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MAT Exhibition vol.9
Nagoya Culture Promotion Unit Bilateral Visual Art Exhibition: Nagoya x Penang (Nagoya Head Office)
Review|Hasanul Isyraf Idris

Nagoya Culture Promotion Unit Review

The NCPU or the Nagoya Culture Promotion Unit is a crossover project between two port cities. I personally consider port cities to be melting pots for unique cultural exchange between their communities as well as their own architectural features. Gambling, night clubs, outsiders, organic drugs, trading, language exchange and multicultural culinary interaction are pillars of port cities. This transcends through time and distance from Melaka’s Golden era, to modern day Singapore, Pulau Pinang, Hong Kong, and Nagoya herself.

New culinary delights blossomed after the Portuguese introduced cooking oil to the Japanese, facilitating new flavours like tempura, a technique introduced by Christian missionaries from Portugal. Similarly, muskets were introduced by the Chinese and Portuguese to the Japanese who had previously been battling with arrows and katana. Hence, we can clearly see that trading between port cities deconstructed and reconstructed aspects of gastronomic experience and military tactics to a new level.

Seeing Takuya Yamashita’s piece, TOKONA-X, highlighting the eponymous rapper from Aichi, my mind wandered to the Teriyaki Boys, a group of rappers that collaborated with renowned artists like Daft Punk and Kanye West. They were the masterminds behind the soundtrack for Tokyo Drift. The rap scene in Japan transcends style and music, delving into realms of underground toys and manga. TOKONA-X unearthed my memories of a manga by Santa Inoue, Tokyo Tribe, which portrays the conflicts of territorial teenagers with their own scenes and turf, fighting armed with baseball bats, plugged into video games, while blasting rap music and indulging in the hip hop lifestyle

The expansion of the Teriyaki Boys’ music empire was tangential with a small collective of underground hip hop and b-boy performers across Japan. TOKONA-X was one of them. In the piece, he raps about various places in Nagoya, including a particular department store. To me, rap music is a collage of samplings, beats, and rhymes combined into a new form. Another interesting feature is the music video used in TOKONA-X installed layers of multi-dimensional boxes on a clay base, iluminated by a projector to emulate the famed neon billboards of Asia’s city nightlife. The installation is simple and effortless, as rap should be, and comes from a space and place both spontaneous and authentic.

Another piece, parallel to TOKONA-X, is known as Hamonoya-san. I feel that it is something of a tribute to an important figure in Nagoya’s art movement, akin to a modern shrine of cardboard and clay. Flanked by images of his own paintings, the face of Hamonoya-san was placed in the middle of this altar, with video footage of his conversations projected onto it. This layout represents the magnitude of his influence within Nagoya’s art scene.

The work of Asuka Miyata, on the other hand, digs into the memories of the port itself. It was based on the recorded conversations of local people, asking them to consider what momento the port would produce if it were to have its own souvenir? The question gave rise to a pennant, a triangular flag that would be familiar to college students in America. I once saw such a pennant hanging in my neighbour’s living room, perhaps as a lucky charm or a success symbol. Possibly, this is what Asuka attempted to manifest.

Tetriana Ahmed Fauzi mimics the patterns of local mangroves which resemble monsho motifs, with silkscreen printing, producing sarongs or over-the-shoulder carriers for a traveller. The sarongs are wrapped in furoshiki, traditional Japanese wrapping cloths, creating a hybrid of the two cultures. The artwork reminds me of the Mega Mendung (gloomy cloud) patterns of Indonesian Cirebon batik, This pattern is rich with symbols representing rain, the weather being a vital factor at all ports.

