The Guilty Pleasures Column
“11 Stories on Distanced Relationships: Contemporary Art from Japan”
Online Exhibition – Japan Foundation
by Margaryta Golovchenko | May 28, 2021
True to its title, absence is at the heart of the online exhibition “11 Stories on Distanced Relationships: Contemporary Art from Japan” (Japan Foundation, March 30 – May 5, 2021) where it is explored in a variety of forms. Past meets present, human and animal circle around each other in order to negotiate the boundary of definition, the poetics of the personal and the scientific collide. The videos heighten the fact that the one-year “anniversary” of the lockdown has come and gone, the clock ticking away into a second year. Yu Araki and Noguchi Rika’s video works both involved the ocean, a place that, living in Toronto, cannot be experienced without a plane ride. The sights and sounds of sand and waves feel eerie, no less so than hearing astronomer Robert Law describe his work as he goes about his daily tasks in the video by Sawa Hiraki. It feels strange to witness life moving at a pace that once felt “normal.”
Watching the videos on the carefully curated website, I became starkly aware of another form of distance: between myself and the space of the gallery, where I would have otherwise encountered these works. In that sense, the textured beige background of the webpage satisfied a kind of internal desire to never be too disconnected from the art world. The urge to always compile lists and be in-the-know about exhibitions opening and closing, artists talks and launches, is satisfied as soon as I am met with the exhibition title and curatorial statements describing the artworks. “11 Stories on Distanced Relationships” satisfied my craving to once again be within the safe and familiar confines of white gallery walls, to feel like I am in control of my viewing experience — how much time I spend with each piece, what order I want to move with, my ability to read about the work and the artist if the former caught my attention.
Nothing can satisfy the spectrum of affects that arise when inside of a gallery. Kenya Hara’s work on the colour white and Gaston Bachelar’s The Poetics of Space often come to mind when I try to pinpoint what, exactly, it is about being inside of a “designated art space” that makes it feel so much like home, to the point where a sense of deep, internal satisfaction seems to creep up my spine before flooding back into my chest. Perhaps it is something to do with the fact that I cannot seem to attend an exhibition without grabbing some sort of publication, be it pamphlet or mini exhibition catalogue, as a kind of commemorative token, placing it into a specially designated box that says: This is where I have been — here is the proof. Yet there is something more, something unspoken yet deeply personal, that carefully curated online exhibitions like “11 Stories on Distanced Relationships” suggest makes the gallery an emotionally charged space that can never be entirely replicated online. I long for the time when I get to return and recharge.