THE DINNERWARE GALLERY'S exhibit Views from Japan offers a glimpse of something foreign and familiar. The series of black-and-white photographs provides perspectives on life in Japan, and at the same time pulls viewers into five distinct frames of human experience, beyond the simple frames hanging on the wall. Each of the five photographers shows a different way people organize their information and the world's.
The straightforwardness and seeming simplicity of these images is non-threatening and allows viewers to be drawn in, to transcend cultural boundaries, and to connect with the minds of the artists.
The photographs by Jun Abe are delicately surreal, as if the people in his images are encased in glass, reflections, and shadows--the natural setting of their modem world. But the world in these photos seems cinematic and larger than life. A little boy's face is seen through a car window and through the reflection of a large factory that is passing by on the pane of glass, momentarily swallowing him up. In another photo, people on an elevator look up at the eerie orb of a florescent light fixture as if hypnotized by it. Another man is just stepping onto the elevator, and his face is blurred and confused, as if he has unwittingly stepped into the chamber of an alien spaceship.
Photos by Atsushi Tani, instead of showing the strangeness of the outside world, deal with confusions of the internal world. These photos are depictions of masturbation and the guilt and secrecy that complicate these acts. The scenes are covered with cloudy circles of light, like layers of distorted memories. Faces are covered in stockings, cleavers are gripped in hands, and dress-up beads are twisted around bodies as if to highlight the idea that this playful act, due to society's perception of it, has become masochistic. In one image the masturbator stares out of the frame, head upside down and distorted by a stocking. The posture of the body is defiant and challenging, but the face with its mask seems to be asking for acceptance.
Masahito Endo's photographs are the most straightforward of the group. In documentary style, they capture the lifestyles and personalities of a small china-producing village. Endo does this with compassion and humor. One man stands in front of his overly polished car which is parked in a dilapidated shack. The man doesn't gloat over his possession, he simply slouches next to the car as if guessing the absurdity of its placement in the wreckage of the background.
In contrast, Motohiko Hata's photos are the most abstract and subjective of the group. In his artist's statement, he explains he's used a pig's body to represent his own body and his feelings about death. What's impressive about these photos is the sense of harmony and brutality that coexist within them. In one photo the ribs of a pig's carcass are pushed into the foreground of the picture and echo the cement blocks of a staircase in the background. There's a message of continuance in these photos--as well as one of fear.
Photographs by Hiro Sato are the most arresting of the group, but at the same time seem to depict man's troubled relationship with nature, a problem common to the history of all cultures. In these images of woods and lakes, nature seems intricate and expansive, stretching to the edges of the frames. The human figures in the photos are a small jumble of ghost-like legs and arms. When the bodies are in clear focus, they twist in severe modern dance positions. Their naked whiteness and strange contortions make them appear to be half-formed organisms. There is also a raw sexuality to the movement of the figures, even though the bodies themselves look androgynous. It's almost as if the landscapes, which the bodies are trying to penetrate, have muted the figures' sexuality with their sheer awesomeness. These photos, with the angst of nude bodies pushing at the environment, seem inspired by a modern dance form called Ankoku Butoh, the central theme of which is the negotiation of human survival against apparent overwhelming odds.
Ankoku Butoh is a form of modern dance that evolved in the '60s, partly as a negative response to the rapid industrialization of post-war Japan. The movements are deliberately irrational and grotesque, in an attempt to convey a metaphoric mire of dread and terror. The dance deals with sexuality and the complexities of human emotions and human relationships with nature.
In conjunction with Dinnerware's gallery show, the Berkeley-based Harupin Ha Dance Company will perform the highly disciplined dramatic Butoh at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St.
Views From Japan continues through April 8 at the Dinnerware Artists Cooperative Gallery, 135 E. Congress St. Gallery hours are 12 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Harupin-Ha Dance Company will perform at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 25. Also at The Screening Room will be a Japanese film series continuing through April. For more information call 792-4503.
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