Los Angeles

Naotaka Hiro, Night and Fog, Tubes on Black Mountain, 2010, still from a digital video, 22 minutes.

Naotaka Hiro, Night and Fog, Tubes on Black Mountain, 2010, still from a digital video, 22 minutes.

Koki Tanaka and Naotaka Hiro

Las Cienegas Projects

Naotaka Hiro, Night and Fog, Tubes on Black Mountain, 2010, still from a digital video, 22 minutes.

Perhaps the single most striking aspect of Koki Tanaka and Naotaka Hiro’s dizzying two-person exhibition was the choreographed sound that swept through the gallery in a protracted clatter: noises that evoked the prepping and chopping of fish, lights switched on and off, dishes broken, rhythmic drumming, repetitive chiming. This percussive orchestration arose from the show’s seven video installations (five by Tanaka and two by Hiro, both projected and screened on monitors) and served as white noise, the hypnotic power of which pulled the viewer into the action of each. The accord between these two bodies of work may be partially attributed to the fact that both artists are LA-based, Japanese-born, and roughly the same age. However, with Hiro denaturing the normative relationship we have with our own bodies and their sensorial coordinates, and Tanaka partaking in a kind of alchemy of the everyday, the pairing set forth a complex dialectic that extended beyond the acoustic. In Tanaka’s contribution, “Random Hours, Several Locations” (an exhibition with work made between 2004 and 2009), a recorded series of quotidian actions spun complex aural patterns from domestic life, while the videos in Hiro’s component, “Night and Fog, Tubes on Black Mountain” (all works cited, 2010), were set to spellbindingly intense drumbeats.

That the images in Hiro’s titular video and sculpture should require a kind of transcendent space is significant, given that the work alarmingly employs the name of Alain Resnais’s 1955 Holocaust documentary Night and Fog. Centering on the body’s interior and its abstraction, Hiro seemingly took up Resnais’s film, in all its horror, to examine how, why, and by what means a human body becomes something else— something presumably nonhuman. But while the conceit is interesting (and speaks to a tradition of LA artists examining the abject), the citation was used far too casually, missing the mark on a more critical rendering of total human desubjectification and possible transformation. In the video, a long tube of raw meat is slowly unraveled onto the surface of a black ziggurat, a monolithic object that becomes the sculpture Untitled (Black Mountain and Tubes), which was also on view here, with empty sausage casings scattered around its pedestal. In both pieces, the heaviness of the meat suggests a corporeal weight, while the related sculptures point to the negative space of the body, as in Untitled (Ass Gong), a concave bronze cast of an ass with anus and scrotum, and Untitled (Spiral Shit), a bronze sculpture that venerates the stuff of intestines. As Hiro considers Resnais, he locates “lower” human representations (the ass, the bowels, shit) as sites of transfiguration. However, by invoking the awful realism of the Holocaust (if only through a title), the artist sets up a dangerous comparison that ultimately detracts from more successful aspects of his work (namely, the investigation of absence and the formal composition of unseen spaces).

You might say that Tanaka is equally invested in transforming the real, yet his notion of physicality played out here in a scrappy, kinetic materiality that was completely at odds with Hiro’s intended gravity. In Everything Is Everything, 2006/2007, Tanaka extrapolated the material character of household objects—the crook of a plastic push broom is twirled around a finger, an inside-out toilet plunger pops back into position—evoking video works such as Terry Fox’s Children’s Tapes, 1974, and Fischli & Weiss’s The Way Things Go, 1987. Each of Tanaka’s videos was situated within a booby-trap-like construction made for this show: A monitor balanced on an overturned table, a video was projected on the back of a bookshelf, a milk crate housed a speaker. Although Tanaka’s lively experimentation contrasted with Hiro’s attempted sobriety, both artists compelled viewers to inject their own bodies into intensely visceral spaces of experience, a proposition at once stirring and sublime.

Catherine Taft