Meiro Koizumi, We Mourn The Dead of the Future, 2019, five-channel video installation, color, sound, 49 minutes 51 seconds. Installation view.

Meiro Koizumi, We Mourn The Dead of the Future, 2019, five-channel video installation, color, sound, 49 minutes 51 seconds. Installation view.

Meiro Koizumi

For his fifth solo exhibition at Annet Gelink Gallery in Amsterdam, Meiro Koizumi continued the trajectory of his previous work, forcing viewers to reckon with their own personal value systems by setting individual ethics against the moral codes of the state and/or our collective culture(s). At the entrance to the show, the charcoal drawing Fog #3, 2019, greeted visitors with its unsettling depiction of a woman beaming serenely outward while holding something smoldering in her bare hands. On an adjacent wall was House, 2019, a trio of small frames, each containing nearly identical typed accounts of a Japanese soldier tasked with committing horrific acts while fighting in the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937–45. While all three shared the same title, “A House,” each tale had a slightly different ending, though none left very much room for hope. The stage was set.

The rest of the gallery was dedicated to We Mourn the Dead of the Future, 2019, a presentation of five overlapping projections wrapping around the back corner of the space, where unceremonious beanbag seating was accentuated by the informality of the projectors on the floor. This unpretentiousness was dramaturgically cunning, because it allowed audiences to get comfortable before they were launched into a poignant internal confrontation with themselves.

To make this piece, Koizumi collaborated with Theater Commons Tokyo and twenty young Japanese adults, who were all faced with a single question: Are people really willing to throw their lives away for the nation-state or other such ideals? The manner in which this question was answered was quite haunting. Filmed outdoors at a former US military base in Japan on an especially dismal, cold, and rainy day, this production offered a series of fixed-camera shots of an eerily repetitious ceremony. Some of the performers were piled in a heap on one side of the field, while, nearby, others were lying face-up in a neat row on the ground. The actors could move from one group to the other only after agents in white lab coats and masks had formally escorted them, one by one, to a makeshift platform. There, they were forced to their knees with their hands behind their backs, after which they pledged their allegiance either to the concept of self-sacrifice or to the principle of individual autonomy. After a swift and violent movement of the head—reminiscent of a primitive form of capital punishment and enhanced by a very brief boost in the speed of the film—the actor was then dragged to one or the other pile and laid to rest, only to have a voice in the chorus repeat his or her pledge. Gathered around them was a circle of spectators holding umbrellas and taking photos. Their silence was emphasized by the sound of the falling rain. This striking passivity called into question their innocence. Yet it was here that an essential aspect of the work itself was revealed: In the background, one of the spectators could be seen walking a dog in reverse. The entire ceremony was in fact a loop, playing first forward and then backward, over and over again. How obvious this was depended on when the viewer entered the space. The acting, movement, and direction during the filming were so precise as to render this reversal initially imperceptible, reinforcing the sense that the dichotomy of the two ethical positions expressed in the pledges simultaneously evoked the ghosts of the past and the potential “heroes” of our future.