All You Need Is LOVE: From Chagall to Kusama and Hatsune Miku
Being of half-Japanese descent, I return to Tokyo regularly – to visit family, eat great food and stock up on size 2.5 shoes (in Japan I’m a medium). After many visits over the years, sightseeing is not high on my ‘To Do’ list. Now that I am studying Fashion Communication at University, however, visiting exhibitions – something I was not so keen on when younger – has become an educational hobby.
The ‘city that never sleeps,’ I believe that famous phrase applies to Tokyo. It was 8pm; I had just finished my dinner. The sun was setting and, after a hard day’s shopping in Shibuya, I was cooling off in one of the many beer gardens opened temporarily for the summer. The night was still young and I had a few dregs of energy left. What better way to lift my spirits than a spot of art? Yes, even the galleries are open until 10pm, and this was no Friday Late.
I headed over to the arguably shady Roppongi, also known as the ‘High Touch Town,’ the gaudy entertainment district where corporate expatriates like to let off steam. A statuesque centrepiece towers above the area, the Roppongi Hills complex built by the late real estate tycoon Minoru Mori. Primarily used as office space, the building also provides luxury accommodation, retail units, catering, and art and culture spaces. Roppongi has become a family destination and you don’t have to earn a broker’s salary to enjoy the facilities: I came to visit the Mori Art Museum (MAM) at a discounted student rate!
The 10th Anniversary of Roppongi Hills is being celebrated with an exhibition entitled: All You Need Is LOVE: From Chagall to Kusama and Hatsune Miku. The exhibition defies the notion that love is a mundane topic with its quantitative and heterogeneous display of works; the title alone gives it away.
A complex and widely interpreted theme, love is an emotion that can connect to various others such as jealousy, narcissism and conflict. In light of the Great East Japan Earthquake that took place in March 2011, it seems the Japanese people have gained a renewed sense of the value of love. As we are witnessing shifts in political, social and religious values in different places around the world, the theme also resonates globally. Ideals regarding family and relationships are ever diversifying and no longer adhere to their traditional structures.
To makes sense of these complexities; the MAM exhibition space has been sectioned into five parts: What is Love; Couples in Love; Love in Losing; Family and Love and Love Beyond. This last section examines love in its potential alternate nature, such as those influenced by the rise of new technologies.
The exhibition greets me with some familiar contemporary feats: Jeff Koon’s giant candy-wrapped Sacred Heart (1994-2007); Robert Indiana’s iconic 1966 Love in oil painting with Gimhongsok’s (2012) crushed up sculptural response. An untitled heart-shaped canvas embedded with real butterflies to represent death in love, comes courtesy of Damien Hirst (2000). These pieces fall under the category What is Love and interpret the theme at its most basic and visceral visual form – the heart symbol, or in Indiana’s case, the word itself.
Some art lovers will be pleased to see so many famous names such as Dali, Kahlo, Hockney and Emin, all included under one roof. Others, however, could find the experience overwhelming; to describe this exhibition as diverse wouldn’t do much justice to its scope. Works created especially for the exhibition in 2013 stands alongside a romantic painting from 1804: John Constable The Bridges Family, and ukiyo-e woodblock prints from the Edo period (1603 – 1867). Viewers are subjected to an array of mediums, concepts and aesthetics – with only the subjective subject of love to connect them. With cheerful, dark, cerebral, tongue-in-cheek and satirical responses to the theme, I was perpetually kept on my toes. The constant shift of mood kept boredom at bay and I in constant anticipation. This feeling is probably what I enjoyed most about the exhibition.
A few interactive pieces, such as Hideyuki Sawayanagi’s You will be possessed by love in 30 seconds (2001), are included in the What is Love section. This piece leads you into a dark screened room, with a countdown playing for thirty seconds. During this time you rack your mind as to what possible twists the artist may have prepared to ‘possess’ you with. The result was a burning flash of the word ‘LOVE’ that lasts a second at most, the simplicity of the concept a twist in itself. The first of several neon signs by Tracey Emin is displayed before the next piece – my personal favourite: Love+1+1, which is a voice activated machine built by Daito Manabe, Motoi Ishibashi, Kaoru Sugano, Kouki Yamada, using the voice of Etsuko Yakushimaru. You may say whatever you like into the microphone and the machine will recite a poem in Japanese through your chosen words. The experience was quite incredible.
One would think the works featured in the Couples in Love section would be filled with heart-warming pieces of human affection, something you could cuddle up to with your partner. Forget it!
