In the narrow streets of Yanaka, one of Tokyo's remaining old
neighborhoods, is one of Tokyo's premiere contemporary art spaces. SCAI
the bathhouse is easily located by the huge old chimney, which signifies
the buildings former use as the public bath. The gallery space makes good
use of the bathhouse architecture featuring clerestory windows and high
ceilings. The entrance foyer remains in original bathhouse style of tiled
floor and wooden lockers for shoes. Stark white walls and gray polished
concrete floors add the contemporary touch to the interior of this funky
SCAI is well known for featuring adventurous contemporary art from Japan
and around the world. Unlike many Tokyo galleries, which are noted for
the rapidity and uneven quality of their displays, exhibitions here last
for about 8 weeks and often feature emerging artists who are making an
Korean artist Lee Bul became well known in Tokyo for her fun and unusual
art performances. One such performance involved her traveling from Seoul
to Tokyo dressed in an elaborate and brightly colored furry monster suit.
Other works have involved decorating fish.
On show at The Bathhouse Gallery is a series of her sculptures that are
cyborgs Ð part human, part machine. The human parts are feminine and are
covered in futuristic armor. Lee Bul's art is well suited to the duality
of this bathhouse cum art gallery space. Her sculptures also seem to have
multiple personalities. Her androids are somewhere between Michelangelo
and Odaku styled manga.
Cyborg 66, is a sculpture hanging from the central gallery space
and is over 2 meters in height. Reminiscent of Michelangelo's fabulous
unfinished sculptures known as the dying slaves. A figure is still emerging
from the marble stone from which it was carved. Lee Bul's mechanical woman
is half-formed and evidence of the sculpture's molding process is evident.
Also adding to the form's incomplete look is the undercoat white which
it has been sprayed Ð as if removed, too soon, from the production line.
Mini Cyborg in red, yellow and pink beads are three smaller works
in which the human form appears to be still gestating from a gel like
substance, plastic bead material from which it is made. These works are
part Vogue magazine type designer objects and part industrial molding
process rejects. These are imperfect multiples from mass production and
yet also elegant desirable forms. You are constantly reassessing these
sculptures, unsure whether to crave and caress, or discard and dismiss
Also on show are drawings, which depict living organisms - hearts and
lungs, connected by veins. Her drawings are somewhere between 'B' movies
and surrealist art and are used for further sculptures.
The art itself and the unique nature of this gallery are strong reasons
to walk on past the better known treasures of national museums in Ueno
park for a visit to the bathhouse. For those with a bit more time such
a journey could also include the Tokyo Art University Gallery (see Gallery
Listings) in the northwest corner of Ueno park and the Asakura Choso Museum,
also in Yanaka (see ongoing shows for details).