YOKOHAMA, Japan — Unlike the recent trend in biennales and triennales to bombard the audience with works by numerous artists, the sixth edition of the Yokohama Triennale, Islands, Constellations, and Galapagos, comprises merely 38 artists and one makeshift collective. Meant to work as a “constellation or an archipelago of small solo exhibitions,” as stated in the press release, this scaled-down presentation explores two key themes of “connectivity,” and “isolation,” that first came into play when in 1859 the small port city of Yokohama began trading with the West and connected the isolated constellation of Japan’s islands with rest of the world.
With a focus on art driven by crisis, the Yokohama Museum of Art, and the two well chosen historical venues — the Red Brick Warehouse No. 1, and the Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall — displays most of the works in which artists mine current and historical events to level indictments as well as reappraise the precariousness of contemporary conditions. Housed in the Red Brick Warehouse No. 1, Berlin-based Christian Jankowski’s performative video and photographs in “Heavy Weight History,” (2013), showcases professional wrestlers in Warsaw who were invited to remove behemoth, bronze statues of Communist era historical figures such as Ludwik Warynski. Accompanied by the humorous banter of a reality TV host who questions the participants about the relevance of the statues, the wrestlers’ immense physical struggle also seems weighed down by the burden of history. This piece echoes current discussions taking place in the US about the importance of public sculptures, and reflects both Jankowski’s and the Triennale’s intention to initiate socially collaborative endeavors to reexamine history.
The emergence of repressed narratives converted the warehouse from a repository of stored information to a space for nurturing catharsis. Seo Natsumi’s collected typed responses from survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings displayed within vitrines placed in a dimly lit corridor reveal how victims never discussed the outcome of the war or what they had experienced. Adjacent to Jankowski’s work, Muneteru Ujino recreates his brilliant musical sculpture, “Plywood Shinichi,” (2017), first made in 2008 for an exhibition in Berlin. Made up of household goods and hybrid, self-made musical instruments laid out on crates, Ujino appears to explore an equally sensitive subject. In an accompanying video, the artist discusses the influence of American machinery manufactured in Japan on his work as he drives around US military bases on the outskirts of Tokyo. One suspects that the cacophonic sounds emitted from the installation that are as compelling as they are dissonant, reflect the artist’s complex emotions vis-à-vis the role of America in Japan.
The most contentious work that pries open past atrocities and unveils another explosive matter is Yukinori Yanagi’s updated “Project God-zilla,” (2017). Shown in the dark, musty basement of the Memorial Hall, Yanagi’s post apocalyptic landscape and accompanying lists of innumerable atomic bombs tested in the 1950’s and ‘60s off various islands in the Pacific Ocean by the US, Britain, and France is chilling — especially in light of North Korea’s recent firing of a ballistic missile over Japan. A different kind of urgency emanates from Mr., a Japanese artist based in Tokyo. His works consists of electric installations of manga-inspired depictions of young Japanese girls and sexual imagery. Social issues of angst, isolation, and repression in Mr.’s work are just as apparent in Konishi Toshiyuki’s bleak landscapes of disconnected people in his collection of oil paintings, titled “A Group of Solitude,” (2017).
As one parses these passionate bodies of work that weave in the exhibition’s themes, the inclusion of installations such as Dong Yuan’s “Grandmother’s House” (2013) — an ode to memories of her grandmother’s demolished home in Beijing — seems more tangential. Even so, the surprising change in tenor evinced by her work taps into one’s loss of deep childhood associations. In this way the exhibition’s inclusion of disparate works on metaphorical islands adopts a humanistic approach and echoes co-director Akiko Miki’s objective, as stated in an interview with Art Agenda: to avoid “listening to a single strong voice.”
Work displayed in the Yokohama Museum of Art explore other issues of crisis regarding nationalism, poverty, the fall out of war, and natural disasters. These include the Chinese artist Zhao Zhao’s multi channel video “Project Taklamakan,” (2016), in which a refrigerator is operated by electricity in the middle of a desert. There are also Naoya Hatakeyama’s panoramic images of his hometown Rikuzentakata in Japan that was completely destroyed by the Tōhoku earthquake and the tsunami in 2011. And the Propeller Group’s Tuan Andrew Nguyen has a compelling video, “The Island,” (2017), about the largest group of refugees who fled the Vietnam War to the Pulau Bidong island near Malaysia.
The art in this exhibition illuminates overarching human conditions in the way the range of works charts a world at peril. That said, the least convincing abstract works in the show were made by the makeshift collective formed by Carsten Holler, Tobias Rehberger, Anri Sala, and Rikrit Tiravanija. One couldn’t help but wonder if their inclusion was driven by the compulsion for big name gravitas. Despite this distraction, the exhibition more than accomplished its purpose, stated in the press release, for “coexistence and diversity.” It challenges us to trace the invisible rhizomatic connections that exist between all the islets of art that are not always in synch in subject matter or intensity.
The sixth edition of the Yokohama Triennale, Islands, Constellations, and Galapagos, continues at several venues in the city of Yokohama through November 5.