Fuyuhiko Takata, Ghost Painting, 2015, digital video, color, 2 minutes 44 seconds.

Fuyuhiko Takata, Ghost Painting, 2015, digital video, color, 2 minutes 44 seconds.

Fuyuhiko Takata

Fuyuhiko Takata, Ghost Painting, 2015, digital video, color, 2 minutes 44 seconds.

Currently enrolled in the doctoral program in painting at Tokyo University of the Arts, Fuyuhiko Takata is among the most fascinating young artists to emerge in Japan in recent years. His works—mainly short, quasi-narrative videos—rely on colorful, handcrafted props, outré humor, and doses of scatology and sadism to upend normative gender roles and their social implications. For example, the early video Japan Erection, 2010, found the half-naked artist using a giant Japanese-archipelago-shaped phallus attached to his crotch to trash his cluttered room. Elsewhere he has appeared as the pop star Britney Spears (LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!, 2009), a uniformed schoolgirl (MANY CLASSIC MOMENTS, 2011), and a schoolboy who is pelted with turd-like balls of dirt (TSUYOI KO [A Strong Child], 2008). There is something sophomoric about these works, but they also exhibit an audaciousness in execution that sets Takata apart from more convention-bound peers.

Comprising four recent videos, Takata’s solo show “STORYTELLING” was his first at a major gallery in Tokyo. The most provocative work was the oldest, and the exhibition’s namesake. Displayed innocuously on a wall-mounted flat-screen monitor hung above a table and sofas in the brightly lit foyer, STORYTELLING, 2014, initially seems to show an off-screen subject stringing together free-associative narratives from the details he picks out of Rorschach-like patterns of blue ink dappled on an off-white surface that fills most of the camera frame. He identifies a secret military installation harboring a UFO, or a group of animals gathering to burn down Cinderella’s castle, for example. But as the underlying musculature is revealed through the twitches that accompany each intake of the man’s breath, it becomes clear that the man—Takata, squatting over the upturned camera—is inspecting his own anus. Positioning the viewer as metaphoric shithole while also suggesting the asshole as a kind of third eye through which flows all manner of mythology, fantasy, conspiracy, and projection; turning the body into both a tool for mark-making and its support, the artist satirizes the scopophilic drive to interpret and control the body and its excreta.

The other videos, projected at large scale in the darkened exhibition space, came across more as one-liners. The frenetic Afternoon of a Faun, 2015–16, repurposes elements from the Ballets Russes’s L’après-midi d’un faune, including Vaslav Nijinsky’s piebald-faun costume, Claude Debussy’s lilting score (in a contemporary arrangement by Yoshio Ootani), and a reading of Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem, in Japanese, to depict a contemporary faun’s wet dream—as captured using his selfie stick—of being assaulted by a group of bacchante-like nymphs. Similarly, Mermaids: Cambrian Explosion, 2016, draws on The Little Mermaid, with Takata appearing as the protagonist, who sings of her desire to be human. She proceeds to saw apart her bricolaged fish tail, releasing scores of orange salmon roe—a gustatory delicacy that here evokes blood, the female reproductive system, male ejaculate, and conspicuous consumption all at once—to stream onto the floor. As perversely amusing as these works are, their range of possible interpretations is foreclosed somewhat by their parodic structure.

In the last video, Ghost Painting, 2015, Takata has rigged himself up so that it appears that a white-sheeted ghost figure is using the artist’s decapitated head and the blood that has spilt from it to paint a large red circle on a transparent surface—the camera is recording from the perspective of the canvas. Takata is taking aim at, and situating himself within, a tradition of self-portraiture that includes Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath, ca. 1610, and the postmodern practice of Yasumasa Morimura, who has indeed made his own version of Goliath. Simultaneously, the circle recalls the motif of the ensō in Japanese painting (in particular Red Circle on Black, 1965, by Gutai cofounder Jirō Yoshihara) and its connotations of the negation or transcendence of the self. There is a nice triangulation here between Takata and the contradictory historical languages from which he draws—a technique that signals his promise as an artist on the verge of discovering his own voice.

Andrew Maerkle