Winter Garden:
The Exploration of Micropop Imagination in Contemporary Japanese Art
Midori Matsui

( From the Catalogue of “Winter Garden” at Hara Museum )

Organized by The Japan Foundation
Curated by Midori Matsui
Text by Midori Matsui
First Edition, First Printing August 15, 2009
Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha Co.,Ltd

 

Winter Garden: ( p.9, p.11 )
The Exploration of the Micropop Imagination in Contemporary Japanese Artistic Expression starts where The Door into Summer left off. Sponsored by the Japan Foundation, this exhibition brings together the 35 works of 14 contemporary artists, born between 1968 and 1980, who represent the dominant tendencies in contemporary Japanese art practice. While continuing to reference the conceptual principles and spiritual concerns behind The Door into Summer, the current exhibition attempts to examine the shift in emphasis that has occurred in artistic concerns and methods during the past two years. Like the previous exhibition, the current exhibition attempts to support the creative activity of artists in a difficult age – artists who seek to turn their disadvantageous conditions into a springboard for original expression, through the microbe-like activities of their imagination. The paradox of the Micripop imagination seems even more relevant now because of the intensified cultural contradictions in contemporary Japanese social situation. The nation-wide spread of the Internet has enriched individuals’ informational resources, but has nurtured new types of crime; the neo-liberalist policy adopted by the Japanese government during the early 2000s provided a temporary recovery in the Japanese economy, but widened the gap between the rich and the poor. With social life failing into rationally-justified chaos, artists and spectators feel an increasing need to regain a palpable sense of contact with the primary process of their bodies and nature that transcend the artificial waves of information.
Between The Door into Summer and Winter Garden, there has been a shift in focus regarding the goal of the Micripop imagination. Formerly, the goal was the individual agency to reorganize information and re-use products in order to attain a position of freedom. Now, it is the flexible activities of the human mind ( unconscious ) and body that maintain freedom through changes in states engendered by the physical and psychological effects of human relations and contacts with other bodies. The change is represented by the two artistic tendencies that characterize the practices of the Winter Garden artists, and also reflect the unique tendencies that emerged in Japanese artistic production during the past two years: 1) the incorporation, in the method and expression of artistic works, of the process of fragmentation or disintegration that dissociates details from the original systems of meaning to imply the possibilities of new combinations, and 2) the construction of a medium or an environment that transmits the physical affects of “things” liberated from systems of meaning imposed on human senses. The former indicates the connection of human thought or imagination with the processes of nature that repeat the cycles of decomposition and reconstitution. The latter suggests the fact that a human being is a compound of affective responses caused by encounters with other people and external phenomena. One of the purposes of the current show is to interpret various manifestations of the above two tendencies in the artistic works. The two tendencies can be propounded as two basic principles or conceptual models supporting the theoretical framework of the exhibition: 1) sedimentation as a model of the unconscious processes of the body and mind, which find a parallel in natural processes, and 2) the body as a medium for forming intuitive knowledge of the phenomenological world through its relationship with other bodies and phenomena. But before elucidating on the conceptual significance of the above two models of artistic production, i.e., the process of decomposition and reconstitution and affective influences of physical phenomena, I must briefly explain the thematic organization of the Winter Garden exhibition.
II. The Organization of Winter Garden
– “The goal is to perceive and analyze the microbe-like operations proliferating within technocratic structures and deflecting their functioning by means of a multitude of “tactics” articulated in the details of everyday life.”
Michel de Certeau. The Practice of Everyday Life

