KOBAYASHI Norio 小林のりお
This photo by KOBAYASHI Norio, which I encountered on the preview of what looks to be an amazing exhibition in Higashi Kanda, Tokyo, reminds me of a perverse, contemporary take on Hokusai’s famous woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa, which echoes the shape of Mount Fuji in blue and white water beside the shape of the mountain itself.
In Kobayashi’s photo, the mountain is redoubled not in the momentary shape of a wave, but in something that is also temporary—a mount of dirt covered with an ugly blue tarp, the kind so often used in construction. One wonders how long this accidental mini-Fuji will be there, and how long it will be before the tarp, tire, and cement blocks, which most would probably consider an eyesore, will be removed. Unlike Hokusai’s print, which shows humanity at the mercy of nature, here nature seems to be at the mercy of mankind—plowed about, moved, modified, and scarred by his interventions. In Hokusai, man moves according to nature’s clock, but in this photo, nature is adjusted according to ours. On one hand, this is a very playful photograph, but perhaps one could also read it as a statement about our relationship and casual attitude toward the environment.
Click on Kobayashi’s image above for many other stunning images from the show. Below is some of the text from the curators.
The Myth of Superflat:
Slow Reveal: Another Japanese Photography in the 1990’s
Tsukasa Yokozawa, Matsue Taiji, Toshio Shibata, Naoya Hatakeyama, Ryuji Miyamoto, Norio Kobayashi
In the 1990s when Murakami was having his Neo-Orientalist, Superflat “theory” trumpeted by his Western backers Blum and Poe, Boesky, and Perrotin, and was tooting his own horn locally at the small Shibuya Parco space for insistence, he tried creating an apologetic genre of sub-grade imagery as encompassing of Japanese Art. Citing chronic fatigue and unnamed pressures as excuse for poor ideas, “so please don’t judge too harshly,” he neatly declared himself dear leader and submerged those with wit. Dubious regional critics and curators like Midori Matsui, Kazuo Amano, Noi Sawaragi among others, wishing to found a catchy genre and fresh careers promoted his vacuous, jingoist juvenilia that ushered in the Heisei Era with a concerted, relentless tsunami of insipidness. The work they champion is likeable and moreover sellable, yet lacks sustainability, and even credibility from within its own community. Like a bad flood, it is now basically receded, but not without lasting damage.
During this 1990’s media generated wave of cute, desirable tchotchkes, a quiet, pensive and penetrating array of artists simultaneously were nurtured by Ishihara of Zeit Foto Salon, and given the needed support to embark on their subtly intense koans. Despite each artist having numerous books in print, these photographers still remain outside of the larger discussion of Art in Tokyo, or are lumped into some undefined and so-called, Forgotten Generation. Curators, critics and historians have been lax. Oddly, these artists, Tsukasa Yokozawa, Matsue Taiji, Naoya Hatakeyama, Toshio Shibata, Ryuji Miyamoto, and Norio Kobayashi have never exhibited as a cohesive vision. This loosely associated— not a collective— selection of artists share an analytical detachment. Informed by American Topographics and German Becher-Dusseldorf conceits, these artists subsumed previous lessons and pushed further into territory of long looking. Each artist explores the camera versus the eye with an insistent, disorienting middle ground. Motus Fort does not believe in a nationalist vision, these are artists who were working on their own ideas concurrently, inadvertently disproving little boy Murakami’s excluding proclamation, “This is Japanese Art.” Unlike the Superflat associates, these artists elevate the known into the unknown…