Arata Isozaki, Incubation Process/Joint Core System, 1962/2011, mixed media, 48 x 95 5/8 x 13 3/4".

Arata Isozaki, Incubation Process/Joint Core System, 1962/2011, mixed media, 48 x 95 5/8 x 13 3/4".

Arata Isozaki

Arata Isozaki, Incubation Process/Joint Core System, 1962/2011, mixed media, 48 x 95 5/8 x 13 3/4".

Tokyo has recently seen a boom in architectural exhibitions at art venues, while a major newspaper featured a series of columns in which renowned Japanese architects commented on the recent and ongoing crises; their professional insights and supposed ability to materialize progressive visions of the near future seemed to give solace to those affected by the country’s experience of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear catastrophe. Arata Isozaki, best known for his design of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, may have been better prepared intellectually for this situation than most. In his 1962 essay “Incubation Process,” accompanying imaginative drawings of future cities, he writes, “Incubated cities are destined to self-destruct / Ruins are the style of our future cities / Future cities are themselves ruins.” Back then, his apocalyptic vision of urbanization stirred controversy as Japan struggled to recover from wartime ruin; as a result, despite their contextual proximity, Isozaki was opposed by the avant-garde Metabolist group, which aimed to construct an optimistic image of future cities as organically expanding, continuously regenerating themselves. Originally published in a special issue of the art magazine Bijutsu Techo, Isozaki’s drawings were displayed in this show as etchings, along with the text and other works from his early career.

Also among the works on view was the silk screen Incubation Process/Joint Core System, 1962/1990, an iconic image related to Isozaki’s Shinjuku Project: City in the Air, 1960. It shows one of his early inventions, the Joint Core System, a multilevel urban terrain where elevated pedestrian decks and motorways interconnect among cylindrical core structures housing the utilities for the office units that extend horizontally from them. In Isozaki’s image, the gigantic cylinders are montaged with the photographic cutouts of the decaying columns of the Temple of Hera, exemplifying his idea of the future city as a ruin.

A commanding work with the same title, Incubation Process/Joint Core System, 1962/2011, is the remake of a piece resulting from a performance in which Isozaki presented a stage mounted with a black-and-white aerial photograph of the Shinjuku area so that viewers could pound nails into it or tie colorful wires, interlacing them as if to simulate building units of the Joint Core System in the city; Isozaki then poured plaster over it. The event was reenacted in a 1997 group exhibition held at the Art Tower Mito (also designed by Isozaki); in another performance, in Tokyo in 2010, Isozaki again modified a piece from the 1997 performance. The result (with minor changes added in 2011) was on view here, an abstracted landscape covered in white drips and an irregular mass of plaster, as if bombarded with giant snowballs. It visualizes Isozaki’s fundamental idea of the city in continuous flux between different states, including ruin itself as a new ground for incubation.

A heart-shaped, wall-mounted red mass, A Model of Ark Nova Mobile Concert Hall, 2011, comes from an upcoming collaborative project with the artist Anish Kapoor; when realized, the inflatable concert hall will host the Lucerne Festival’s tour of the Tohoku region as it continues to recover from the 2011 earthquake. A Metabolism retrospective concurrently held at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum positioned Isozaki as one of its central figures, despite his not being a member of the group; Isozaki’s embrace of urban decay as an unavoidable phase in his working process expands the scope of the group’s metaphor of metabolic circulation.

Shinyoung Chung