Black holes, the paranormal and the cosmic ether all dwell alongside the elusive and sometimes unfathomable stuff called dark matter. It’s a perfect leitmotif for a group of obscurant Japanese artists
currently infiltrating the Austin art scene at Okay Mountain.
Curated by Justin Goldwater, Dark Matter: New Work from Japan plucks a
satirical chord as the second episode of the exhibition series No
American Talent (NAT), a punchy title that takes a jab at the local
contemporary art nexus: Arthouse and its ongoing “New American Talent”
The first part of the series featured the established Argentinian
artist Benito Laren. His show, Laren Nos Visita / Laren Visits Us,
offered colorful space-cadet scenes of parachutes carrying unknown
animals and other lighthearted matters. The Okay Mountain crew never
seems to sleep, though, with shows booked through South by Southwest
and a final show in the NAT series that will bring contemporary
Egyptian artist Basim Magdy to a gallery that shares a wall with a
pinata wonderland. This kind of international collusion is a harbinger
of further interesting curatorial ventures. Though the
collaborative-run gallery plans on organizing more shows, they are
hesitant to say that this will be an annual event or series because of
their short-term lease agreement on East Cesar Chavez.
The celerity of the first show (Laren’s exhibition was open for only
eight days) resulted from accommodating artists’ schedules and bigger
citywide events like the Texas Biennial and South by Southwest. Magdy’s
upcoming show should continue the Okay Mountain tradition of filling
the space with artists that are otherworldly and irreverent: the
Cairo-based artist curated a group show at Triangle Project Space in
San Antonio called Threat Zone in 2005.
The artists exhibiting in Dark Matter (Nobuhiro Ishihara, Akino Kondoh,
Ginjiro Mawatari, Genrou Miyake, Ryo Mizuno and Daisuke Nagaoka) tap
the soft, coagulated contents of their own culture to give the audience
a morsel of contemporary art.
In this bent and lecherous look at the universe, black holes get poked
with eager fingers and cloned nymphs conduct anti-gravity acrobatics.
Inside the stygian landscape, the sordid subtext of everyday existence
surfaces in strange forms. A truncated baby offers visitors an exposed,
sashimi-pink tongue as if anticipating treats or suffering the final
throes of an unknown sickness. The same glazed pink tongue is then
severed and replicated as cheerful keychain keepsakes. Showcasing
desultory drawings of rainbow eye patches, gigantic serpents and
sickly, veined genitalia, the exhibition punctures any eggshell
fantasies of Japanese art as embraceable cuteness.
Akino Kondoh occupies a small alcove with the short animation
Ladybird’s Requiem. In this stretched cartoon realm, young girls
mimetic of Henry Darger’s coquettes interact with lively ladybugs.
Though most of them are nude, one youngling in a black cocktail dress
collects orange dots that become buttons. (The same two-hole button
shape has been stamped nearly 200 times along the gallery walls.) One
girl’s dress turns inside out, and the buttons become ladybugs, while
giant columns of dark braided hair hang strangely in the background.
Metamorphosis and cloning converge on a small pond where the girls wear
black Mary Jane shoes and bugs become slimy friends or foes. Acrobatic
nymphs pull each other through their torsos and float around like
Kondoh’s framed drawings give snapshots of the animated scenes. Thick
orange buttons held inside a magnified handshake look like faded blood
cells pressed between flesh. Kondoh creates simplified line drawings
while adhering to the theme of archetypal darkness. The animation’s
musical element adds a mellow, yet recombinant carnival/mechanical toy
soundtrack that warms up the space.
Ginjiro Mawatari painted two complementary pieces entitled Shinichiro
and Hotomi. These portraits of two bêtes noires in Japanese anime have
a pitted, grainy quality around the edges of their golden buttons or
meticulously tinctured tongues. Each disaffected subject glows with
blushing foreheads and cheeks of feverish orange that gives their dark
clothing a semblance of corruption.
In Dear Drawing, Daisuke Nagaoka plays with puns and pens by creating a
five-headed deer. The mutated animal emerges from a maze-patterned
trunk, and tree roots sprout weird, fluffy pod endings like little
doughy cookies covered in soft forest mites.
Ryo Mizuno likes all things quarter-inch or half-inch, doodling nearly
600 little characters on framed graph paper. While you’re trying to
decipher the hieroglyphic iconography, try to spot the following
objects: a fat lady’s severed stubbly leg, an indignant caterpillar, a
square-headed snail and cloned sheep.
The stylized and forlorn paintings by Genrou Miyake give us glimpses of
Japanese fantasies, like the typical sailor girl posing in a
contortionist’s panty shot or drop kick — I couldn’t discern one from
the other. The long, crisp eyelashes on another forlorn sailor girl
send viewers into a school daydream scene. She seems to be absorbing a
rainbow-colored book through osmosis, clutching a pillow in unknown
One particularly compelling sculpture by Ginjiro Mawatari combines the realistic pallor of a Ron Mueck piece with the
sweet, childlike sleepiness inherent in Yoshitomo Nara’s characters. A
baby truncated at the pelvis sticks its tongue out beneath a pointy
nose, with plump cheeks and palpable bluish veins underneath its closed
eyes. It seems resigned to accept anything that lands on the tip of its
No American Talent is pulling a peculiar group of consanguineous
artists to study darkness under the scrutiny of America’s bright
lights. The end result leaves a fresh, minty aftertaste.
Images courtesy Okay Mountain.
Michelle Gonzalez-Valdez is an artist and writer living San Antonio.