WHO’S AFRAID TO LOVE JAPAN?

By HEATHER WHITE ~ February 28, 2012 ~ On Now >> Art Sync

 

Daisuke Takeya’s new installation, God Loves Japan, reaches to MoCCA’s ceiling: the approximate height, in some residential areas, of the tsunami that dominoed the devastation of the artist’s country of birth last spring. The catastrophic connotation of the scale is deliberate but inexact (the average crest was actually much taller); Takeya is not so didactic. The installation is not so sinister. It is not sublime; it doesn’t overwhelm with horror. Instead, it takes the shape of a devastating force, and makes it accessible.

The work is explicitly interactive, with a playhouse structure at its heart. Wooden stairs invite audience ascent into a small space filled with objects and photos. There’s also a flashing sign, a kiddie slide, and a sandbox. A toddler was playing in it when I visited, on Valentine’s day; the circumstances felt ideal for experiencing a piece so thoroughly rooted in whimsy and innocence, so overtly focused on love, and so obviously conscious of that stereotypically Japanese aesthetic of the cute. But is it appropriate to respond to disaster so fancifully?

Yes, because Takeya’s rhetoric – neither cynical nor naïve – is as critical as it is hopeful. Not only does the work comprise all the unknowns of the audiences who traverse it, it’s filled with fluctuations that emphasize the artist’s discomfort with absolutes and his commitment to dialogue. The installation is built on a shifting series of inversions and unsettlings.

Beginning with the exhibit name, which is itself a flip of Douglas Coupland’s novel, “God Hates Japan”. Claiming that “God Loves Japan,” Takeya spins divine feeling more happily – and then makes the pronouncement alternate with a pragmatic injunction for human audiences: “Go Visit Japan”. Viewers who proceed up the stairs then encounter the idealistic lyric “Love is all you need” blinking on a screen beside an unflinching “Maybe”. The conversation’s final word is found by peering through a hole beneath a rubble of magazines onto a scripted “Yes” buried in the structure.

Yes, then – Takeya seems to assert – love is all you need. But the affirmation is obscured. It’s complicated; this ‘yes’ is a direct art world reference to Yoko Ono’s ceiling painting, which Takeya has reversed by making the spectator peer down onto, rather than climb up towards. The qualifications multiply in considering the implication of the famous – and then tragic – love story that Takeya evokes by placing Lennon’s lyric so close to the Ono reference.

Takeya’s installation bridges art and activism carefully: it doesn’t exploit disaster for aesthetics and it doesn’t reduce art to prescription. God Loves Japan inspires both care and critical thought. And the title’s a misnomer: the work is not about God, but people, and is not an observation, but an appeal.

Heather White is a freelance writer, independent curator, and professional dabbler in the arts. Holding a BA in Contemporary Studies and History (University of King’s College, Halifax) and an MA in Philosophy and the Arts (SUNY Stonybrook at Manhattan), she currently lives and works in Toronto.