Reflections on Our Planet By Roberta Fallon, Artblog
Tadashi Moriyama's "Planetalgia” is a narrative about a planet that is vibrant, but has gone mad with over-building and extreme networking. Like a scene out of the 1982 film Blade Runner, Moriyama’s story, in drawings, sculpture, installation and video, is a fun-house-mirror reflection of our world. Buildings have spread to the far ends of the earth and communications networks broadcast non-stop information in soul-killing quantities. The natural environment has crumbled and not even the moon is safe from taint. There’s no peace on a planet given to extremes.
The Tokyo-born artist has wrapped his cautionary tale in seductive, video game-like trappings. There are mirrors and flashing colored lights in the installation “Imitation Moon and Disco City” and mesmerizing post-apocalyptic scenes in the bright-hued animation “Amnesiac,” in which a “brain” monster wears his enormous brain on the outside of the body and stuffs himself with red, white, yellow and blue waffles that fall from the sky and resemble computer chips or fragments of buildings.
Whether you are looking at the works on paper or panel, which are the basis of the animation, or at the reliquary sculptural pieces that sit on pedestals, the message is that the planet is a suffocating, dream-like place that gives abundance a bad name. Abundance might be orderly, but extreme abundance is glut that cannot be satisfied.
If one work could be said to encapsulate the show, it might be the 6”x6” drawing “Accelerating Vortex (skull),” which entwines the twin evils of development and networking in one tiny package. Seen from a God’s-eye view, a tangle of cables pushes its long tentacles into a surrounding grid of buildings that reaches as far as the eye can see. The cables go through one building and into the next, connecting every aspect of the community in such a way that the entire grid is tethered, chained, imprisoned by the network.
Everywhere in “Planetalgia,” there is a longing for trees and grass and nature as they once were. “Garden View,” a work that puns on typical real estate vocabulary, shows an empty box of a building that completely obstructs the view of a beautiful nearby garden. In this show, rivers and the ocean are unearthly colors and littered with debris; the sky is brown and the moon is like a flattened disco ball.
While the exhibition is a unified statement by the artist, I don’t want to suggest there are no surprises, for each piece is a distinct episode, and there are many moments of whimsy and humor. The titles, especially, provide Moriyama with opportunities for humor. “Rachael Untangles Copy & Paste City” puns on the computer functions so important to writers, artists and designers. The piece and its title, while amusing, could also be seen as a monument to this simple computer functionality we all use in our daily lives.
The most feverish of the show’s works, and the most accomplished in a show with exquisite craftsmanship, is “Amnesiac,” the six-minute video animation, whose imagery moves from Big Brother is Watching You TV screens in a Times Square of the future to scenes of otherworldly wastelands in which humans are relegated to afterthoughts and networks control all. There is even a white rabbit and a surreal, Monty Python-esque moment, when a woman (Eve in this dystopian land) pulls a cord hanging down from an ominous cloud of mini buildings, and the cloud snaps up like a drawn window shade pulled back in place.
In an outlier piece from 2013, the artist himself appears in the performance video “Atlas.” He is the designated worker, pulling a low, circular disk on wheels. Round and round he walks and as the disk moves, the small models of buildings on its surface start falling off. Atlas’s job, to keep the disk moving and to pick the buildings up and put them back on when they fall off, is a Sisyphean task. The video has a refreshing, made-in-the-basement quality that separates it from the meticulous rendering of the rest of the works. The piece seems experimental and a fruitful new direction.
Moriyama, 34, who graduated with a BFA from Tyler School of Art and an MFA from the University of Pennsylvania, makes work that is meticulous in detail and labor intensive in its execution. He says he was influenced by the childhood experience of going to the Zen Buddhist Temple with his family, where he practiced meditation for many hours each Sunday. This experience of prolonged focus on one thing disciplined him to sit still and work quietly for hours on a drawing, say, or an animation. Whether his work would be as meticulous if he hadn’t had the Buddhist experience is unknown, but clearly, the carefully-constructed and harmonious pieces in this show are a product of a mind that is comfortable working on a problem at length.
Tadashi’s influences are various, from the science fiction classics of H.G. Wells and Arthur Clarke to the 1988 Japanese cult animation “Akira.” The book “Lunatix” by Seigo Matsuoka, which discusses the Japanese fascination with the moon, was a starting point for this show, he said.
When I asked the artist if he was political, he directed me back to “Lunatix” saying, “I don’t want to be an ego-projecting sun but a self-projecting moon.” I interpret this to mean his politics are deeply personal and that the works in this exhibit represent the artist’s experience of the world around him.
Jane Jacobs, the author of “The Life and Death of Great American Cities” said, “Big cities have difficulties in abundance, because they have people in abundance.” Jacobs never saw Tadashi Moriyama’s works but she would have understood his anxiety about the dark energy of development and communications networks.
Lebbeus Woods, too, would see Moriyama’s point. The visionary architect, who designed remedies for systems in crisis, which he saw all around him, suggested in his drawings and models how the world could be made better. While Moriyama is not presenting a remedy for the problems he sees, he is a kindred spirit with the city planning advocate and the visionary architect in that he cares deeply and is offering a harrowing vision that adds to the discussion.