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BACK ISSUE #411

Nirvana, 1997,
3D video installation

Mariko Mori: Pure Land
Mariko Mori is not Bjork. She is neither a bodhisattva nor an alien. (She's actually the daughter of an engineering professor and a Breughel scholar, and a descendant of Roppongi real-estate magnates.) But such issues of dressed-up identity and spirituality characterize Mori's first major solo show in Japan.

In Cindy Sherman-style photo murals from the mid-'90s, Mori tweaks the typecast roles of women in Japanese society. As a silver-skinned alien OL, she offers tea on a busy street corner. As a bewildered manga warrior, she grips a machine-gun in a video arcade. In these personal auditions for the perfect postmodern Japanese girl, Mori, who studied at Tokyo's Bunka Fashion College and New York's Whitney Program, reflects and complicates real, if fantasy-prone, spaces of the city—Akihabara electronics outlets, cos-play (costume play) salons and Harajuku hangouts.

Play With Me, 1994, 305 x 367cm, Fuji super gloss print

Later in the '90s, Mori reoriented from contemporary issues to the visual splendor of Asian art history and MTV. The consistently high production values of Mori's material-rich music videos, drawings and installations show off her keen sense of color and her interest in traditional outfits in the most eye-catching new materials.

But the distracting surface hides an empty center. Mori no longer poses as warped Japanese pop idols, but as the central goddess in her own religion (Buddhism) or as a rock star with similar pretensions. In the VH-1-ready Kumano, kimono-clad Mori sings pretty, lilting songs a la Enya (husband and fellow artist, Ken Ikeda, wrote the music) while running through the tourist board-approved woods of Wakayama Prefecture.

Mori's landscapes are the romanticized cliches of TV commercials—the meditative desert in the video Nirvana, enchanted and mysterious forests and waterfalls in Kumano. Echoing the escapism of '90s trance culture and New Age spirituality, hypnotic sounds and colors in the peaceful utopia of pristine nature mystically transform artist Mori into Rave Goddess Mariko.

The only real tension in these videos is between the entrancing eye-candy and Mori's own physical limitations. In the 3D video Nirvana, CG angels zip around playing traditional musical instruments while goddess Mori floats in flowing robes, sings, and twists her hands into a series of Buddhist mudras (sacred hand gestures). Without the lifelong training of a geisha or a kabuki actor, though, her ordinary awkwardness and weak voice reveal her not as otherworldly but merely human.

Dream Temple (CG Image),
1999, installation

Still, she perseveres in true bodhisattva spirit. Mori's major Gesamtkunstwerk attempts to holistically impart her spiritually unifying vision to viewers. The Dream Temple is a modern translation of the Yumedono, or "dream hall," at Horyu-ji in Nara. The eight-sided structure shimmers—white columns raise the transparent, iridescent violet dichroic glass (the changing colors are close to the idea of consciousness, according to Mori) planes above a thick layer of salt on the floor. Visitors enter the spherical womb of the inner chamber one at a time, kneel on a pillow, don earphones and watch a computer-enhanced diagram of the origins of life—images of water, bubbles, and biomorphic shapes—on a sensory enveloping convex screen for 4 minutes and 44 seconds.

Why did Mori slip from a relatively complex and influential reflection of Japanese culture to a retrograde, albeit beautiful, Hollywood vision of the universe? Whatever the reason, this show is still worth seeing for the photographs and even for the sugar-high spectacle of the rest.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo
Until Mar 24. Kiba stn (Tozai line); Kikukawa stn (Toei Shinjuku line). 4-1-1 Miyoshi, Koto-ku. Tue-Sun 10am-6pm, Fri until 9pm. Tel: 03-5245-4111. Adm: Adults ¥900, students ¥700, children ¥450. www.tef.or.jp/mot

ART ARCHIVE:
449: Between Reality and Dreams: 19th Century British and French Art from the Winthrop Collection of the Fogg Art Museum
448: Quobo: Art in Berlin 1989-99
447: Scandinavian Landscape Painting in the 19th Century
446: Peter Bellars: Par for the Course
445: Doug Aitken: New Ocean
444: Andrea Zittel: A-Z Garments Series
443: Sebastiao Salgado: Exodus
442: Dumb Type: Voyages
441: Tadanori Yokoo: All Things in the Universe
440: Jean-Marc Bustamante: Private Crossing
439: Joan Miro : 1918-1945
438: Modern Paintings of Mongolia
437: Manit Sriwanichpoom: Bangkok in Pink
436: French Drawings from the British Museum: From Fontainebleau to Versailles
435: Muneteru Ujino: Japan Series
434: Photography Today 2: Site/Sight
433: Rirkrit Tiravanija and Raymond Pettibon
432: Three Young Artists from Korea
431: Dynastic Heritage of Korea
430: Seoul Pop
429: Dreams & Goals
428: Since Godzilla
427: Yoshihiro Suda + Tetsuya Nakamura: Un Monde Revé de la Main
426: GA Houses Project 2002
425: Sesshu: 500th Anniversary
424: Luis Barragan: The Quiet Revolution
423: The Mori Arts Center/Young Video Artists Initiative
422: The Adventures of Tintin
421: Session - Super Eccentric of Japan's Warring States Period
420: Jorge Pardo
419: Artists Without Borders
418: Dennis Hollingsworth
417: Masterworks from the Prado Museum
416: JAM: Tokyo-London
415: Digital Beauties
414: Arika Someya
413: MOMAT
412: NW House
411: Mariko Mori
410: Sonia Delaunay
409: Buckminster Fuller
408: Wusheng Wang
407: Tokyo Architecture #2
406: Tokyo Architecture #1
405: The Art Ahead
404: Table Manners
403: Tom Sanford at Tomoya Saito Gallery
402: Nambanga: An Anthology of World Manga
401: Masterworks from MoMA
400: Spencer Tunick: Nude Adrift

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