Burn it Down, Build it Up

MISAKO&ROSEN, POP UP 'Artist Running', HAGIWARA PROJECTS, Im Labor, XYZ Collective

The day began with a quick trip to MISAKO&ROSEN to see the last day of their Hisachika Takahashi show. Despite being in his 80s and having exhibited alongside Gilbert & George, Richard Serra, Claes Oldenburg, and Dan Graham, Takahashi’s recent appearances have been limited to the shared show “Hisachika Takahashi by Yuki Okumura” in 2016 at Tokyo’s Hermès Maison Ginza. This new outing is his first ‘solo’ exhibition in Japan. Born in Tokyo, 1940, Hisachika ‘Sachika’ Takahashi worked as assistant to Rauschenberg for almost forty years, from 1969 until Rauschenberg's death in 2008. He travelled across Europe in the 60s coming to the US in 1969 on the invitation of collector John de Menil.

By the late 70s he’d almost stopped working and it wasn't until 2013 that these early works resurfaced at WIELS in Belgium, Sean Kelly Gallery New York and then Liverpool. This new show points at the possibilities of memory and co-authorship. Early collages of 1973, made from torn-up magazines, with more than a hint of Rauschenberg, straddle “Memory of No Memory: Hat Piece,” 1970-1974, thought lost until recently, and photographs, taken by Dicky Landry,  of “Mirror Piece,” 1972, at New York’s former 112 Workshop, now White Columns.

He is a relatively forgotten figure yet appeared alongside some of the greatest names in 20th century sculpture and painting. This new show attempts to answer the question who is this artist with snippets from his past unearthed. His work moves between the physical and sometimes flat and remains remarkably personal, constructed from the simple ingredient of found images and personal belongings. Sachika’s career is something of an enigma and anecdotes come thick and fast. One is the claim that as part of Gordon Matta-Clark’s original FOOD restaurant he inadvertently (or purposely) introduced sushi to New York.

Image making and self-mythologizing are now the mainstay of today’s Instagram culture but Sachika could easily lay claim to the first marks being made between fact and fabrication, authorship and appropriation, all fluid and open to reinterpretation. There are clear lines running through his work, minimalism in America and painting in Europe during the 60s and 70s, while younger artists such as Yuki Okumura, Shimon Minamikawa and Will Rogan all pick up where he left off. And the work of the late, great Daan Van Golden also bears signs of a shared interest in found material, patterns and a mutual practice documenting the changing lives of the people they were closest to. Memory and its persistence makes the prospect of any connection between both artists even more tantalizing. Sachika continues to live and work in deepest Vermont, US, and remains a largely unknown figure in Japan.

After one final look around I set off for the station and surged along the Fukutoshin Line to Meijijingumae then by foot through Omotesando to Aoyama. His was probably unwise given the number of people out the day before in search of cherry blossom. But it had rained this morning whcih had the effect of clearing the streets of any hungry shoppers hoping to catch sight of Sakura mid-pandemic. The mood is cautious. But not so much that it means missing the seasonal renewal. This year that chance is even more important. But rain had cooled things down and the walk through town was much more relaxed.

Once in Aoyama I dodged the shops and headed for void+ where the second in a series of pop-ups curated by Hikotaro Kanehira, “Artist Running” was being held in the storeroom space there. 4649 is a curatorial project by artists Yuhei Kobayashi, Shogo Shimizu, Yuu Takamizawa.

“The (4649) project is for these three directors to curate as artists, and the place is for them to challenge themselves to practice necessary exhibitions in the contexts of their works through the exhibitions and projects. At the same time, they strive to urge broader discussions on contemporary art by holding exhibitions mainly in cities other than Tokyo.” – Hikotaro Kanehira, curator

HAGIWARA PROJECTS were based in Nishi Shinjuku until the end of 2019. This month (March) they open in a new space converted from old print shop not far from the Museum of Contemporary Art MOT in Kiyosumi-Shirawaka. One of the most striking details is the fair-faced plywood covering every wall, which has made the new gallery less white box and more specific. Their artists are known for delicate, very graphic work with an attention to hand-made detail made with an equal amount of humor. NEW SPACE/NEW WORKS brings together Miho Dohi, Yuta Hayakawa, Shunsuke Imai, Maiko Jinushi, Tamotsu Kido, Soshi Matsunobe, Nobuhiko Nukata and Zak Prekop. Dohi’s buttai 82 really stands out and the whole show revolves around it whether intended or not.

The latest show at Ueno gallery Im Labor had just opened. After a train ride along the Ueno line and a short walk along the back streets away from the station, I arrived to see India Nielsen “Crybaby” only to bump into 4649’s Takamizawa, and friend. Born in the early 90s, Nielsen describes her resilient character kicking in following a collision between emotion, nostalgia, and The Cartoon Network. Pictures and word-based emblems start then finish off what might otherwise be notes-to-self. In one painting a severed right arm is tattooed with the word “Vengeance is” while the words “Burn it Down” and “Build it Up” run alongside it.

“Individual words, phrases or sentence snippets - ‘Cry Baby’, ‘Build It Up’, ‘Burn It Down’ - inhabit the gallery space, permeating the exhibition with a melancholic unease. Likewise, Nielsen’s aforementioned unique approach to titling may both help and hinder the audience’s attempts to interpret and understand the artworks. Whilst occasionally frank and matter-of-fact, frequently the titles take the form of anagrams, initials or cyphers.” – Hector Campbell

Heading back out the day ended with a final sprint to Sugamo. I made it just in time to catch a glimpse of Yuka Hasekawa and COBRA at XYZ Collective before it closed. Hasegawa and XYZ were the first “Artist Running” pop up last December (2020) and so seeing this gave the day a sense of completeness.

“What needs to be done to allow artists to use their own individual artistic activity to network internationally while living in Japan and give them more opportunities to exhibit, both domestically and abroad, in the near future?” For the Exhibition by COBRA from Tokyo Detroit Berlin TOKAS Project Vol.3 (2020)

I’d seen a copy of Tokyo Detroit Berlin TOKAS Project Vol.3 (2020) earlier in the day. “Tokyo Detroit Berlin” at TOKAS invited four spaces across three cities — XYZ Collective and 4649 (Tokyo), What Pipeline (Detroit) and Schiefe Zähne (Berlin) to introduce the current state of their respective art community. This balanced the day perfectly and tied toegther loose ends of a thread that began with Hisachika Takahashi at MISAKO&ROSEN and ran through 4649 and curator Hikotaro Kanehira, an all-new HAGIWARA PROJECTS, London-based India Nielsen at Im Labor and finally XYZ Collective. Each of these would rethink what it means to make work in isolation while contribute to something bigger and beyond. In this sense although large, the test of navigating Tokyo is by no means impossible. The day ended with a well-earned drink as thoughts turned toward where to head next.