“Turning Upside Down, It’s a Forest”
Artist: Takahiro Iwasaki
Humor draws me in, draws a lot of people in. Art can be anything, so does it have to be political all the time? It’s kind of amusing that we have so many people engaging with art as almost a refuge separate from the political shittyness of today. Why not remind ourselves that art can be funny at immediate encounter. Most of the time, I must read a label or brochure after encountering a work to simply “get” it. That’s not to say I don’t read labels enjoyably too; Sometimes doing so opens up the work in ways I would never have known but at other times an explanation of the work seems more like a justification for it being made in the first place. Most of the time I want to understand the work at face value. To experience it immediately.
Japan’s pavilion had a long line outside the entrance. Sometimes long lines can be magnetic, other times repelling. This time, I stood with the 30 people because I definitely wanted to see Japan’s pavilion (I’ll be journeying there soon). But, instead of being a line to enter the pavilion, it was instead a line for a specific work, “Out of Disorder (Mountains and Sea)” as part of the pavilion’s exhibition. From the line you can see there is a ladder where one-by-one a person is allowed to climb up with just their head disappearing through a small hole in the platform above us. Each person either kept their head through the hole for a millisecond, a quick peek, while some people stayed up for or a whole minute or 2. The excitement grew, it was hard not to watch the faces of each person as they descended the ladder. It was entertaining as we waited in line. Some of them looked puzzled, some of them descended the ladder chuckling.
Then came my turn.
I climbed the ladder, fit my head through the hole, and found myself in the center of a work and subsequently in the center of the pavilion’s exhibition. Many of the visitors were looking at me, probably waiting to see who would pop through, or maybe to see my reaction. I couldn’t help but laugh, I was literally the ‘center of attention.” I loved it. We spend such a long time looking at objects, inspecting them closely, and suddenly it was all turned around. I was the thing to look at. I smiled, managed to peek my hand through the hole, and waved at one person staring at me. He smiled back. After about 45 seconds I felt like I had the experience I needed, not the one I expected! I engaged with another viewer, I did a 360° to see what was around me, and then descended, still laughing at the total unexpectedness of what was above that hole.
I’m realizing now that if someone who is about to attend the Venice Biennale is reading this...I’ve given away the surprise.. But I don’t think it should stop anyone from experiencing the work. Actually, after reading the accompanying brochure, the work isn’t about one’s experience in the center of the entire room. It’s actually about peering through the “mountain” of laundry from “sea-level.” I barely looked at the artwork itself, directly next to my head, because I was preoccupied making eye-contact with viewers who were watching those of us who popped our head through the hole. Maybe thats just me?
So, at the end of the day what I thought was a purposefully-humorous piece ended up being a bit more serious and literal. I was supposed to care about the laundry surrounding me but I hadn’t. However, with my own interpretation, I liked it very much.
“Out of Disorder (Mountains and Sea)” 2017 sheets, towels, dust cloth, Chinese ink dimensions variable.
Photograph by Robert Battersby