Chu Enoki

Kirin Plaza Osaka

Documenting his public performances and site-specific sculpture since 1970, through photography, video, and drawings, this first retrospective of the sixty-two-year-old avant-garde artist Chu Enoki conveyed the intensity of an independent artistic commitment sustained by efforts to invent new ways of perception, suggesting Enoki’s significance as an important precursor for artists who emerged in the ’90s.

Enoki’s first public performance, Naked Happening, 1970, demonstrates an inadvertent affinity with the Situationist International. Enoki walked in the middle of a Ginza street on a Sunday, shirtless, with the Expo ’70 logo sunburned onto his bare chest—a protest against the seductive “spectacle” of Expo’ 70, the landmark world fair that trumpeted Japan’s postwar economic recovery, and against the public policy of the Pedestrian’s Paradise that kept congested city streets “open to pedestrians” only on Sundays for limited hours. In Everyday Life Multi, 1977, Enoki converted his private house into a public space where anyone could come and see his work. Shaving Half of My Hair, 1977–81, a work based on the simple idea of going about his everyday routine for four years with one side of his head and body entirely shaved, provoked his conservative neighbors in Kobe to behave differently toward him in public for at least as many years. Bar Rose Chu, 1979, was a two-day engagement in which Enoki opened a bar inside a gallery and served as its mustached hostess in drag; here, alongside The Return of Bar Rose Chu, 2006, he showed an untitled video, 1979–2006, depicting the birth of his female alter ego. Enoki’s radically funny but existential public interventions immediately involved the audience, inciting an engagement with the contingencies of the everyday.

During the ’80s, Enoki produced large-scale, site-specific sculptures, addressing the problems of the postindustrial age. Space Lobster P-81, 1981, was a gigantic sculpture made from a defunct railway car, parts of a scrapped ship, and junked electrical appliances. Shown at Kobe Port Island Expo in 1981, the sculpture was accompanied by a science-fiction narrative about extraterrestrials sending back garbage jettisoned from the earth. In 1990, Enoki started digging a hole on a piece of land purchased by a friend in a new suburb of Kobe; after a year, he reached a ten-million-year-old layer of bedrock. This project, Pelting the Skin of the Earth, 1990, started out as a personal attempt to recover a physical contact with the primordial layer of the earth; consequently, Enoki encouraged frequent visits from neighbors and local schoolchildren, creating a space of communication in the midst of an impersonal suburb.

Knowing little about avant-garde practices abroad, Enoki conceived his works completely out of his visceral responses to the exigencies of his time and place. Creating situations through which things can be perceived in new ways thanks to his inventive use of simple actions and disused objects, Enoki’s interventions prefigure the public performances in the ’90s of an artist like Shimabuku, who visits different places in order to put forgotten legends in a new relational context. Enoki’s sculpture using industrial detritus and science fiction to create social commentary finds an heir in the neo-Pop sculpture of Kenji Yanobe, who curated this exhibition. Perhaps that’s why the sci-fi aspect of Enoki’s work was highlighted here by the presentation of a new sculpture, RPM-1200, 2006. Made of numerous pieces of finely polished junk metal revealing a futuristic skyline in the dark, it suggests the resurrection of a debased Utopia by the restorative power of art.

Midori Matsui