Lee Bul  

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 art-space.

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 impact.

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 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 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 them.

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).

SCAI the Bathhouse Kashiwa-yu Ato, 6-1-23 Yanaka, Taito-ku Tel: 03.3821.1144 12:00 - 19:00 Closed Sun & Mon. through December 8