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Picks :
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Picks is a monthly sampling of Japan's art scene, offering commentary by a variety of reviewers about exhibitions at museums and galleries in recent weeks, with an emphasis on contemporary art by young artists.

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Seung-woo Yang: End of the Line - Kotobukicho
16 April - 10 June 2018
Shadai Gallery
(Tokyo)
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A solo exhibition at the gallery of Tokyo Polytechnic University, photographer Yang’s alma mater, where he honed his craft for six years after arriving in Japan from South Korea. Two series employ the same straightforward street-shot approach -- one that might be considered retro today -- toward Shinjuku’s Kabukicho bar district in Stateless Zone, and the denizens of Yokohama’s Kotobukicho skid row in People. Yang’s camera is fearless in its scrutiny of the scars and open wounds of these neighborhoods and their residents.

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Masato Seto: Silent Mode 2018
2 - 8 April 2018
Place M Mini Gallery
(Tokyo)
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In his 1996 series by the same name, Seto set his camera shutter to silent mode and shot point-blank portraits of train passengers. For this new iteration he retained the same compositional style of close-up frontal portraiture, but shot ten-minute outdoor exposures of his subjects, who were clearly aware they were being photographed. Their expressions are frozen in ambiguity, their hair blurred as it blows in the wind. This incorporation of contingency amplifies the emotional component of the portraits, through which Seto seems to be seeking to give form to the precarious nature of human existence.

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Kenkichi Yoshida: Manchuria Life, 1934

3 April - 6 May 2018

JCII Photo Salon
(Tokyo)
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In August 1934, Yoshida (1897-1982) traveled around Manchuria, then occupied by Japan, as a special correspondent for the journal Keizai Chishiki (Economic Knowledge). Snapping whatever caught his eye with his trusty Leica II, he compiled photo albums of contact prints of each city he visited in addition to the work he published in the magazine. These images vividly convey the vigor and dedication with which Yoshida walked and shot the streets of those cities. They also illustrate the revolutionary nature of the compact Leica, which first appeared in the mid-1920s and made street photography possible.

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Kawori Inbe: Not an Ideal Cat

4 - 10 April 2018

Ginza Nikon Salon
(Tokyo)

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This solo show is an anthology of photographic work exhibited by Inbe over the past several years. These 30-plus images make it clear that her art has evolved into a world that is inimitable and unrivalled. The scenes -- visual answers to the question she asks her subjects, “How did you become you?” -- are eerily authentic revelations of each individual’s innermost thoughts and values. The viewer, too, feels a shudder at the thought of exposing one’s “self” as fully as Inbe’s subjects have here.
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Erika Yoshino: MARBLE
7 April - 19 May 2018
Taka Ishii Gallery Photography/Film
(Tokyo)
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According to Yoshino, the show’s title references the material whose name derives from the Greek marmaron, meaning “crystalline rock that shines in the light.” As always, her m.o. as a photographer is to capture fragments of daily life as she goes along. Shot between 2014 and 2017, the 17 photos on display are nearly all beautiful, positive images -- the glitter of metal or glass, colorful flowers, the play of light -- that provide, in the artist’s words, “a key that allows me to discover freedom and hope.”
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Tadashi Ono: Coastal Motifs

14 April - 13 May 2018

Horikawa Oike Gallery
(Kyoto)
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Ono spent the summer of 2017 photographing the massive seawalls -- over 10 meters high and stretching a total of 400 kilometers -- being built along the coasts of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in the aftermath of the great earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. The contrast between older, weather-blackened seawalls and these shining white barriers that tower far above them appears as a testament to technological hubris, or to the ultimate powerlessness of human beings in the face of recurring natural catastrophes. The nihilistic white expanse of these new walls also blots out the surrounding landscape -- a metaphor, perhaps, for the loss of our memories of the disaster.
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Tomomi Morita: Sanrizuka - Then and Now
14 April - 13 May 2018
Horikawa Oike Gallery
(Kyoto)
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Sanrizuka is the village that became the center of a fierce anti-airport movement by local farmers and student activists when it was chosen as the site for Narita International Airport in the late 1960s. Morita has used a 4 x 5 large-format camera to capture the area’s ambience today. Through the two wall-like installations included in the exhibition have a certain impact, they also diminish the effect of the photos themselves, which depict real walls, fences and other boundary-defining structures at Sanrizuka in images that forcefully evoke such barriers on a universal scale.
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Kyotographie International Photography Festival 2018
14 April - 13 May 2018
Kyoto Shimbun Former Printing Plant, other venues
(Kyoto)
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The highlight of this year’s festival was PLAY, an exhibition of work by the late great photographer Masahisa Fukase (1934-2012). For a number of reasons there has not been a substantial Fukase retrospective in his home country until now, making this 250-print show an unprecedented achievement. Overall, though, some aspects of the festival were frustrating: venues were so scattered that they could not be covered in a day; maps and information were in short supply; few exhibits seemed to connect to the ostensible theme of “UP.” Still, the event deserves kudos for maintaining a high level of quality year after year.
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Hana Sawada: Bouncing Sounds of an Invisible Ball
13 - 29 April 2018
Gallery PARC
(Kyoto)
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Employing her usual methodology of scrutinizing and verifying enigmatic chance details that appear in photographs, conceptual artist Sawada focuses here on the linked production of information. By dispersing multiple details from a single photograph into the ocean of data, she transmits a meta-message about the lack of a unitary, intrinsic meaning in photographic imagery. This could be viewed as a critique of the current dissemination of images accompanied by tags on photo-sharing sites like Instagram.
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Shousuke Miyake: Typology for traces of gable roofs
10 - 25 April 2018

Lumen Gallery
(Kyoto)

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Walls facing vacant lots retain vestiges of the houses that once stood next to them: silhouettes of roofs, discolorations of the wall surface, and so on. Miyake (b. 1950) shoots walls as part of his ongoing typology of these traces. Part of what makes the work unique is his printing method. Converting the photographed images to monochrome negatives, he prints them via a projector onto 2 x 3 meter sheets of photographic paper mounted on the gallery wall. The images contain multiple layers of self-referentiality and, at the same time, ironic self-negation.
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