Future Beauty: 30 years of Japanese fashion.
The Future Beauty: 30 Years Of Japanese Fashion is the first exhibition in Europe to survey Japanese fashion from the early 1980's. The exhibition puts the extraordinary designs of Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake on an extraordinarily beautiful pedestal for the world to see.
The exhibition follows on from The Barbican's successful collaboration with Victor and Rolf in 2008. From October til February the Barbican has given fashion followers a large helping of fashion excellence from the creme de la creme of Japanese fashion designers.
The Barbican's future beauty exhibition was curated by respected fashion historian Akiko Fukai, also director of Kyoto Costume Institute. The exhibition hosts a great number of garments that have never reached UK land.
The exhibition was utterly sensational. It was neither patronizing to those unaware of the greatness that is Kawakubo, Miyake and Yamamoto, yet it gave just the right information, so that the already informed left the exhibition still enlightened.
The gallery starts of as a baron, clear white space that shows great respect towards the beautifully constructed garments. The sections on the ground floor are separated by sheer white tapestry, whilst amazingly serene music is masking the atmosphere in the background.
A main theme throughout the lower floor was that of Wabi-sabi, meaning finding beauty in imperfection. This is highlighted greatly through designers Junya Watanabe, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. The designers delved greatly into the them of garments fundamentally going against the way garments are usually perfected and went against the notion of how human beings are supposed to wear the clothing. This is exposed greatly by the abnormal folds, unfinished seams and frayed hems on individual pieces of clothing.
An amazing stand out garment was by Rei Kawakubo spring/summer 98. The garment is shown in a present like style on the floor of the gallery. When untied the present transforms into a dress, consisting of a bodice and skirt that is brought together by pleated tubes. The garment is absolutely, and also takes a while to get your head around.
Rei Kawakubo- Kawkubo's Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body collection broke all the rules and was truly a pleasure to be in the presence of such amazing garments. The pieces completely went against all manner of the human form and made the mannequins look like an exquisite version of the hunchback of Notre Dame. A stand out dress from this collection was a pink knitted sweater dress. It's embroidery was unparalleled and it exuded femininity and grace.
Issey Miyake's A-POC garment from spring/summer 89 was an amazing garment . It showed the first spark of colour in the exhibition. The garment showed a weaving process that produces fully functional, finished garments from a roll of fabric and without the need of machine sewing seams. Long tubes of double knit fabric were woven flat, so that the wearer can then remove a section of the roll of fabric by cutting along the marked lines and making an outfit.
Hiroaki Ohya's spring/summer 2000 garment was an amazing burst of colour, which was a lovely contrast from previous black and white garments. The chinese lantern style dress is an interchangeable garment that moved in a variety of ways, for example the dress was also a beautiful separates piece, which create an absolutely stunning skirt and top set.
A stand out section was that by Junya Watanabe and his new concepts of cut and styling. Beautiful music was playing in the background and you could do nothing but stare in amazement at the large projection of the waterproof garments in motion. Grey skirts with simple green lining were manipulated into waterproof wonders.
A negative part of the exhibition on a whole was the lack of chronological order throughout the garments on display. The ground floor garments can get some what confusing as there is no clear chronology between dates of shows that garments featured in. There was also a complete mixture between the designers shown in the different sections on the ground floor. You sometimes get the impression that garments are put together because they look similiar and fit with the theme and they look like they could be part of the same collection, whereas they could be made by completely different designers from a many number of years separation.
Modern Japanese Designers
In the higher levels of the Barbican Art Gallery the more modern Japanese designers garments were tucked away in the concrete alcoves. Featured here are Mintdesigns and Jun Takahashi.
Mintdesigns most definately came from left field in the exhibition. The modern Japanese were great to see juxtaposed against the greats of Miyake, Yamamoto and Kawakubo.
The exhibition highlighted greatly that the great Japanese designers were more than just black and white, flat clothing with minimalist accessories. You will leave this exhibition feeling more than enlightened.
