Teiji Furuhashi

Hillside Plaza

Teiji Furuhashi is an innovator’s innovator. Adept with moving imagery, technology, visual language, text, and the use of the body in performance, he was the founding member of the Kyoto-based art collective Dumb Type, and recently held his first solo exhibition with a work entitled Lovers. The work presented there, sponsored by ARTLAH and held ar Hillside Plaza in Tokyo’s Daikanyama, not surprisingly shared many characteristics with Dumb Type’s previous large-scale performance works, installations, and mixed-media pieces, bur there were differences as well. Whereas the “characters” in Dumb Type’s works are not so much individuals as nameless amalgamations of physical and group characteristics, in Lovers the people are individuals, the relationships personal. And it is here, perhaps, that Furuhashi the collaborator diverges from Furuhashi the solo artist. It is not just that the focus of Lovers is personal; though it deals with phantoms and fear, ir is also markedly unconfrontational. It is about emptiness, loss, and absence, and ghostly embraces—a dance of death.

Furuhashi’s recent installation consisted of a dimly lit room, the walls shrouded by black curtains. A large, spare, towerlike gadget stood in the center, supporting several projectors of various types, whose rotation and movements were carefully timed. It began with the projection of a phantomlike nude figure walking around the room. Several more figures appeared (men and women—gay, straight, HIV positive, hearing impaired), some walking, some running, some merely standing, filling the space. At specific intervals, they stretched our their arms in a gesture of embrace, and many appeared to hug each other. Significantly, though, many embraced only the emptiness. The figures were, in fact, entirely independent, their contact purely illusory.

One figure, that of Furuhashi himself, his arms outstretched as if in welcome, noticeably Christ-like, was linked to an infrared sensor that located a single viewer, whom he then approached. His embrace unmet, he fell slowly backward into the darkness, disappearing silently. From time to time a circle of text—taken from the New York City police barricades set up during a Gay Pride parade in which the artist participated—large enough to surround the viewer appeared in an unexpected location on the floor, admonishing: “Do not cross. Do not cross the line or jump over.” This text was clearly a metaphor for society’s warning to potential sexual transgressors, and also speaks volumes for the voices of fear and inhibition inside all of us. Similarly, thin vertical lines swept around the room, at times separating the projected figures, and often moving across the bodies in the audience as if seeking targets. Other words and symbols also appeared on the walls. The sound of water falling in drops and muffled voices emanated from a number of unseen speakers. We are, perhaps, in purgatory, en route to Hades, or living a page from the Book of the Dead.

This slow, measured work repeats itself in 15-minute cycles. And though its power is unique, it is not entirely without precedent, either in imagery or technique; the direct and inescapable links to Dumb Type aside, one recognizes in the work an awareness of the photos of Edweard Muybridge, the experiments of the Bauhaus with environmental dance, and the recent video installations of Gary Hill, among others. Whatever its technical virtuosity, however, Lovers may in the end nor be seamless enough: what seems to be a statement of the dependence of intimacy on media and machines may in fact be no more than a necessary compromise with existing technology. It seems clear that the projected images are much more important than the projectors themselves, but here the gadgets are fetishized just enough to rake on the weight if nor the interest of the characters. Ideally this work would be realized without visible machinery and in the future this may be possible.

It is interesting that Furuhashi himself has chosen to make his first—and perhaps last—solo work something so overtly emotional, to attempt in this way to wrap his viewers in an unexpected sentiment, when irony and provocation have been Dumb Type’s trademark for so long. Lovers is a work of rare power, of a quality and depth rarely seen in Japan. In this important solo work, Furuhashi emerges unexpectedly as a truthteller, a wise man, even a voice of comfort.

Azby Brown