Friday, 12 September 2008

Masaki Fujihata: The Conquest of Imperfection

Masaki Fujihata's first major UK show, The Conquest of Imperfection, is a mixed bag of media art. Some of it falls into traps which occasionally makes media and video art seem a little hackneyed and annoying.

However, parts of it are truly wonderful. The first room of exhibits, in Gallery 1, are enchanting in their simplicity, and induced an almost childlike pleasure. Remember the first time a crafty adult showed you a card trick, and you comprehended that the mechanics of the trick were somehow completely simple but still an utter mystery. Such is was my reaction to these works, Unformed Symbols, 2006, Unformed Symbols: Another Side, 2008, and Portray the Silhouette, 2006.

The Unformed Symbols are a kind of transcendental card trick, with the light image of cards whizzing over pine tables already laid out with a few playing cards. In Unformed Symbols, 2006 the cards whizz around the table, accompanied by sound effects which range from solitary childlike playtime mutterings to computer generated hisses and clatter. The way in which the quality of the sounds change means that there seems to be a certain key quality which cannot be pinned down. Occasionally the spectral cards hover over the real cards, not quite lining up, but suggesting a poltergeists' game of solitaire. The faces switch and change, making the very value of the cards both meaningful and meaningless, and most certainly temporal.

In Unformed Symbols: Another Side, 2008 , the cards are blank, the fleeting appearance of finger prints suggesting a forensic human presence. Portray the Silhouette could be interpreted as over blown shadow puppetry, but there is sometime awe-inspiring in its simplicity. It invites the viewer to sit down and take a cup of tea with the artist. However, I refrained from doing so. There was an unspoken feeling that this was a tea party for shadows, escaped and ranging free. It made me think of Peter Pan, when Peter's shadow has to be reattached by Wendy. The slightly distorted anthropomorphic quality of shadows informed this work, it seems to reference all those myths where shadows are both the substance and the representative, the constant companion, the inescapable enemy and the deceptive indication of human position.

What made the exhibits in this room so much more interesting than most of the other exhibits was the simplicity and universality of the subjects and visual tools. Anyone who has been broke and bored knows the entertainment and comfort value in a packet of cards and a couple of cuppas out of a nice warm teapot. Although the curious eye could have found the projectors and mirrors which made the images move with a ghostly ease and sharpness, they were not overpowering or overly obvious. If the eye only chose to look where it was directed, the wonder of this room remains intact.

Gallery 2 does not inspire and intrigue in the same way as the previous floor, perhaps because it is based on technology, not utilising technology for sublime effect. The profusion of overt technology was head-ache inducing, the trickery it presses into service too harsh, technological and already seems out-dated. The fetishisation of the pixel is no longer interesting or revolutionary, though it may have precedence. Morel's Panorama, 2003 did give me a nasty fright when a security guard wandered into the digital domain of which I thought was the sole inhabitant, but only five years after it's inception it really seems to show it's age.

Gallery 3 seems to sink deeper into the clumsy obsession with technology which I find so uninteresting and uninspiring. Some computers are wired together, whizzing, popping and beeping. This is Off-Sence, 2006, which represents everything I find annoying and hackneyed about media art. Ugly graphics are broadcast up onto a screen, a representation of a virtual world. It is supposed to be based on the question of whether computers can emulate human conversation, computers chattering back and forth. It reminds me of early days of the internet and those ancient and pitifully slow network games. It seems to typify the one of the main problems with media art, which is this type of techno-media art is often far, far behind the developments and current ways in which the internet and other technologies are being used by people every day. The artist does not seem to be offering us anything new in this work.

However, in Beyond Pages, 1995-1997, we are offered something new and something that is rather awesome as well. Right now, I feel as though I could write about this all day. It is simply wonderful. It does not show it's age, or seem hackneyed or cumbersome like the other overtly technological exhibits. Perhaps I love it because of the simple universal iconography it uses, like those exhibits in Gallery 1. It made me smile and think. In this work the artist uses similar techniques of hybridising physical objects with projected digital images. I just wish there had been more of it, that there could have been a deeper, complex and more intuitive way to play with the art work. But still, this little installation, though over a decade old, made my day.

Some might deem the works which make more overtly use of technology and interrogate its place in our society as the most exciting and progressive. However, I believe the more successful, joyful and interesting works are those which come from a deeper shared cultural heritage. Technology may be here to stay and may shape our current lives, but it has not replaced the simple pleasures to be found in such pleasures as tea. Tea, card games, books, light, shadow-puppetry and playful children all have things which make me deeply happy. The way in which Fujihata has introduced these objects into the stark environment of the Cornerhouse Galleries even invigorates and enlivens the rather prosaic "white-cube" style setting. Unfortunately the cold and rather graceless technophilic exhibits do not demonstrate this lively spirit, but those that have this playful humane spirit remind me how good good art can be, not matter what its form or medium.

Luckily, you could just skip the techo-crap . Not all art is worthy of the same attention, and as the grim Mancunian autumn sets in go see some art which'll cheer you up! It's free and it'll make you want a cup of tea and a game of cards with friends.

Masaki Fujihata's The Conquest of Imperfection is in Galleries 1, 2 & 3 at the Cornerhouse till the 19th of October 2008.

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