Naoko Tosa transforms the gallery space into a screening environment.
Her third exhibition at Ikkan Art International, Singapore runs from 10 January to 18 February 2017, and features a new series of video projections exploring the nature of materials and temporality.
Naoko Tosa, the artist who bridges ancient Japanese aesthetic traditions and contemporary technology, is no stranger to Singapore. Since 2011, her group and solo exhibitions have been a regular feature on the island – not to mention her presence on the art fair circuit, thanks to the efforts of Ikkan Art International. From 2013 to 2014, large scale projection mapping performances of her work have appeared on both the exterior of Ikkan’s gallery space (a warehouse district) and the Artscience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, giving her a public reach which suits an artist recently appointed an official cultural envoy of Japan.
For a trio of floor-to-ceiling projections, large enough to envelop the viewer, to be described as relatively modest suggests the scale of her public projection mapping performances. Next to those, in particular, “Genesis” suggests more of a closed bubble of introspection and perception. As the exhibition’s title suggests, Tosa takes as her subject here the moment of creation – the inception of an aesthetic event, which marks something of a shift from her previous interest in creative destruction.
The extent of such a shift could be argued in terms of the extent to which creation is destructive, and destruction creative, but a line of continuity which remains in no doubt is that of Tosa’s interest in Rinpa, a school of painting which traces its origins to 17th century Kyoto. Rinpa, which emphasises natural subjects, refinement and the use of gold leaf, was also a key influence on her last two solo exhibitions in Singapore, “Tosa Rimpa: The Places You will Never Visit” (2015), and “Space Flower” (2014). In keeping with the notion of creative destruction, both of these earlier exhibitions at Ikkan are marked by images of flowers being destroyed.
Another common thread in her imagery is a consistent sense of disbelief – an assumption that these looping videos could only have been generated by sophisticated software. It is a notion that the artist puts paid to, explaining:
…this work cannot be created using computer graphics, because the interaction among viscous fluid, Japanese color inks, and dry ice is too complex to be expressed by a numerical formula of fluid dynamics.
In other words, Tosa’s works subvert the all-too-common bias that complex imagery is the preserve of the digital. It is not unlike advocates of practical effects in cinema, suggesting that the material world still has a few tricks up its sleeve that the digital has yet to surmount.
As Tosa’s earlier remark indicates, the works in “Genesis” are produced through little more than the interaction of various fluids, inks and dry ice – the secret sauce, if you will, are video cameras which record at 2,000 frames per second. Such a high frame rate allows us to perceive details which would have escaped us – the acuity of the human eye, by comparison, has been estimated to be equivalent to anywhere from 40 to 300 frames per second, while movies play back at a sluggardly 24 frames per second. This vast expansion of time yields physical and visual arrangement that seems contrary to our common-sense intuition of physical laws, much as English photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th century photographic studies of horses in motion upended centuries of painterly convention.
It is not simply through a single, different scale of time with which Tosa subverts our expectations – multiple speeds seem present in each of the videos, not to mention some amount of play in orientation: if you observe gas bubbling downwards, there may be a moment in which the easy identification of substance and process is thwarted, allowing for a sort of perceptual dislocation. There is, in other words, that you are seeing more than just suspended pigments interacting with bubbles of gas. And while the main display seems large enough to fall into, a synchronous display on smaller screens is also present in the space, doubling the work at a more intimate scale.
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