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The points of contact

Gargi Gupta  |  New Delhi 

A new exhibition of paintings, photographs,
All art is a reflection of the time and space in which it was created, and the person who brought it into being.
This is true even of works that are as self-consciously "post-modern" (in the sense of being "non-representational" and rejecting the primacy of the artist's subjectivity to the creation) as those currently on display at the of Modern Art in New Delhi.
This is an exhibition of paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures and video installations by 10 Japanese artists, entitled "Vanishing Points" by its curator, Tadashi Kanai, a professor at the Shinshu University.
The reference, as Kanai explains in his introductory essay, is to the "invisible point regarded [by European painters of the 15-century] as lying at an infinite distance in the 'depths' of the painting".
Kanai's point is that since "vanishing points" were essential for these artists to portray "perspective", what happened to these "vanishing points" when the discourse of "perspective", that "seemingly objective stance [which] embodied an extremely subjective worldview", came apart in the late 20th and 21st centuries?
It is interesting to see how all the participating artists here, wide apart in age (from 33 to 89), craft and style, address this theme in ways that are rooted in a uniquely Japanese sensibility.
Take Masanori Sukenari's installation "Friendship", which fills up the NGMA foyer. It's a gigantic, balloon-like shape that hangs suspended from the ceiling, with strips of bright colours, pink, purple and white, compelling the eye to follow their languid progress up and beyond as far as the eye can see "" this creates a visual dialectic between the form and its setting.
Then there are Tomoaki Ishihara's of himself against the backdrop of zoos and museums. Here, Ishihara's face, in the foreground, is blurred, while the background is in focus.
In Kanai's words, "These block our gaze, and desire for perspective...The gaze is unable to find a resting place, so it moves back and forth between the background and foreground."
There's the same play on perspective in Misuko Miwa's brilliant oils, especially "Holy Supper" and "Double-headed Bull", which are actually two canvases set slightly apart but depicting the same image, like a mirror and its reflection.
One can read interpretations of such "in-betweenness" in the works of Keisuke Yamaguchi who works on the analogies between plant and animal life, especially in the "Heart of the Plant" paintings, where flower petals are curved and moulded in the shape of the human heart, or the ovaries.
The same theme, of the indivisibility of humans and the environment, is also present in the paintings of Kyoko Murase, where the figure of the nude girl with long-flowing hair flows into the undulating shape of the grass, trees and leaves through which she is wandering, eyes closed.
Plant life, and the Japanese art of Ikebana, are central to Yukio Nakagawa's But instead of the form and arrangement of flowers, Nakagawa's interest is in decomposition "" and his works are evocative depictions of petals, masses of them, decomposed and oozing fluid or under a white mould.
But over and above these aesthetic preoccupations, there are also works that refer to Japan's recent troubled political history. There's Saburo Muraoka's "Standing Bed" based on his experience as a sentry during World War II, his desire then "not to sleep deeply", and his inability to do so now.
Then there is Noritoshi Hirakawa's "Frostbite", an eerie series of photographs of girls and women sitting inside a men's loo.
Hirakawa also has a video installation, four five-minute films based on the writings of Raj Kamal Jha, on show here, which plays around similar themes of the structures of oppression and the power of the curious gaze.

First Published: Sat, October 27 2007. 00:00 IST