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Taro Chiezo    by Justin Spring

The four large-scale paintings in the show featured Japanese cartoon characters found in various sites on the Net. In these oil-based collages on canvas, Chiezo created a painterly vision of jumbled computer- and television-generated imagery and the mindlessly optimistic consumer culture that produces it. The unlikely combination of “Japanimation” with AbEx techniques and a bright, highly keyed palette of fluorescent paints can be seen as a wry comment on the status of painting itself in a world overrun with computer-generated imagery. Quite apart from their deadpan comedy, however, the works are remarkable for their delectably artificial sense of color: to gaze at one is to linger in a world of lollipops, neon, and plastic.

While the paintings are formally impressive, a mechanized sculpture that creeps around its own little laser-disk-paved playpen (A Robot to Fall in Love /or not, 1994) steals the show. The robot consists of a bright red plastic body (the front half of which is a cow/lamb hybrid, the back half a globe) atop a computer-controlled automaton propelled around an enclosure of luminescent plastic by six independently moving legs. The sculpted body is a continuation of Chiezo’s work with surreal, animal-inspired plastic creatures; a nonmechanized but equally toylike work (Flying Calf Engine, 1994) is mounted on the ceiling.

Chiezo claims that the robot can react to its environment on the same level as an insect, and that its programming (by MIT professor Rodney Brooks) enables it to learn and adapt to its environment as well as to seek out forms of life. To be honest, there’s really no way to tell what this robot is doing: once switched on, it stumbles about the enclosure, initially bumping into the plastic wall that contains it, then eventually not. (Apparently the machine has, at least on one occasion, climbed halfway over the plastic wall, suggesting there is more to Brooks’ programming than meets the eye.) By giving a piece of machinery such strange, anthropomorphic sculptural packaging, Chiezo proposes a metaphor for both the machine and the computer program.

In creating this bizarre hybrid creature, Chiezo investigates the submergence of popular technology into its packaging and the emergence of that packaging as a deceptively lifelike entity unto itself. Like “Bob,” the smiling computer face on Macintosh software, Chiezo’s strange little creature seems to have abilities, intentions, and a cuddly personality of its own; but unlike Bob, the packaging manages to elude complete comprehension: the robot’s strange body remains mysterious long after the moment of cuteness and recognition has passed. By skewing the formula of marketeers – by making the packaging itself something alien and unrecognizable – Chiezo challenges us to rethink our original impulses of identification: to question the nature of technology and the way it is “sold.”

Justin Spring “Taro Chiezo“. ArtForum. FindArticles.com. 31 May, 2011. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_n10_v34/ai_18533866/

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Taro Chiezo: Tactile Apparitions of the Hybrid World.   by  Joshua Decter

 

In an era of instantaneous communication, perpetual travel (alternately virtual and actual), and new models of social interface & interactivity (alternately real and simulated), the classical relation between space and time is being eclipsed by a paradigm of simultaneity. This is not simply the dream of postmodern theory, but rather the tangible articulation of everyday experience. Events, recollections, movement, stasis, biology, and technology all seem to unfold concurrently, as if the landscape of media representations and the territory of the mind have begun converging into a non-linear amalgam. Taro Chiezo’s work allegorizes this peculiar condition of existence,in which fantasy and concrete experience commingle in dynamic ways, and our cognitive relation to the world has the urgency of a dream that has re-awakened into life.

 

In Chiezo’s art, there is a symbolic interplay between the influence of a ubiquitous media culture (the collective vernacular) on the one hand, and an idiosyncratic vision (the individual) on the other. Between the familiar signs of entertainment culture and the strangeness of private desire, or beyond the known precincts of media imagery and the unknown province of imagination, we find the territory of memory, which transcends and transgresses any simple binary logic. It is the emergence of a third – term perhaps a manifestation of postmodern ambiguity and/or hybridity, a language in continuous mutation – which resonates throughout Chiezo’s sculptures and paintings.

 

How does art function in the age of hyper-information and global capitalism,wherein the technological revolution of the past decade has accelerated, with unprecedented velocity, the emergence of new models of representation and abstraction? Is it even possible, today, to think in terms of the binary distinction between the abstract and the representational (on both conceptual and visual terms), or have the Internet and the web contributed to the erosion of such classic (i.e., modernist) distinctions? What are the inter-relationships between art, television, cinema, and other ubiquitous codes & systems of popular culture? While these are not new questions, such queries remain central to the re-consideration of art languages as they evolve and mutate in relation to innovations within the spheres of technology, science and entertainment.

