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Art, Performance & Activism in Contemporary Japan

— February 2012

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Works by Yoshiko Shimada on show at the Pump House Gallery, Battersea, London until 26 February

Pump House Gallery
Battersea Park, London, SW11 4NJ

19 January-26 February 2012

A remarkable collection of works by contemporary Japanese artists are on exhibition at Pump House Gallery, Battersea Park, London, until 26 February 2012.

‘Art, Performance & Activism in Contemporary Japan’ features artists/activists who are recognized in Japan for testing the intersection between art and activism. Exhibited over four floors of the gallery space, works by DumbType, Teiji Furuhashi and Soni Kum, Bubu de la Madeleine and Sohei Yamada, Yoshiko Shimada and Chikako Yamashiro, date from the 1990s to 2011. Engaging with contemporary issues of ‘art and action, private and public, memory and identity’, the themes focus attention on perspectives of disputed Japanese history in cultural and political debate in Japan. This exhibition is the first to present the artists’ work in the UK.

The calm space of the Pump House Gallery interior and the tranquillity of the building’s exterior landscape with its lakeside setting in Battersea Park, makes it a serene location for this thought-provoking exhibition. The layout allows individual performances of each artist’s work to be explored. The Pump House has three upper floor levels featuring a room space leading off the stairwell, plus a ground-floor entrance exhibition space. At ground level are six artworks in mixed media collage: photocopies, etchings and drawings, string, and fake diamonds, created in 2011 by Yoshiko Shimada. They draw attention to the anti-Japanese government group ‘East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front’, and Shimada’s concerns about colonialism, militarism and war in East Asia.

From this display one climbs the Pump House metal stairs to the first floor. In this room the emergent artist Chikako Yamashiro’s mesmerizing film Sinking Voices, Red Breath (2010), looks beneath the surface of images that promote Okinawa Tourism. We witness the old cultures, and old ‘voices’, drowned out. Yamashiro is from Okinawa, in the southern part of Japan. She conducted ‘memory workshops’ with the elderly of Naha, the capital city of Okinawa, to create the film’s poignant imagery. This room includes a further work by Yamashiro, Virtual Transmission (2008) (colour photograph); and the intriguing Water Map I (2010) by Bubu de la Madeleine and Sohei Yamada. This 15-minute documentation video of the original installation is a continuing project that seeks to explore the ‘almost forgotten’ histories of cities and communities that are linked and sustained by water.

On the second floor is the artist-collective Dumb Type, formed in 1984 by students from Kyoto City University of Arts. Two works by one of its founding members, the late Teiji Furuhashi (1960-95), focus on relationships in the era of AIDS. On three monitors Love/Sex/ Death/Money/Life (1994) is displayed, whilst adjacent is a captivating seven-minute documentation video of the installation The Lovers (Dying Pictures, Loving Pictures) (1994), featuring dancers – life-size – using a computer-controlled, five-channel video/sound installation with five video projectors, eight-channel sound system, and slide projectors. This was Furuhashi’s first and last solo performance. It was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, from 22 June to 12 September 1995 in the show ‘Video Spaces: Eight Installations’.

On the third floor of the building is an installation by Soni Kum, a third-generation Korean resident and one of the most outstanding contemporary artists working in Japan. She uses live performance, video and archival film in her work, which has been displayed in art galleries and film festivals worldwide. In this exhibition Bloodsea (2010) is an installation of sheeting with salt, photography, and two video films shown on LCD screens. Her underlying theme is an exploration of the ‘disputed histories of ethnic minorities in Japan’. It is a memorable, enigmatic experience.

Rosalind Ormiston, Independent art historian, London

‘Performance and Activism in Contemporary Japan’ is supported by: POLA Art Foundation; Japan Foundation; Japan Foundation Endowment Committee; Japan Society; British Council; The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation; The Saison Foundation; Kingston University, London; Kyoto Seika University, Japan. The exhibition is curated by Professor Fran Lloyd of Kingston University, London and Professor Rebecca Jennison of Kyoto Seika University, Japan,

Related events

Artist's talk: Soni Kum

Event Date:  19 February 2012

Event Time:  3.00 p.m.

Soni Kum discusses the ideas behind her work shown in the exhibition ‘Art, Performance and Activism in Contemporary Japan' and also the themes prevalent in her art practice. FREE

Performance workshop with artist Soni Kum

Event Date:  19 February 2012

Event Time:  11.00 a.m.  – 3.00p.m.

About the Pump House Gallery

‘The Pump House tower was built in 1861 by Simpson and Son to house a coal-fired steam engine and pump to circulate water in the [Battersea Park] lake, water the park’s plants and drive artificial rockwork cascades which were situated on the north bank of the lake. For safety reasons, in 1909 the pump tower’s smaller adjoining building was built over the well from which the pump drew water. The steam-powered pumping system, although never completely successful, continued to be used until the 1930s. Today the Pump House is a public contemporary visual arts space, attracting over 30,000 visitors each year. The gallery is nationally and internationally recognized as ‘a centre of excellence in the provision of contemporary visual art’. The gallery has four floors of exhibition space. The building is situated in Battersea Park on the lakeside with views across the 200-acre park.

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