Many pieces in this section focused on tragic and forbidden love instead. Whoever said love was easy? This is exemplified by classics such as Rene Magritte’s Les Amants (1928), Marc Chagall’s Above the Town (1915) and Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss (1882-1887). A collection of photographs from the Today’s Life and War (2008) series by Iranian artist Gohar Dashti really caught my attention. Simple yet provocative, almost satirical, they depict a fictional young married couple carrying out their daily activities in a battlefield. The scenes appear almost caricature as the couple look expressionless during dinner, with a tank pointing towards them in the background of one photo. Beyond their irony, these images underline the unsettling truth of the life of people in Post-war Iran, which is impacted by the legacy of war. Dashti’s couple express a quiet frustration but demonstrate a determination to carry on, together.
Eroticism was also a theme explored in this section. There is an over-18s room full of Edo-period ukiyo-e woodblock prints which showcase the more explicit works of greats, like Katsushika Hokusai and Kitagawa Utamaro. Lining the entrance and considered modest, lies another satirical piece: a modern ukiyo-e parody created by Masami Teraoka. Tale of a thousand condoms/Mates displayed humour by depicting an archaic geisha lady struggling with modern contraceptive devices.
Onwards to Love in Losing, this section dedicates a room to Sophie Calle. The artist inhabits the space with photographs taken of 107 women (and a parrot) from all walks in life, as they all analyse the break-up letter sent to Calle by her former lover. The collection entitled Take Care of Yourself (2007) is a dramatized yet compassionate narrative of a heartbreak that one can relate to on many levels. Maybe Calle should have taken love advice from Adel Abidin’s light-heartedly kitsch video 52 Guaranteed Affection (2006) which was showing in the next room. Abidin himself appears in the video and gives tips on prolonging a satisfying relationship (i.e. Tip no.9 – Take a shower every day).
A more pertinent example of Love in Losing for Japan today, lies in the photographs taken by Bae Young Whan (2012). They follow an old lady as she explores the rubble of her hometown in Tohoku, which are now lined with temporary emergency homes. The lack of people in the background highlights the isolation of the subject. Despite this human void, signs such as the murals drawn on the emergency housing signify a stronger sense of community emerged following the tragedy. This work is a poignant example of the increased prominence of ‘love’ in the country.
The Family and Love section sees Frida Kahlo pay tribute to her mixed race origins with My Grandparents, My Parents, And I (Family Tree) (1936). David Hockney’s My Parents (1977) in the blue-washed, vivid colours so typical of the artist, depicts the apparent banalities of family life. Some family portraits such as Bloodline: Painter with Mother as a Young Woman (1993) by Zhang Xiaogang, are mildly unsettling, showing ghostly family members with agonisingly neutral facial expressions. This selection reminds us of the complexities within the family unit: from the mundane moments, to the tough or joyous times.
The artists Tatsumi Orimoto and Masashi Asada both include themselves with their family in humorous and uplifting photographic family portraits. The former, known as the ‘Bread Man’ for his performance art, has displayed a series of photographs (1996-2012) in which he includes his aging mother – and number one fan – who he honours by calling ‘Art Mama’. The latter has also created a series of photographs simply entitled ASADA FAMILY (2004-2007), recreating stereotypical family units often seen in Japan. The bond between each family member is visible as they carry out their fictional roles with conviction, whether they are portraying yakuza (gang members), a rock band or owners of a noodle bar.
Just as I had exited the family section before heading onto Love Beyond, I face an extreme reminder of the changes taking place within family and relationship models. A series of photographs taken by Laurie Simmons entitled The Love Doll (2010), portrays a deluxe ‘love doll’ as she has been dressed up in generic female clothing in various mundane settings. It is the banality of those images, however, that is the most jarring. The ‘love doll’ has been taken care of as if she was a human and thus accompanies the owner in daily activities. It is both endearing and unnerving, but mostly a candid realisation of the shifting archetype of relationships. In Japan and the world over, attachments to inanimate figures are increasingly commonplace.
Love Beyond also features the passion that some of us feel for our fashion choices. Masayuki Yoshinaga’s series of large-scale photographs (2006/2013) consume an entire wall. The subjects are various dedicated participants to the Gothic or Lolita subcultures, and many in between. This collation of maximalist styling turns out to be quite a task to take in visually. The volume of photographs emphasise how many people can and have become obsessed with a style, to the point where it surpasses clothes. The extremity of their fashion naturally becomes a lifestyle.