 

For Chiezo, a Japanese artist living in New York and Tokyo, these issues have been of central importance. Reflecting upon Chiezo’s practice since the mid-1990s, one can observe the development of hybrid painting and sculptural languages that are infused with elements drawn from cutting-edge science, everyday pop culture, technology culture, and intermixed with more”traditional” characteristics of late 20th Century artmaking. Beyond ironic tactics of appropriation, Chiezo’s art is about the hybridizing of various disciplinary languages into ingenious configurations that are at once playful, strange and probing. There are important interconnections between the evolution of Chiezo’s sculptures and his paintings, and while these respective languages do maintain a relative autonomy, one can observe interesting confluences in terms of formal articulation and conceptual tendency. Chiezo’s past sculptures and installation works, such as “A Robot to Fall in Love/or Not” (1994), featured a high-tech robotic hybrid animal (designed in collaboration with an MIT scientist). The hybrid robot-creature walked across a layer of laser disks (within a semi-enclosed environment), and was programmed to react to the physical movements of viewers. In this piece and related works, Chiezo explored the subversively humorous and poignant intersection of technology and fantasy, suggesting that artists are capable of operating in that intermediary region between the rationality of science and the irrationality of imagination. His more recent “Super Lamb-Banana,” produced as a site-specific work for Artranspennine 98 in the UK, might be interpreted as a metaphor for the intrinsic dangers of bio-technology. Chiezo’s huge yellow hybrid creature, a kind of mutant toy, manifests an impossible crossbreeding or fusion between fruit and animal.This dystopic yet strangely cute fusion of banana and lamb still towers over the residents of Liverpool, England, providing imaginary evidence of genetic engineering gone awry. Perhaps, “Super Lamb-Banana” is a distant yet much more benign symbolic cousin of that infamous monstrosity of Japanese pop culture and progeny of atomic fallout, Godzilla. Like a number of other contemporary Japanese artists, Chiezo seems to be fascinated with the possibilities of science-fantasy as a paradigm for inventive transgressions,wherein the traditional rules separating nature and culture, and logic and absurdity, are continuously blurred.

 

It has become evident that Chiezo’s imagination is permeated with the residue (or ghosts) of various signs of popular culture, including the iconography of television’s cartoon programs, and it is through his paintings, in particular, that we can observe the evolution of his fascination with media iconography. Television, of course, is an entirely global phenomenon, yet TV has maintained a particularly strong hold on the imaginations of people in Japan and America. Television is, in a sense, “second nature,” to the extent that the history of TV’s multiple representational codes have become imprinted on the unconscious level. In both societies, TV programming for children is deemed to be an especially sensitive issue, as there is always concern about the appropriate programming and media-messages that are absorbed during the formative psychological years of a child’s development. Beyond the nuclear or post-nuclear structure of the family unit, or the classical function of school, television has often functioned as an alternative educational system, for better and worse. It is our collective language of representation and narrative, functioning to instill certain values, moralities, and symbolic economies.

 

For Chiezo, the activity of painting has become a means of coming to terms with the residual memory of television language. He utilizes the imaginary realm of media-consciousness as the material for an intuitive yet methodical approach to painting’s conventions and range of possibilities. In a sense, Chiezo has been able to access his “inner child” by allowing the specter of popular culture to rise up through the activity of painting – as evidenced by an iconography that is culled from the vernacular of TV cartoons. For example, the seminal figure of Astro Boy recurs in a number of Chiezo’s earlier paintings, including “War (Pink is the Color of Blood),” and “Three Fighters from Cyberspace,” both from 1996. In the latter painting, Chiezo locates the image of Astro Boy amidst a web site-like environment with other cartoon-based characters, illuminating the extent to which this famous historical Japanese anime figure has continued to be a global phenomenon. Astro Boy drifts through the virtual territories of the Internet and the web — as well as Chiezo’s paintings — like a “public ghost.” Astro Boy was originally introduced as a comic book character in 1951 by Osamu Tezuka, and was the first character to be animated for Japanese television (broadcast on Fuji Television during the 1960s, and subsequently broadcast in English-dubbed version in the United States by NBC). Today, Astro Boy remains a central presence within Japanese popular culture. In this painting, Chiezo does not offer the anime character of Astro Boy merely as a souvenir of pop-appropriation, but rather as a symbolic entity that has been incorporated into an unstable heterogeneous field of layered references. In Chiezo’s paintings of the late ’90s, the artist continues manipulating the visual codes of other universal cartoon characters – such as Bugs Bunny, who is referenced in “The Cyclops Rabbit (After Redon),” 1998. In this wacky, funny,and strangely perverse painting, the one-eyed, buck-toothed blue rabbit stares at us, almost sphinx-like. Probe the creature’s cavernous eye, and one may discern a ghost-like form, at once cartoony and abstract. A provocative hybrid of Walt Disney and the French Symbolist Redon, Chiezo’s iconic bunny is at once innocent and disturbing, a transfigured character from pop culture that has been reinvented as a being of ambiguous symbolism.