The Barbican Gallery, unsurprisingly located in London's maze-like Barbican Centre, is currently playing host to not just one, but two, art exhibitions. Paying the hefty admission price of £7 (£5 concessions) will get you into both of them. The lower floor of the gallery is given over to a retrospective of the work of photographer Helmut Newton, and the upper floor (sort of like a balcony around the outside of the gallery, looking down onto the lower floor) is currently hosting an exhibition entitled 'JAM'. 'JAM' is an exhibition of the work of contemporary artists currently working in London and Tokyo. It's a very hip collection of pieces, mixing media and styles. The result is a bizarrely eclectic mix of works that don't really gel into a coherent exhibition. Don't get me wrong, there's some interesting stuff in there, but overall, it seems like a peculiar arrangement of thematically inconsistent pieces, pretty haphazardly arranged. BARBICAN GALLERY The 'JAM' gallery space is intriguing, consisting of a series of large booths, around the outside of the gallery, each containing the work of three or four artists. I'll describe some of the artists whose work I found most interesting when I visited the exhibition. The first piece you see, upon walking up the steps to the gallery, looks like a small stall, apparently selling souvenirs. This piece has been submitted by controversial London design artists, Bump, who have characteristically elected to poke fun at the venue of the exhibition itself. The souvenir stall holds such gems as a 'Barbican Centre colouring book', which comes complete with three ordinary grey pencils with which to colour the picture in, and sew-on badges proudly proclaiming that the wearer has visited a "TOURIST TRAP". To complete the illusion, the souvenir stall bears a well-thumbed copy of 'Loaded' magazine. Bump's installati
on sets the tone for the exhibition somewhat. This is not an exhibition that takes itself particularly seriously, for the most part. However, there are some artists who don't have such a deconstructionist attitude towards their participation, and it is this apparent division between the exhibited artists who produce thought-provoking serious pieces, and those who produce equally thought-provoking, but at the same time, largely frivolous pieces. Bump, or as they sometimes choose to call themselves, Shoreditch Twat, have submitted some of the exhibition's most entertaining pieces, but at the same time, few would argue that they don't have a message to offer – generally through satirical commentary on politics and social mores. One of the booths in the exhibition holds a poster-sized reproduction of Shoreditch Twat's current publication, the 14th issue of the journal 'Heavy Artillery'. Normal A5-sized copies are available for visitors to the exhibition too. The journal is filled with mocking fake advertisements, unsubtly criticising society's attitude towards the female form, and poking fun at anti-capitalist demonstrations, by advocating that demonstrators should use the toilets of chain stores, in order to "block the system". Another London artist on display is Paul Davis. Davis has presented a series of images on pages torn from a sketchbook, each depicting a face, and accompanied by that person's thoughts about the Internet. It's an interesting piece, reflecting the diversity of people's attitudes towards the new technology, and revealing a preponderance of fear and concern about it, perhaps explaining Davis's choice of the title 'Old Media' for the piece. Each page has been affixed to the wall using a single large steel nail, perhaps adding to the technophobic feel of the piece. The work is strongly reminiscent of Gillian Wearing's images entitled 'Sings that say what you
want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say', which consists of photographs of people holding signs depicting their thoughts. Steven Gontarski, a recent exhibitor at the Saatchi Gallery's 'New Neurotic Realism' exhibition, is represented by three works. Two of these are cast sculptures loosely resembling a distorted human form. The curves of Gontarski's work, and the loose resemblance of the forms to physical shapes, lend his sculptures an oddly organic feel, which clashes interestingly with the artificial textures and materials. His interest in street culture is represented by the third piece, entitled 'Block III', which bears graffiti-like spray paint, upon a large solid block. Ben Judd is represented by a pair of videos entitled 'I Remember' and 'I Remember II'. The first of these videos struck me as the more interesting, consisting of a video filmed from the inside of a car, trained on passers-by. As the people outside the car go about their business, Judd holds cardboard cut-outs of faces over their actual faces, and provides a running commentary of the people's thoughts and feelings. It's another quite entertaining piece, and is quite amusing to watch, but it seems to have less inherently to say than some of the works on display. However, for me, one of the most interesting decisions was the one to include television presenter Chris Morris, in the exhibition. Morris has contributed a 30-minute mix of his recent television series 'Jam', which is presented in a small dark room in the gallery. The room contains four flat-screen televisions, all showing the programme, which can be listened to using four pairs of headphones hanging from the ceiling in the centre of the room. Whether or not you consider the television series to constitute "art", is, of course, a matter of opinion. One thing I did notice is that in the atmosphere of an art
