Critics’ Picks

View of “Jack McLean,” 2011.

View of “Jack McLean,” 2011.


Jack McLean

The Container
1-8-30 Kamimeguro Meguro-ku Floor 1 Hills Daikanyama, inside Bross hair salon
March 7–May 23, 2011

Just four days before the devastating Tohoku earthquake of March 11, a new Tokyo gallery opened its doors for its inaugural exhibition, by the Glasgow-born, Tokyo-based artist Jack McLean. “The Container” is a fitting name for the space, since it is, in fact, a shipping container placed in a trendy hair salon in the fashionable Nakameguro district. The show, which consists of mixed-media installation on the inside of the space and a set of pen drawings mounted on the outside, references the Japanese salaryman culture—its hollowness, its uniformity, its constraints.

Once in the container, the viewer is confronted with an assemblage of unfinished wooden cylinders and planks sporting various human body parts (eyes, lips, digits, a penis) and fashion accessories (a string of pearls, a black tie). The anthropomorphic boards, many of which are suspended from the ceiling by wires, convey entrapment—the sensation uncannily corroborated by the physical placement of the gallery, nestled as it is within the larger interior space of the building.

When I attended the show’s opening night, I was struck by a parallelism between the work and the crowd who gathered for the reception. Inside the microcosm of the shipping container, the angry, happy, scared, frustrated, and surprised wooden planks, arranged in clusters of two or three, seemed to mimic the less dramatic groupings that made up the actual human assembly outside. The events of March 11 added a poignant new layer to this vision of the planks as surrogates for humans in general (not just salarymen) contained and confined by the steel box that is their home. When the 6.4 tremor hit Tokyo, the planks did not move from their allotted places, obediently remaining where McLean and the show’s curator, Shai Ohayon, had situated them. Perhaps here, too, we can see a metaphor for the quasi-entrapment of real Tokyoites, who are vulnerable but dutiful and compliant.