The Essential:

Takuro Osaka, Yoshihiro Suda, Satoshi Otsuka, Yoshiaki Watanabe


A quality single malt whiskey
has an abundance of complex flavors. The distilling process concentrates the intensity. It is the same with good art. By careful simplification, peeling back down to the essentials, a more intense and complex piece is revealed. 'The Essential' is the title of an exhibition at the Chiba city museum of such highly distilled art. Four artists' display work concentrated into a powerful potion. The most refined of the work belongs to Satoshi Otsuka. At first glance, Otsuka's work seems no more than a sheet of framed dark glass. A glimmer of light, a refracted beam is 'trapped' inside the glass. Like a star in the night sky, the light seems to twinkle between the layers of glass within the frame.

Also in the exhibition by Otsuka are photographs taken by a camera fitted with his specially constructed lens. The 'lens' is made from a mirror mounted to allow light to enter from the sides. The self-reflective images are displayed with the camera that recorded them.

Yoshihiro Suda carves the most delicate flowers out of wood, so accurately that you have to look very closely to tell if they are real or not. One intriguing work of his in the exhibition seems to turn the art viewing process inside out. It is displayed such that you first encounter the construction framework of a narrow room built within the gallery. It looks like the behind the scenes of a TV set.

The end 'wall' is made of paper and acts as a screen. On it, you see the diffused shadows of people who are inside the space and are examining a flower mounted on the other side of the screen. Only by walking around the makeshift construction does the completed 'TV set' nature of the work reveal itself as a finished interior of a white corridor with a white flower at the far end. On entering the hall and walking down to examine the painted wooden flower close up, you begin to realize that you are now part of the shadow play, performing for the next visitor looking at the work from the outside.

The Chiba City Museum of Art is a new modern building wrapped around the remains of an old bank. The original building is Neo Grecian revival style and has a wonderful mosaic floor. Yoshiaki Watanabe has arranged thousands of candles along the geometric border of the tiled floor.

Periodically over the exhibition the candles are lit and allowed to burn. Like falling dominoes, the flames travel from one candle to the next. On the floor, protected by a sheet of clear Perspex, the melted wax and burnt wicks make and expressively dripped imitation of the original floor pattern. The candles lit in the evening make a spectacular sight -- reminiscent of forest fires spreading from tree to tree or perhaps a fire bombed city during the war, with flames leaping from building to building.

On an upper floor of the modern part of the museum, Watanabe has installed thousands more candles on a small shelf along three walls of a large gallery. As these candles are lit and allowed to burn, they scorch the white walls, leaving a plume of black soot and delicate drippings of wax.

The red light emanating from the LED's (Light Emitting Diodes) of Takuro Osaka's installation is overpowering. The whole room seems to float in red from a large wall of LED's. Osaka uses the energy of cosmic rays to stimulate the diodes in an ever-changing pattern.

At the back of the room, a gallery guard standing by a small black cubbyhole is the only indication there is more of Osaka's work to be seen. Ducking through the hole into the black void, you proceed along a corridor to another entrance. On stepping inside you are knocked breathless by a spectacular spray of blue light. The intensely blue lights shoot infinitely upwards to the heavens. It is as close to a religious experience you are likely to get in an art gallery. Osaka aptly names the work 'Room of Revelation'. The work is overpowering. Clutching the safety rail again you retreat reassuring yourself that it was all just lights and mirrors.

'The Essentials' is an exhibition of minimal art that is 100% proof and made by some of Japan's finest distillers working in contemporary art. It is not a big exhibition -- perhaps not many more than a dozen works in total. But like a shot of single malt it packs a powerful punch and may leave you staggering.

Chiba City Museum of Art

3-10-8, Chuo, Chuo-ku, Chiba Ph: 04.3221.2311 10:00 - 18:00 (Friday - 20:00), Closed Mondays Adults Y1000 children Y500 Sobu Line Chiba Station, 10 mins walk