Critics’ Picks

View of “Hikaru Fujii, The Primary Fact,” 2018.

View of “Hikaru Fujii, The Primary Fact,” 2018.

New York

Hikaru Fujii

International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP)
1040 Metropolitan Avenue
June 26–October 12, 2018

For Hikaru Fujii’s first solo exhibition in the US, the ISCP resident focuses on the excavation of a mass grave in Athens from the seventh century BCE, which may be linked to the Cylonian Affair—a failed coup led by one of the city’s aristocrats, Cylon, which ultimately led to the development of Athenian democracy—through “research-choreography,” a synthesis of dance, filmmaking, and scientific research.

The multichannel video installation The Primary Fact, 2018—from which the show takes its title—reenacts the brutal slaughter of eighty men with Greek dancers. The setting is sparse, their movements methodical, yet the actors pantomime the carnage with jarring anguish. There is no soundtrack, only the squeal of skin as bodies drop to the floor and are dragged into their final configuration. Opposite this work, photographs of the original site beckon. The Primary Fact unsettles “the facts” by channeling the incongruent testimony of five experts—a dentist, three archeologists, and an anthropologist—through a host of physical and sociocultural lenses—microscopes, historical writings, filmmaking, and photography. Dorothea Lange’s statement that a “documentary photograph is not a factual photograph” feels quite apt here. The camera’s gaze is restless, cutting to researchers cleaning bones, close-ups of fragmentary samples on a computer screen, and sudden depictions of Fujii’s filmmaking process, behind the scenes. His subjects’ statements become philosophical musings about the purpose of archeology and ancient Greek burial rites, turning into educational performances rather than precise reports.

Fujii amalgamates these theoretical and scientific threads of testimony in order to shed new light on these once-forgotten bones. Yet he avoids bridging the politics of the past with today’s geopolitical crises. This exhibition is more of a meditation on the camera’s ability to witness—for all its seeming objectivity, it is still a tool susceptible to our subjectivity.