 

Intermixing the comic with the strange, Chiezo’s 1999 painting, “Father and Son II (Schipol Airport, Amsterdam),” features a biomorphic entity composed of two abstracted heads-or, to be more precise, one huge eyeball-like form connected to a smaller, tail-like appendage with two eyes, a tongue-like extension, and some black hair. This loony, mutant creature, perhaps an imaginary surrogate for the biological & psychological interconnection between Chiezo and his son, dwells incongruously within an architectural space. Evocative of the artist’s experience traveling through the intermediary social territories of airports, the painting poignantly reveals the encroachment of fantasy into the domain of the Real. In terms of subject matter and formal articulation, “Father and Son II (Schipol Airport,Amsterdam)” is related to a number of the more recent paintings that comprise the Day Dream exhibition. For example, in the painting “Family,” we observe a hybrid, biomorphic creature that incorporates references to three distinct corporeal entities: mother, son, and father. Here, Chiezo seems to be offering a visual metaphor of the biological connections shared between a family, while also offering a humorous vision of the notion of the nuclear-family structure. The family, in a sense, becomes synthesized at the genetic-molecular level as a dream-like, almost utopian, composite.

 

 

In related works, such as “Ghost at Airport (Schipol),” Chiezo further explores the interrelationship between travel, the space-time dynamic, virtuality, fantasy, memory, the residue of pop-cartoon culture, the family unit, and the dynamics of psychological projection. This painting features a large white skull that floats, like an icon, over the abstracted architectural field of an airport’s interior space. Derived from The Skeleton Dance (1929), the first cartoon installment of Walt Disney’s Silly Symphony series, the white skull might be understood as a kind of daily hallucination – a disturbing yet familiar daydream in which everyday experience is blurred with mental improvisation. The visual field moves towards a state of ambiguity and entropy in the painting “Ghost at Airport (JFK),” wherein the abstracted figures (specters of the family, perhaps) become increasingly fused and intermixed with the background airport environment. For Chiezo, being in a state of continuous movement and travel between nations and cultures is, on a metaphorical level, connected to traveling through the permeable spaces of cyberspace. Within the virtual territories of the Internet and the web, there is a constant fluctuation between inside and outside, an almost dreamlike confusion of location and dislocation. One is everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. In a sense, this is akin to the sensation of physical traveling. The airport, therefore, becomes an emblematic site for transient existence, in which there is only momentary stasis, and a fleeting sense of belonging to a fixed location. The architecture of airports often reinforces the experience of existing in an intermediary domain between memory and the present, between yesterday and tomorrow.

 

Chiezo’s wonderfully eccentric paintings invoke these kinds of indeterminate cognitive experiences, suggesting that memory is a complex, fluid phenomenon, tangible yet intangible, continuously re-shaped by an influx of both intimate and collective experiences. Memory can be functional and dysfunctional, a hybrid of multiple data, an unstable amalgamation of events both real and imagined. Indeed, memory itself is not “real,” for it is a language (at once conceptual and visual, natural and artificial) that allows us to re-represent the past to ourselves. In Chiezo’s tranquil painting, “Day Dream,” the abstracted contours of a closed eye may conjure a unique moment in time and space, a moment in which the mind is in a state of suspended animation, floating between fantasy and actuality, and between absence and presence. It is the moment, perhaps, in which memory is reawakened as a fantasy, and experience (at once cognitive and corporeal) is transmitted, retroactively, back into our minds as a kind of fragmentary narrative — the waking dream. On symbolic terms, Chiezo’s works may suggest that all of us navigate the fluid,continuously evolving, reciprocities between the life of the mind and the material world.

 

Joshua Decter is a New York-based curator and art critic. Mr. Decter has contributed to magazines such as Flash Art, Artforum, NU, Purple, Art + Text,Documents, and Trans. Mr. Decter’s writings have been published by institutions such as The Carnegie Museum, The Kunstmuseum Bonn, The Kunstverein Hamburg & Le Consortium/Dijon, The 24th International Biennale of Sao Paulo, Camden Arts Centre in London, The Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, The Secession/Vienna, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art & The Wexner Center for the Arts. He has curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Center for Curatorial Studies Museum at Bard/New York, P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in New York,The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and for galleries such as Friedrich Petzel in New York, and Ghislaine Hussenot in Paris. Mr. Decter is currently organizing an exhibition for the Kunsthalle Vienna for 2001.

 

 

 

  • May 25th, 2011
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