Masaki Fujihata


In a quiet, meditative space furnished with just a desk and chair, there lies a book on the desk—a digitally projected book. Its pages “turn” when tapped with a pen that lies nearby. Touching individual images in the book also produces other results: Tap one page, for example, and you hear the names of Japanese pictograms spoken out loud; a small lamp on the desk turns on when you touch a picture of a light switch on another page; a door in the wall opposite you swings open for a split second when you touch it with the pen, revealing a laughing, naked child.

Like the book, the door is a digital projection. Masaki Fujihata’s installation Beyond Pages, 1995–97, like most of the eight works shown here, combines the real and the virtual in ways that paradoxically both blur and reassert the boundaries between them. It would be false, for example, to say that the book in Beyond Pages is not really there—something is there, and it behaves very much like a book, though its elaborate but hidden digital apparatus robs it of a book’s mobility. As a technological artifact, it is liberated from some of the constraints on physical objects but bound by others.

Fujihata unabashedly celebrates technological magic and special effects. Donning the glasses provided, you look into Unreflective Mirror, 2005–2006, but see only the glasses themselves floating in the reflected room, as if you’d suddenly turned into the title character of H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man. As you sit at a real table in Portray the Silhouette, 2006, your shadow projected onto a screen shares a cup of tea with the shadow of a virtual companion. Fujihata’s work is playful, but one can only play in accordance with clear rules. Not all of the artist’s installations involve participation, but those that do are reactive, not truly interactive. The playing card pieces, Unformed Symbols, 2006, and Unformed Symbols: Another Side, 2008, seem designed to underline this point by taunting us with objects we’re accustomed to manipulating (even when we play card games on a computer) but depriving us of the opportunity: The cards don’t need us to play with them; they play on their own, changing sequence and even suit. In the later version, fingerprints periodically show up on blank cards, but whatever spectral entity is playing with them, it is not the viewer.

Fujihata’s work suggests we maintain a healthy skepticism toward digital technologies and concepts such as interactivity and virtual reality, even as we enjoy their effects. Perhaps there is little that is new in the confluence of the real and the virtual mediated through digital technologies; it is the perennial tension between reality and its representations that continues to astonish.

Philip Auslander