The exhibition title, Winter Garden, contains two opposing meanings. One literally means a “desolate garden in the winter time.” Another meaning of “winter garden,” understood as an idiomatic expression, signifies a hothouse. This consistence of opposite meanings within a single expression embodies the central paradox of the exhibition. The first meaning alludes to the difficulties of contemporary life brought on as the result of globalization, including worldwide economic depression, uniformity of living environments, and the disappearance of unique local cultures. On the other hand, the image of a hothouse suggests a space that, in spite of its small scale and closed artificial environment, nurtures various organisms, including plants, insects, birds, and the perpetual activities of microbes within the soil – the elements that constitute rich and diverse layers of life. The exhibition attempts to explore the efforts of contemporary artists to make the most of the poverty and boredom inflicted by contemporary life in order to reorganize various aspects of their everyday activities and reinvent effective “ways of operating”.
The exhibition consists of three methodological axes. …………[ Category I, Category II were excluded.]………………Category III includes works that simulate or incorporate the basic structures of self-generation among plants, animals, and minerals, and construct an environment or a pictorial space that conveys to the spectators physical and psychological effects and impacts of external phenomena. Representative artists are Masanori Handa, Hiroe Saeki, Masaya Chiba, and Keisuke Yamamoto.
These categories coexist with the conceptual principles that apply to the entire structure of the Winter Garden exhibition: 1) sedimentation as a model for the activities of the human unconscious and a model for the analogical relation between the unconscious and natural processes, and 2) the body as a locus of affective knowledge. They complement each other to provide the conceptual consistency of the exhibition. The exhibition also contains recurrent themes and motifs that connect individual expressions: 1) visions of ruins and apocalypse; 2) visions of utopia, including that of a flexible world in which the intermingling between human and animal aspects, and plant and mineral domains, takes place; and 3) aspects of the four elements – earth, water, wind, and fire – embodied within everyday situations. Through the dialogue that arises between the artworks, induced by the mesh of relations suggested by the principles, themes, and motifs indicated above, the paradox of a small artificial space containing a microcosmos of the natural world is realized.

VI. Works in Winter Garden (3):
Elastic Bodies and Affects of Landscapes

“To organize this mess of corrosion to patterns, girls, and subdivisions is an esthetic process that has scarcely been touched”
Robert Smithson. A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects
– “The infinite fold then moves between the two leaves. But by being divided, it greatly expands on either side: the fold is divided into folds, which are tucked inside and which spill out onto the outside.”
Gilles Deleuze. The Fold: Leibnitz and Baroque

Hiroe Saeki’s drawings. ( p.19 – 21 )
Saeki’s elaborate drawings are made up of dense accumulations of minute, contiguous pencil lines. Repeatedly applied to the same area, the lines produce tight networks of folded patterns that form a composite structure with various extensions. Through the contiguous accumulation of folded patterns, the structure is able to expand endlessly or become more dense internally. This elastic structure, composed of particles constituting fold-like patterns, and integrating the law of growth through the contiguous arrangement of such patterns, simulates the basic structure of biological generation.
In Saeki’s drawings, the embodiment of the flexibility and complexity of a living organism through the arrangement of its minute fold-like patterns recapitulates Deleuze’s proportion that on the Spinozan plane of immanence, the individuality of a body is determined by the speed of motion and resting state of its particles coming into relation with one another. Saeki’s elastic structure assumes an indeterminate from resembling a plant with branch-like extensions that nurture numerous heterogeneous parasitical fragments that look like flowers and tendrils. The ubiquity of folded patterns in the natural world reflects the fundamental structure of organisms composed of collections cells. In a similar way, Saeki’s objects constantly evoke associations with other biological or mineral forms, such as scales and geological sediments. Saeki’s drawings thus give form to the paradox in which minute, fragile lines constitute the body of an inclusive organism.

Hiroe Saeki ( p.72 )
Hiroe Saeki has made an elaborate drawing by accumulating innumerable fine lines. The repeated application of minute lines creates a network of folds, which produces planes and different shades of color. The accumulated lines and their fold-like units compose a plant-like object with extensions that resemble tree branches and leaves. Out of such extensions, various parasitic figures grow, with their own developments evocative of flowers and tendrils. The object assumes the look of a composite organism that, integrating heterogeneous elements, cannot be defined under a single identity. It is endowed with the basic tendency to expand outward, as well as to condense inside of its frame, through the bifurcation of fold-like patterns. The folded patterns constituting the body of the plant-like object also evoke associations with fish scales and a compound of cells. The sharp lines and curves of the parasitic extensions resemble stylized calligraphy. Maintaining an apparently solid body, Saeki’s object thus proves to be a fluid structure that is constantly in the process of composition or transformation into other beings. Placed in the corner of an oblong picture plane with a large vacant area, the object creates an illusion of gravity and slow movement. Composed of fragile lines, her object nevertheless gains a sense of monumentality. Seeming to give up immediacy for deliberate construction. Saeki’s drawing, in the process of its composition, attains an elastic structure that can expand and change freely or increase in density, acquiring a hybrid character that evades any categorization. This elasticity endows Saeki’s work with the basic character of drawing.