Review: Art, Performance and Activism in Contemporary Japan

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By Bridget Burgoyne

‘Art, Performance and Activism in Contemporary Japan’ at Battersea Park’s Pump House Gallery exhibits the work of artists who aim to make us think about the world.  

It features work produced over the last 22 years by artists based in Japan and is the result of a research project started in 2008 by Kingston University and Kyoto University.

It has brought artists and researchers in Kyoto and London together in a series of groundbreaking events that focus on reflections about identity, ethnicity, sexuality and gender that are ‘missing from official history’. 

Professor Fran Lloyd, Associate Dean of Research & Enterprise at Kingston University and the exhibition curator, said the project was created on the basis of looking into artistic strategies in the early 1990s and considering how contemporary artists in Japan were adopting new or different strategies to engage with key issues.

Putney resident Emil Reisser-Weston said: “I think the exhibition is really interesting. The art draws you in and in many ways it also feels like a very impressive record of historical reflection about groups of people in a cultural context I’ve never really thought of before. Well worth a visit.”

A documented history of the anti-Japanese government activist group East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front (1970 – 75) is on the ground floor and the exhibition ends on the top floor with work by Soni Kum who explores the Korean experience in Japan using film.

A particularly striking piece is the video installation Love/Sex/Death/Money/Life by the Kyoto based internationally renowned artist-collective DumbType. 

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It was first shown in 1994 following the former director Teiji Furuhashi’s announcement in 1992 that he was HIV positive.

The words that make up the title of the piece appear on a screen with images of the human body and the audience is invited to consider them both in the aftermath of AIDS.

Professor Lloyd said: “The reaction to the work has been highly favourable. For those that know something about DumbType, it is a rare opportunity to see their work in the UK.

Their strong images convey the questioning approach of how we cope with love and relationships after HIV.

How does this compare to HIV Awareness raising through art or other means today?   

Terence Higgins Trust Information Officer Blake Smith said: “People with HIV are now living near-normal life spans but the numbers of people with HIV continue to rise with around ten times the number in the UK now compared to 1994.

“HIV is still a serious health issue but public awareness has decreased since the 1990s, at least partly because it is no longer a death sentence.”

If you want something thought-provoking and enjoyable to do on a weekend then a visit to this exhibition, followed by a trip to Battersea Park’s Café for afternoon tea, could be just the thing.

The exhibition is running until 26th February from 11am – 4pm. For further details please visit: http://www.pumphousegallery.org.uk/

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