PARIS — An uplifting yet melancholy poetry pervades Ken Matsubara’s show at Galerie Eric Mouchet, Hou-chou, Releasing Birds, through the flickering of endlessly looped moving images that suggest shadowy ghosts. His eight-minute digital movie of bird forms taking off from human hands, “Hou-chou, Releasing Birds” (2016), is projected so large that its haunting, black-and-white, fluttering forms are visible from the street. It powerfully and pleasantly demonstrates that the technique of important art is to make reality appear unfamiliar to us through perceptual difficulty, because the process of changing perceptual consciousness through discernment is an aesthetic end in itself.
Matsubara, who lives and works in Tokyo, obviously enjoys creating hovering images that float in odd ways, much like the way our inner memories do. He is very interested in the idea of consciousness as repetitive awareness united with matter in a grounded, energetic void typical of Unity Consciousness or Vedanta. Altered states of consciousness, whether achieved in dreams or through exposure to drugs, mystical practices, or art, have always been attractive because they offer more in terms of our experience and understanding of ourselves and our world. “Hou-chou, Releasing Birds” brought to mind the repetitive “more” found in trance-inducing shadow puppet theater, capturing in slow shadows the bird release ceremonies held at Buddhist temples. In this ritual, and in Buddhism more generally, transience unites the world in higher consciousness, where clues and cues are processed into meaningful comprehension. We may normally conceive of this as a disclosure of different levels or ways of perceiving, as an opening of doors (as in William Blake) or bypassing of valves (as in Aldous Huxley).
Matsubara’s other lofty wonder in the show is a small work, “Paper in the Wind” (2014), which also evokes high floating consciousness. Here, projected onto an old book, is video of a simple piece of white paper vacillating in the air without ever floating away or falling to the ground. Like “Hou-chou, Releasing Birds,” it raises the mind toward a frictionless flow of awareness that suggests the sine qua non of perception. As with all of Matsubara’s best art, it suggests a redrawing of the contours of sensation.
When Matsubara’s simple moving images are restrained by the frame — as with “Hotel Continental Saigon” (2015), “Storm in a Glass — Switchboard Box” (2012), and “Danish Aid-Box — Letters” (2015) — this feeling of floating toward a higher freedom is severely curtailed. The expanded-mind aspect of these works is hemmed in and the immersive effect deflated by the miniature compression at work here. This is even more so the case with his inertly static avian reliefs, each of which has a chirping bird soundtrack, yet none of which soar.
Matsubara’s best projections provide opportunities to discard ironic masks. With both “Paper in the Wind” and “Hou-chou, Releasing Birds,” distinct states of manifestation are distinguished according to the degree to which they potentially energize a higher consciousness. Being attendant to “Paper in the Wind” evokes a state of consciousness not merely “altered” but “higher” on the grounds that it includes the condition of meta awareness, or being consciously aware of one’s awareness. That may seem redundant, but situational circumstances and conventions (such as the bay windows of the art gallery as seen from the street) form meta awareness frames that enhance this effect for some of Matsubara’s works. Matsubara’s Buddhist-inspired work suggests that our own thoughts are not distinct from our thinking and, similarly, that we are not distinct from the process by which we recognize ourselves. Art, thought, thinking, and thinker are a continuity here.
With regard to our current culture being reshaped by technology, sociologists and anthropologists have repeatedly stated that rates of social and technological change tend to accelerate in tandem. If we desire to really “get” where art inspiration is to be found in the social or in the technological, we must understand both at once. In this respect, Matsubara’s projections are beneficial to our appreciating the cost-benefit equation inherent in mobile digital distraction, typical of today’s ubiquitous connectivity. Appreciating “highness” and the floating separation that it implies in Matsubara’s strongest work is a major element of its aesthetic satisfaction, which seems to be shorthand for consciousness functioning in a higher way. Evidence for the existence of such conditions is not hard to find, provided we assume that the entire Vedic, Taoist, and Buddhist traditions are not based on mere speculation, or that Plotinus, Eckhart, Böhme, Goethe, the English Romantics, and the Symbolists were not entirely deluded about the nature of their experiences. When this high does occur in art, one has, not surprisingly, an uplifting experience, which brings a sense of elevated being. The best of Matsubara’s art extends that psychic lift to the viewer, offering to take us higher.
Ken Matsubara’s Hou-chou, Releasing Birds continues at Galerie Eric Mouchet (45 Rue Jacob, 6th arrondissement, Paris) through May 28.