Light village secrets

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

The everyday in Tokyo, I loved it all: its handsome men, beautiful women, the androgyny of some, their sense of respect and modesty, but also their conspicuous consumerism. The city’s old places. New architecture. Sparkling metro. Cherry Blossoms. The weight of history, sight of futures and melancholy peeking felt at once. Much enjoyed. Flavors with tamed exoticism, constant rituals, the expansive urban ‘scape and population density. That intensity. And more than anything, the cultural opacity yet indeterminate lightness.

Visits to what became preferred sites felt like village secrets. The largest city in the world suddenly shrunk, more personable in its less popular spaces, in places of exquisite taste and intimate surroundings. Memorable: lunch of soba noodles at Keyaki Kurosawa, one of four restaurants in Tokyo inspired by the family recipes of the Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Known not only for his legendary films like Rashomon (1950) and Seven Samurai (1954), Kurosawa, I learned then, was famous for his deep interest and practice of native culinary art. I realized, though, that I probably better understand Kurosawa films than Japanese food, and that my eyes are better trained than my paladar. Memorable, too: late-night drinks at a private bar, allegedly, Nagisa Yoko’s, sited in small alley in Shinjuku Sanchōme neighboring various petite membeship clubs of the kind.

Another delight: Center for Cosmic Wonder, a space founded by Osaka-based artist Yukinori Maeda. Since the mid-1990s, Maeda has been creating artworks all the while making a fashion line that goes by the name Cosmic Wonder Light Source. The space combines his practice with collaborative productions, such as Cosmic Wonder Free Press, of which three issues have been published by Nieves in Switzerland. The first space opened in Osaka, and a couple of years ago another one was established in Tokyo’s Aoyama, in one of the many alley streets behind the avenue where Issey Miyaki, Prada and Comme des Garçons and other high-end boutiques are sited.

The Center for Cosmic Wonder is neither an art gallery nor boutique, nor is it Light Source’s signature shop or a concept store by Maeda. But it seems to function like all of them at one point or the other. In its minimal white-cube garage area is a video projection of a Cosmic Wonder performance in Paris. Trough the back door, a garden trail connects that gallery with a high-ceiling, bright-but-soft-lit space that has rotating perimeter walls hiding closets; a large mirror cube placed on the ground that like a vault carries jewelry; a rack made of a rock sculpture with bended steel holds a handful of clothing items. The space has occult references no doubt, and is openly theatrical. Its air brings to mind a de-saturated Kenneth Anger sky, and arrangements an adaption set in Scharder’s Mishima—but, in any case, in movement by a play of light, conceptual transparency and willful opacity.

Thanks to the people who introduced me to these sites, Andrew Maerkle, Mami Kataoka, Elisa Uematsu and Jeffrey Rosen, and to Doryun Chong for helping me find places in town.

For your face

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

My first l.a.Eyeworks’ frames were called Cheeks. These were thin and geometric, in aluminum red. Its surface slightly changing colors depending on light, discretely iridescent, just like a can of Coca-Cola. They looked… tasty. I was introduced to l.a.Eyeworks and their Cheeks by Alex Gray, who was my supervisor (and early mentor) during a summer internship at ArtPace in San Antonio, Texas. Cheeks were difficult to wear. They were, literally, in your face. And weird. But he convinced me. That was ten years ago.

It was a nice surprise to learn that visual artist Emily Roydson, who I worked with another summer, the one of 2004, just made a pair of l.a.Eyeworks frames. Titled Surprise… you’re pregnant!, Emily considers them a conversation piece: “Making the gaze manifest, the person wearing this work has their perspective elaborated for all to see. Provoking conversations about gender and recognition, objecthood and form, dominance and self-possession, the piece elicits a revisioning of how we read and approach each other.”

l.a.Eyeworks was established in 1979 by Gai Gherardi and Barbara McReynolds, who remain the primary creators of these handcrafted designs. Not long after their start, their frames became ubiquitous stylizing props in movies and music videos – and their stores have served as film locations, too. Not surprisingly, they’re also close to the art world, starting with their ad campaign launched in 1981 in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine.

Oh, and about Alex. He eventually moved to New York, where he opened his own art gallery: Alexander Gray Associates. He represents artists that emerged in the seventies, eighties and nineties and that were, for some time, for many reasons, largely left unattended by the marketplace. The exhibition program is strong. And he’s never been more convincing. His upcoming exhibition centers on early and current work by one New York’s best artists: Paul Ramirez Jonas.

Image: Emily Roydson, in collaboration with l.a.Eyeworks, Surprise… you’re pregnant! (2007-2009), acetate.

Beaver plague in fashion

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

This summer in Paris, Le Bon Marché—considered the first department store, it opened in 1876 in a building designed by Gustave Eiffel—had an exhibition and section devoted to young fashion designers from Buenos Aires. Among the labels included was Juana de Arco, founded and directed by the Argentine designer Mariana Cortés. On exhibition were items of her newest Winter line (seasons are reversed in the Southern Cone). The theme, Skiing. I attended the fashion show that was part of BAF in February. The walk was tackled as performance: models slipped as if walking on ice, tripped as stumbling on snow, interrupting the gait as display and breaking the characteristic cool of these shows. The clothing design and fabric patterns were also playful. In a continuation of her research in regional history, its culture and ecology, Mariana’s was inspired by her research into Peruvian, Bolivian and Argentine traditional wear. The line is not stuck in the past, though.

Mariana Cortés designs and produces her own fabrics for Juana de Arco, whether these are knitted wools she makes or cottons she prints. While inspired by indiginous South America, the fabric patterns of her Winter line have a digital-kick, something that could be drawn from 1980 video games, what is considered today low-tech. (Not surprisingly, there is a cult-like following of Juana de Arco’s fashion in Japan.) But taking in mind that the loom is considered the first computer, this is not too far apart. Jackets are saturated with Bolivian wool-string pom poms. Peruvian inspired sweaters are here dresses or pants. Other clothing items are made with beavers here and here silk-screened in the fabric. Oh, yes, and that makes reference to the ecology of Argentina. “What?” I asked, perplexed, knowing beavers are not native to South America let alone to her homeland! Mariana had an explanation, a story really, as there is for every clothing item she makes: During the Peron era, a couple dozen Canadian beavers were imported to Argentina in hopes the industry there would cultivate them to use their furs for high-end fashion items and accessories. That industry never really flourished, and, as you can imagine, the animal was never attended. Now, there are about 200,000 beavers there—what can be technically called a beaver plague.