abhorred by most people, his photographs leave us with a feeling of spiritual sublimity. Meanwhile, tucked away in another corner of the gallery, is Fujimoto's work, "Sugar," which shows a sugar cube slowly rotating inside a glass bottle. It gives off a subtle sound that suggests that a person might be living inside.
Visitors rushing through the gallery may not notice the sound, however, unless they take pains to stop and listen carefully. At the same time, a yellow light filters in gently from the hole in the ceiling above, altering the fixed perception of this space, where time flows unhurriedly.

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