4uto-c0rrec4 is a collaboration between Forrest Wong and Yuji Kinoshita, which involves performance art, drawings on paper, and a chat history of emojis displayed on a tablet. The language barrier became their entry point. They got lost in the worlds of words but found a way by using emojis as a communication tool. The emojis developed into a drawing of a large red-faced fanged giant with a blue fur pasted under the stairs with a background of forested hills. This was the starting point for their artwork, giving birth to a map of Nagoya. Every memory in Japan was turned into a nostalgic recollection as Forrest pondered upon his birthplace, a small town in Negeri Sembilan. His narrative-based performance involved describing the hills behind his grandmother’s house and the experience of drinking tea with her after an entire day at the orchard. The audience was invited to have a drink with him, creating an atmosphere conducive to engagement. Despite serving as visual stimulant, it triggered a sensory experience for the taste buds. During the presentation, he performed the mandi bunga (flower bath) ritual and washed the feet of one audience member. In the Shinto religion, water is seen as sacred. Upon entering the temple, one must cleanse oneself with water, a fitting metaphor for physical and spiritual purification. 4uto-c0rrec4 comprises many compartments, from digital technology which transitioned into drawing to the memory-mapping of Nagoya, and ended with an almost spiritual display of performance art.

Life is a Carnival is a project by D.D (Arika Someya and Tetsu Imamura), a duo who push fine art beyond its boundaries, imbuing it with architectural and sociological aspects. I found their projects to be absurd and senseless (in a cool way). Life is a Carnival does not support or oppose hostile architecture, but is even more doubtful and paradoxical. The piece resembles a wall raised on the left side of the exhibition space, with circular holes of various sizes cut out of it and painted yellow.

Yellow to me represents the colour of warning signs which are easily found in every urban city across the globe. The wall appears inviting yet does not allow entry, only remaining visually pleasing from the outside. While ostensibly done for the public good, it is, at the same time, passive-aggressive; to me, this is what hostile architecture is all about. D.D deconstructed such confrontational methods with cynicism and subtlety.

I believe that all cities must be democratic, for they are built by and for all layers of society, from the working, middle, and upper classes. A city has to be vibrant and lively like a playground. For instance, a skateboarder can turn a concrete bench in front of a mall into a spot to socialize, play, and engage with others. The unfortunate city dwellers turn pavements and public spaces into meeting places, using such time to rejuvenate themselves away from their crowded, stuffed, and darkened low-cost houses. The vice-like grip of hostile architecture not only hurts humanity, but evidently, it is also damaging to wildlife and vegetation. In my opinion, solving this challenge will require balance and compromise.

Mud-chihoko is a fictional diplomatic gift between Nagoya and George Town. Coastal areas always give rise to a symbiotic relationship between the land and the sea. Humans who spend their days by the shore are capable of utilizing both ecosystems to make a living. They sail through the waves, swim through the ocean, and have deep knowledge of the waters. Numerous plants, such as the mangrove, can survive and even thrive in both worlds. Animals are also driven by evolutionary forces to adapt to both environments. This can be observed in belangkas (horseshoe crabs), ketam paya (mud crabs), nyamuk (mosquitoes) and ikan belacak (mudskippers). Existing since pre-historic times, mutation shaped them into hardy creatures. Belacak can swim through the water and crawl through the mud. Their slippery bodies, with enlarged jaws and wide fins, are somewhat similar to seagoing vessels.

Mutation is an imperative aspect of this particular piece, Mud-chihoko on KOMTAR. Hoo Fan Chon proposed that gilded mudskipper sculptures be installed at the right and left tips of KOMTAR (Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak), one of Penang’s landmarks. They would serve as new ornaments for the building while also chasing evil spirits away and preventing fires. The symbol this emulates is the Shacihiko, a mythical fish with the head of a tiger and its gigantic jaws on the roof of Nagoya Palace.

Did he want the Mud-chihoko to be a guardian to the heritage and history of KOMTAR, the former icon of the north? A statement of gentrification? Perhaps as a sign of protest against the overzealous development that is happening on the island of late?

Artists are pioneers, holding a mirror to society while also reflecting it. They live and respond to their surroundings in through countless layers and perspectives. This exhibition highlights many unique traits of Nagoya with a contemporary approach. The artistic direction of the Nagoya Culture Promotion Unit uses fantasy as the main highlight. The port of Nagoya was interpreted from a plethora of perspectives. The only obstacle was the space, as a larger venue would have granted the artwork and viewers more breathing room. Nevertheless, this exhibition is a great boost for the Malaysian art scene. Despite the time constraints, the artists managed to express themselves in a sophisticated manner. I eagerly anticipate seeing more intriguing projects like this from the Japan Foundation in the future.