The Mediterranean travels of Japanese artist Takao Minami at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore – in pictures

The Mediterranean sea provides inspiration for Takao Minami’s “Medi”, now on show in Singapore.

At Ota Fine Arts until 5 November 2016, “Medi” features video and installation works by Japanese Takao Minami, subtly reflecting the experience of travelling around the Mediterranean and its sunlit landscapes.

Takao Minami, "Medi", 23 September - 5 November 2016, Ota Fine Arts, Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

Takao Minami, “Medi”, 23 September – 5 November 2016, Ota Fine Arts, Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

Sharing the title of the exhibition, “Medi”, is its most eye-catching work Medi (2016), a contraction of the term ‘Mediterranean’. It is Japanese artist Takao Minami’s travels around the Mediterranean sea that provide the impetus for the work on show at Ota Fine Arts in Singapore, a non-linear impression, rather than the chronological, linear form typical of the travelogue.

The prominent use of an abbreviated name may be no more than a culture-bound quirk of language usage, but some other possibilities include conveying a sense of diminution, rendering familiar and accessible what might otherwise be complex and distant. It might also be taken as an etymological play, isolating the prefix to suggest some sense of abstraction, neutrality or mediation.

Takao Minami, 'Medi', 2016, six-channel video with sound, 9 minutes. Image courtesy the artist.

Takao Minami, ‘Medi’, 2016, six-channel video with sound, 9 minutes. Image courtesy the artist.

Takao Minami, 'Shadow Symbol #3 (Egyptian Hieroglyph)', 2016, engraving on light bulb, magnifier, dimensions variable. Installation view at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

Takao Minami, ‘Shadow Symbol #3 (Egyptian Hieroglyph)’, 2016, engraving on light bulb, magnifier, dimensions variable. Installation view at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

It is quite appropriate that this work and the exhibition as a whole share a title: its constituent video projections occupy an entire wall of the gallery, with no other works in its immediate presence to interfere with the experience. A bench is available, but the work’s comparatively brief duration of nine minutes and the vertical orientation of its video projections seem to suggest viewing the work while standing – or walking, as if in the midst of travels.

Due to the scale of the work, at least some of the artwork will remain in the viewer’s peripheral vision, contributing to the overall sense of scale, similar to the vast expanse of the Mediterranean sea. There also is a continuous motion in each panel of the work – consistently upwards for the most part – resulting in a vertiginous sense of being on the verge of falling into the images projected.

Takao Minami, "Medi", 23 September - 5 November 2016, Ota Fine Arts, Singapore, installation view of 'Medi', 2016, video installation. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

Takao Minami, “Medi”, 23 September – 5 November 2016, Ota Fine Arts, Singapore, installation view of ‘Medi’, 2016, video installation. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

Rendered in acidic, eye-poppingly vivid colours, the subjects deposited into these vertical scrolls are frequently littoral in nature: running the gamut from clouds, waterfalls, waves, construction work, shepherds, fences, cable cars, boats, kites, to swarms of insects, compressed into the same, improbable plane – as improbable, perhaps, as the graphical appearance that the high-contrast colours lend to the work.

Despite the generally consistent upward motion of these images, the constituent visuals are frequently set at odd angles, at times even upside down, disrupting any attempt at orienting oneself relative to some stable horizon, as if travelling on a boat. Lapping waves might scroll over to an upside-down mountain range, for instance, forming some sort of chimaera of the two for the brief moment they are on screen. While the subjects in the projection are often quite recognisable, some finer details resist easy identification, forming a bridge between mimetic representation and graphical abstraction.

Takao Minami, "Medi", 23 September - 5 November 2016, Ota Fine Arts, Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

Takao Minami, “Medi”, 23 September – 5 November 2016, Ota Fine Arts, Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

Takao Minami, 'Light Symbol #5' and 'Shadow Symbol #3', 2016, installation view of "Medi" (2016) at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

Takao Minami, ‘Light Symbol #5’ and ‘Shadow Symbol #3’, 2016, installation view of “Medi” (2016) at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

As opposed to the sensory saturation offered by the exhibition’s titular artwork, which achieves attention and accessibility through optical intensity, the two other works in the exhibition are spare enough to yield a palpable sense of disorientation if viewed immediately after Medi. Located in a separate section of the gallery, Light Symbol #5 (2016) and Shadow Symbol #3 (2016), at first glance, appear to consist of little more than bare incandescent bulbs on stands, each with a lens focusing its bulb’s light onto a spot on the wall.

Takao Minami, 'LigTakao Minami, 'Light Symbol #5 (Old Chinese Character)', 2016, engraving on light bulb, magnifier, dimensions variable. Installation view at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts. ht Symbol #5 (Old Chinese Character)', 2016, engraving on light bulb, magnifier, dimensions variable. Installation view at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

Takao Minami, ‘Light Symbol #5 (Old Chinese Character)’, 2016, engraving on light bulb, magnifier, dimensions variable. Installation view at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

These works project minuscule characters on the walls: the lenses, which focus the light, are clear as are, at first glance, the bulbs themselves. Careful inspection reveals tiny inscriptions on the bulbs, though such careful inspection more or less guarantees blotches in one’s field of vision from peering too closely at a light source. It could be compared to looking directly at the sun, returning again to the trope of travelling around the Mediterranean sea and its blinding sunlight and moving landscapes.

Takao Minami, 'Shadow Symbol #3 (Egyptian Hieroglyph)', 2016, engraving on light bulb, magnifier, dimensions variable. Installation view at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

Takao Minami, ‘Shadow Symbol #3 (Egyptian Hieroglyph)’, 2016, engraving on light bulb, magnifier, dimensions variable. Installation view at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

Takao Minami, 'Light Symbol #5 (Old Chinese Character)', 2016, engraving on light bulb, magnifier, dimensions variable. Installation view at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

Takao Minami, ‘Light Symbol #5 (Old Chinese Character)’, 2016, engraving on light bulb, magnifier, dimensions variable. Installation view at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts.

The inscriptions correspond to the works’ titles: Chinese bronze script for “light” in Light Symbol #5, and the Egyptian hieroglyph for “shadow” in Shadow Symbol #3. As fluency in these scripts is in fairly short supply today, almost no one would be able to tell their meaning without knowing the titles of the works, an aspect that imparts to the works a curious sense of muteness. Despite this opacity, there is a refreshing bareness to the work, an economy of elements that contrasts the sumptuousness of Medi and its colourful, moving landscapes.

Bruce Quek

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Related Topics: Japanese artist, gallery show, video, installation, Singapore events

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