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Here and There :
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Here and There introduces art, artists, galleries and museums around Japan that non-Japanese readers and first-time visitors may find of particular interest. The writer claims no art expertise, just a subjective viewpoint acquired over many years' residence in Japan.

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image image Tomoko Konoike's Furry Animals
Alan Gleason
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Little Fur Anger installation view, Gallery Kido Press at 3331 Arts Chiyoda. Photo by Alan Gleason

Tomoko Konoike has garnered global attention for her mythical, often monumental dreamscapes of feral creatures, many of them part human, part beast. Some recent work currently on exhibit at Gallery Kido Press, a compact space in Tokyo's 3331 Arts Chiyoda complex, reveals a smaller-scale, yet no less ferocious, side to her oeuvre. Beasts of the wild are still the predominant motif, but in Little Fur Anger her emphasis is on the textures of their bodies, as the title suggests.

These works also feature two techniques not generally associated with Konoike: carving and etching. The carving is done with a chisel on plywood board, to which stain is directly applied -- sometimes before, sometimes after the chiseling. The finished works are thus not prints, but inked woodblocks. Their color schemes are basic -- black with either red or indigo -- and the results are simple but striking, with a visual appeal similar to that of graphic design.

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Tomoko Konoike, Moon Bear, Hunter Gatherer Tableau (2018). Plywood, water-based stain, carving, 900 x 900 x 6 mm.

A blue bear sits gnawing at a black furry object grasped in its paws, radiating an aura of chisel marks that flash like blue sparks. A gaggle of snakes writhes in a beautiful yet sinister tableau of crimson and black. Five sleeping bats hang upside down, looking for all the world like little foxes in blankets. In the only piece on display that does not portray an animal, fierce claws of lightning scratch across a range of light-blue mountain peaks against an indigo sky.

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Tomoko Konoike, Snake 2, Hunter Gatherer Tableau (2018). Plywood, water-based stain, carving, 900 x 900 x 6 mm.

Complementing this series of relatively large (most are nearly a meter square) carving-paintings is a set of smaller drypoint prints in two colors, black and peacock blue, with fur itself the outstanding motif. Along with a bee, a caterpillar, a rabbit and a swallow there is a "lying beast" of indeterminate species. Konoike made the prints without removing the burrs pushed up by the drypoint needle, thus achieving the desired fuzziness for the body coverings of her subjects.

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Tomoko Konoike, Bats (Light Indigo), Hunter Gatherer Tableau (2018). Plywood, water-based stain, carving, 900 x 900 x 6 mm.

One work that stands apart is a monochrome etching titled The Heart of Rabbit. In a bizarre composition that recalls other allegorical visions by Konoike of the life force at its most primal, a rabbit clutches a furry heart so graphically delineated that one can almost feel it beating. It's not clear whether the exposed organ is the rabbit's own, or that of some other unfortunate creature, but it adds teeth to the unnerving contrast between the big-eared bunny's superficially benign demeanor and the carnivorous look in its eye.

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Tomoko Konoike, Mountain (2018). Plywood, water-based stain, carving, 900 x 900 x 6 mm.

An undercurrent of nature-in-the-raw violence runs through much of Konoike's work, and her remarks about these recent pieces bring to mind the feral essence of birth itself: "Making deep gashes in a wooden block with a chisel causes a new light to glow from inside the wood. When I stroke the epidermis-like surface of the piece I am working on, it strikes me as a newly born creature shivering for the first time on the ground and showing the anger of its little life."

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Tomoko Konoike, Bee (2018), edition 10. Hahnemuhle paper, oil-based ink, drypoint, 250 x 290 mm.

A ten-minute walk south on the main thoroughfare near the gallery takes you to the plaza of a business complex where the centerpiece is Wild Things - Magic of Landscape, a steel-and-aluminum sculpture Konoike produced on commission in 2013. Standing six meters high, the smooth white shapes look like a pair of disembodied wings thrusting out of the ground -- or might they be rabbit ears? In scale and texture the work is at the opposite end of the spectrum from those on display at Gallery Kido Press, but it evokes the same exuberance of life unleashed in all its wildness and wooliness.

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Tomoko Konoike, The Heart of Rabbit (2018), edition 10. Hahnemuhle paper, oil-based ink, etching, 290 x 250 mm.

  Tomoko Konoike's sculpture Wild Things - Magic of Landscape (2013) in Awaji-cho, Tokyo. Aluminum, steel frame, 600 x 300 x 300 cm. Photo by Alan Gleason

All images are courtesy of Tomoko Konoike and Gallery Kido Press except where otherwise noted.


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Tomoko Konoike: Little Fur Anger
7 March - 15 April 2018
Gallery Kido Press
Room 204, 3331 Arts Chiyoda
6-11-14 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Phone: 03-5817-8988
Open 12 noon to 7 p.m. (5 p.m. on last day of exhibition)
Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, and holidays
Transportation: 1-minute walk from Suehirocho Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line or 3-minute walk from Yushima Station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line
 
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Alan Gleason
Alan Gleason is a translator, editor and writer based in Tokyo, where he has lived for over 30 years. In addition to writing about the Japanese art scene he has edited and translated works on Japanese theater (from kabuki to the avant-garde) and music (both traditional and contemporary).
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