Opposite Yoshinaga’s photos is the entrance to the highly anticipated Love is Calling (2013) installation by Yayoi Kusama commissioned for this show. Kusama has dedicated much of her life’s work to the theme of love. In a mirrored room at MAM, she represented Love as a collection of slithering appendages covered with her idiosyncratic polka dots. Almost grotesque in shape, they are illuminated by a rainbow of pop colours. The quantity is undeterminable as the mirrors – also embossed with polka dots – give an infinite illusion. I walked around the installation; where I was allowed to take photos to my heart’s content, whilst listening to the artist recite poetry. The installation is all-consuming and beautiful at the same time – I suppose love is the same.
Love Beyond shows how the kindness of mankind becomes apparent in times of hardships. This is evident in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, since then the notion of love has never been so fundamental.
A series of garments and household products constructed of recycled materials by Kosuke Tsumura featured a collection of ‘survival’ wear entitled FINAL HOME (1994-2013), where it has found particular relevancy in light of the current tragedy.
The key piece: a transparent, multiple-pocketed nylon coat designed in the early nineties can be filled with essential or leisure items as you fancy. You could choose to ‘wear fun’, ‘wear expression’, and ‘wear love’ using the flyers provided by the exhibition! The installation as a whole was complimented by Chim↑Pom’s video KI-AI 100 (2011), providing a soundtrack of motivational shouts by local youths, that have huddled amongst the debris caused by the tsunami.
Chim↑Pom – KI-AI 100 – Note this is a remix of the music played at MAM
In and outside of Japan, before and after the tsunami, hardship will continue, as will love. In Embrace (1995), the photographer Alfredo Jaar had captured the visible bond between two young boys in Rwanda, during the aftermath of the 1994 Tutsi genocide by the Hutu ethnic group. Although it is unclear what the boys are looking at, viewed from behind, their comforting embrace is evidence of love in a time of hostility. Love for mankind is also expressed through the desire for peace. Shilpa Gupta’s LED installation (2011) writes: “I live under your sky too” in English, Japanese and Urdu, flickering from one language to the other. It is a simple and hopeful message with a desire to unite people. No mention of peace could be without a mention of John Lennon and Yoko Ono; the exhibition even shares its title with a famous Beatles song. The modest nod to them is delivered via the Bed-Peace (1969) protest through a small screen, attracting many viewers without overpowering the exhibition.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Bed Peace
The finale of the exhibition is a Hatsune Miku concert, and an explanation to her relevance within the exhibition. Hatsune Miku is an anime character created to be the visual persona accompanying the singing synthesiser software developed by Crypton Future Media. As proved in Laurie Simmons’s The Love Doll study, Miku is a global phenomenon. She has attracted many musicians to create songs using the software, which subsequently led to concerts where the persona would perform as a giant holographic projection. I experienced the power of her phenomena in a dark room filled with three screens projecting one of these concerts. I watched her perform to the jubilancy of her fans as they sung along. Below the centre screen laid a number of digital tablets glowing like fireflies. Displayed on the screens were multitudes of fan art created of Hatsune Miku; evidencing the devotion those artists have for her.
[ASFS] 01. Tell Your World – Hatsune Miku 39′s Thanks Giving Day Concert 9-3-2012 from jacklong on Vimeo.
‘Love’ is a broad and complex notion and it is no wonder an exhibition examining such a theme would include so many artworks. I am gratified, that in the most affluent of sites like Roppongi Hills, such an inclusive and democratic topic as ‘love’ could be explored. Nevertheless, it was a spectacular affair showcasing iconic works of the art world’s heavyweights and a great insight to some under-the-radar talents. It was an emotionally turbulent exhibition that resulted, in my case, with pleasant contentment at the finish line. I would recommend All You Need Is LOVE to anybody with an open mind and a bit of energy because at some point in our lives, either in its most typical or eccentric form, we all experience love. The only promise the exhibition does not make is to convey an understanding of its meaning. If anything, its five sections only reinforce the notion that love is an undeterminable emotion relevant to many diverse situations. All I am certain of is that, no matter how we evolve as humans, love will remain a fundamental aspect to humankind, and a continual source of inspiration for artists the world over.
All You Need Is LOVE: From Chagall to Kusama and Hatsune Miku is running until 1st September 2013.
Mori Art Museum is located on the 53rd Floor of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, 6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
Open every day from 10am – 10pm (except Tuesdays – 10am – 5pm).