Sohei Nishino

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
151 Third Street
November 4, 2016–February 26, 2017

Sohei Nishino, Diorama Map Rio de Janeiro, 2011, C-print, 69 x 59".

Each of Sohei Nishino’s photographic collages is a record of the artist’s interaction with a city. He spends weeks photographing on the streets and seeking out high vantage points from buildings or parks. Then he prints contact sheets, cuts out individual frames, and reassembles them into mural-size collages as large as six by seven feet, which are then re-photographed. The hallmarks of the “Diorama Maps,” 2004–, as the artist calls them, are their vertiginous shifts in perspective. From a distance they appear to be panoramic or bird’s-eye-view maps, which depict a city’s geography from a fixed, oblique angle––but up close, they reel between detached cartography and the immersive experience of walking on urban streets crowded with people and buildings.

The seven works on view from this series are anchored by their inclusion of iconic sites, so it’s easy to recognize Diorama Map Rio de Janeiro, 2011, Diorama Map London, 2010, or Diorama Map San Francisco, 2016, even if one’s mental maps of these cities are vague. Since the invention of handheld GPS devices, blinking blue dots have rendered obsolete the spatial translation skills normally required to find one’s way. Nishino makes visible the inherent partiality and contingency of situating oneself in space.

The poetry of this series is also a reminder that mapping is a discipline bound by convention, not a natural reflection of the world but rather a construction of it that privileges some sites and paths of movement over others. The kaleidoscopic perspectives of Nishino’s work challenge the unary point of view inherent in traditional cartography, offering something more organic, improvisatory, and personal.

Kim Beil