Shintaro Miyake

Galleria Suzy Shammah

Imagine a street in the center of Milan in winter—narrow, with neoclassical architecture, full of traffic, and crossed back and forth by a barefoot human figure with an enormous bull’s head. The figure suddenly drags out of a gallery a large red stuffed fabric octopus, manipulating it to engage in a grotesque and somewhat ridiculous mock battle, until the sea beast emerges victorious. This is Minotauro contro Mostro Marino (Minotaur Versus Sea Monster), 2004, the most recent action staged by Shintaro Miyake, a thirty-four-year-old artist from Tokyo, who “fishes” in the collective imagination of the places where he exhibits and transfers his catch into his own fantastical world, which is modeled on Japanese manga and adventure films for children. A series of vividly colored drawings and woodcuts completed the show; in them, figures with large heads and extremely slender, threadlike bodies inhabit or “wear” famous sites such as the Colosseum or the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The result is in some ways comical, in other ways tender, the way a child’s game can be, where the representation of the event becomes the event itself, no more, no less. This knowingly naïve stance is not exclusive to Miyake; it can be seen throughout Japanese visual culture today—in the offspring of ’60s B movies like Godzilla or Power Rangers–type TV shows, not Ozu films or tea ceremonies. But we still need to consider how even this style—for it is a genuine style that we are dealing with—is not entirely new but deeply rooted in Japanese visual and cultural tradition, particularly in the Edo period, with its ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world.” Distorted characters are found widely in Japanese representation, from the famous erotic prints where the genitals are gigantically emphasized to children’s cartoons, where outsize faces on tiny bodies are a constant and recognizable signature. Miyake, like many artists his age or a bit older, creates his own signature, in his case through these enormous ovoid and horizontally elongated heads, whether he is depicting the Minotaur or Sweetstar, his blond-braided female character. Conceptually, the artist assumes every mythology without differentiating among them. Cheerfully and without malice, he takes what he wants from the imagery of the places to which he travels to perform his actions, like a tourist snapping a picture.

Reexperiencing a familiar story, in this case that of the Minotaur (an homage to Mediterranean mythology), Miyake makes the story his own. Seemingly stripped of its symbolic weight, it assumes only the meanings he wishes to give it. Miyake performs the death of the myth, but in doing so he paradoxically gives it new life.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.