gallery, I found myself more appreciative of the skill with which the show was assembled – the camera effects used, the ambient music, the sound effects and distortion. It's impressive that Morris was able to construct such an intriguing, yet still entertaining, experience. Moving on to the Tokyo artists on display, again there were some very interesting pieces. What did strike me, however, was that there was remarkably little difference overall in terms of the types of art produced in the two cities. Perhaps, if anything, the Japanese artists tended to use more technological tools to produce their art. For example, Cornelius's video 'Point of view point' is a short few-minute long video played out in a tiny darkened room off the main gallery space, which really ought to be experienced from within a square formed by four speakers within the room. The video shows car headlights streaking through the streets of Tokyo, much like in the beginning scenes of the video for Madonna's 'Ray of Light', accompanied by a song containing the lyrics 'Point of view point' repeated over and over. Near Cornelius's exhibit, is a collection of pieces by one of his friends', Nigo. Nigo is the chief designer for a Japanese design company called 'A Bathing Ape', and seems to have an odd 'Planet of the Apes' fixation, incorporating images of man-apes into packaging and T-shirt designs. 'A Bathing Ape' also produces items, seemingly just for their aesthetic properties. For example, several transparent aerosol cans are on display, each of which holds an intricate figure, which serves as the can's rattle. Ichiko Tanida and Hideyuki Tanaka have both contributed computer generated images, either from, or inspired by computer games. Tanaka assisted with graphic design on the Playstation title, 'Bust A Groove 2', and has worked on several videos for Japanese pop songs and tele
vision station IDs. A selection of videos by Japanese artists play in a large darkened room off the main gallery space. Another interesting piece on display is Kyoichi Tsuzuki's video footage of rooms in Tokyo. These are presented in (yet another) darkened room off the main gallery space. At one end of the room is a large screen, filling the wall, at the other end is a small pillar, upon which is a computer mouse. By using the mouse, you can navigate through a three-dimensional world shown on the screen. Firstly, you choose a room from the many depicted in front of you, and then upon entering that room, can pan around, and zoom in and out, to examine the room. It's an interesting collection of photographs, showing how different people have coped with the demands of the lack of space in the Japanese capital. Yoshitomo Nara is an interesting painter, presenting unsettling paintings of young children with large, out-of-proportion heads. The images are ones of innocence and vulnerability, incorporating typically Japanese cartoon styles, but still seem oddly unsettling to look at. One wall of the exhibition combines Nara's images with the writings of popular Japanese novelist Banana Yoshimoto. SPONSORSHIP The 'JAM' exhibition is sponsored by Shiseido make-up, and if you should have the time, patience and inclination, you can queue up to consult a Shiseido representative about your make-up. An image of your face is taken using a computer, and the make-up is applied to the computer image to indicate how it would improve your appearance. While you wait, you can sit on a series of chairs, and peruse some artsy magazines, which hang from the ceiling on pieces of string. BUT THAT'S NOT ALL No, if you pick up the brightly coloured leaflets entitled 'Jam Map' from the entrance desk to the Barbican Gallery, you can get directions to the Dazed & Confused Gallery and the Artomatic Gallery, both of
which are participating in the 'Jam' exhibition. The, extremely verbose, directions have been written by Bump, and are pretty entertaining for the sheer wealth of detail offered. "Cross the little side street with the ginger tabby cat on the corner and on the next road to your right there is a no entry sign but go down anyway – Banner Street. There are several varieties of bollards on Banner Street and you need to pass them all, in total 25." The cat wasn't there, but the no entry sign and bollards were. I went to see the Dazed & Confused Gallery, but didn't bother visiting the Artomatic one. The Dazed & Confused Gallery has a small exhibition of photographs by Masayuki Yoshinaga, depicting "bosozoku" motorbike gangs. These include some impressive photographs, not least of which are those showing bikers standing alongside their meticulously repainted bikes. The Artomatic Gallery, on Great Sutton Street, is hosting an exhibition of work by Naohiro Okawa. SPEND MORE? The book accompanying the exhibition costs (are you sitting comfortably?) an unbelievable £25. It's a nice book, agreed, but probably not worth that much. The bookshop in the Barbican Gallery will cheerfully sell you over-priced 'A Bathing Ape' T-shirts, and some interesting (but expensive) books of Japanese art. A book of Kyoichi Tsuzuki's photographs of rooms in Tokyo will set you back £9.95, for example. CONCLUSIONS The 'JAM' exhibition does collect together some interesting pieces of work by some very creative contemporary artists. The problem with the exhibition, however, is that there's very little actually holding the collection together, so the overall impression is considerably reduced. In its favour, the art is well presented, and although the gallery is exclusively lit by artificial light, it is adequately illuminated. To find out more information about the arti
sts exhibiting at the 'JAM' exhibition, visit their snazzy, Shockwave-heavy website at www.onlinejam.co.uk.