Earthquakes in Japan are commonly expected. However, disastrous consequences such as the ones that occured lately are rare, and so impressive are they that a return to normality is no longer possible. Japanese artist Taro Izumi states that “these cataclysms bring the realization that the earth cannot be kept still”.
In his latest installation at Galerie Vallois, pieces of furniture are arranged in a chaotic manner, as if an earthquake just happened (‘Diagonal Harvest’). At first glance everything is very still and seems securedly fixed; however upon closer examination tiny wooden models are holding everything in place. Nothing is glued or nailed: gravity and the puppets are the only barrier between this arrangement and its seemingly pending collapsing.
Upon the wall facing this alcove the visitor can see a series of small white canvases organized in a diagonal fashion, on which a few dark spots are drawn. A video shows the process of the realization of the piece: Taro Izumi, arms stretched sidewards, records his arm span in several directions by putting a little dot where it ends, thus creating these constellations.
In both these installation modules, the feeble yet all-important reach and power of men are illustrated; the artist’s metaphorical statement on how one cannot act outside his own physical boundaries, and the hopeless effort to hold everything in its place.
A larger room is alloted to a massive installation piece called ‘Cheese’. Taro Izumi found his inspiration in a children tale by Helen Bannerman, The story of Little Black Sambo, first published in 1899 in India. This book has been highly controversial for its racist characterizations, moreover in Japan where it suffered piracy as well. It relates the story of a child who gets his fine clothes stolen by many tigers. He climbed on a tree, and the tigers began fighting and running around it faster and faster, until they all melted down to ghee.
This molten animal imagery surely inspired Taro Izumi a lot; in this installation, he made a several meters long, open-top, wooden square race track. It is just wide enough for the artist to crawl around in it, bearing a structure on his back with a plush tiger on top of it. His path is ladden with buckets of yellow and blue paint, and his long crawl soaks his clothes and the tracks in green colour. The worn and stained clothes are still visible inside the installation, and screens and speakers on each side of it relate the performance. The desperate and difficult race may appear as a tail-chasing demonstration; its absurdity will not let us choose between perceiving an ecological statement, or a simple illustration of the tale. But it surely will leave the visitor pondering the many messages this piece could carry.
On the right hand side of the piece the visitor will see an arrangement of flagorns and phials (‘Thick Water’), all filled with liquids and substances of various aspects, a somewhat more common sight in arts. The containers are labelled with a picture of an animal, related to its fillings: for example, the pig jar holds a pink liquid, and is bigger than the spider jar which is black. This attempt at a simplified taxonomy is both very funny and somehow uplifting since it relates to years of scientific animal classification. Above this strange arrangement is a large canvas on which every “animal” has been used, as well as fur and hairs. The paint has been oozing on the pedestals, and the paint drops everywhere around the works make us realize that every piece of art Taro Izumi has made for this show has been made inside the gallery.
The last solo show of Taro Izumi in France was in 2009. Eventhough he is very shown in Tokyo, he rarely exhibits in the USA and even more scarcely in Europe. I recommend enthusiastically this exhibition at the Galerie Vallois for it is very generous in the quality and quantity of works presented. Although some might dislike the childish feeling of the set, the pieces hold nevertheless deep and universal meanings.