Saturday, October 5, 2013

'Influence: A solo show by Irie Takahito' at Arebyte Gallery

Freaky post-humanism always appeals to me.  From Cronenbergs "new flesh" to Giger's biomechanics to artcyborg Stelarc's self modification - throw technology and flesh into a cultural blender and what emerges is both pregnant with meaning and looks cool as hell. These combinations of human and machine usually tend towards horror: the subject often disgusted and alienated by the sanctity of the body being violated.  While I guess this is understandable I've always been enthusiastic about these possibilities. Would becoming one with technology really be so bad? Anyway, aren't we already utterly integrated with technology?

Irie Takahito is a Japanese artist currently working in Seoul known for his video, illustration, performance and illustration work.  He was displayed in the Saatchi as part of their HUGO exhibition earlier this year, and is now in Arbeit in Hackney Wick.  This exhibition, a series of photographs of bodypainted models forms part of his H/U/M/A/N M/A/C/H/I/N/E project: an exploration of the increasingly incestuous relationship between man and machine.

A plugsuit from Neon Genesis Evangelion
The literature in the gallery makes reference to a visual parallel with the anime Gundam series, yet these designs immediately recalled the 'plugsuits' worn by the heroes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, a wildly popular (and totally insane) series about teenagers piloting giant organic robots cloned from their dead parent's DNA.  It's as barmy as it is great, freely combining artificial and organic in a gooey technological melange - emphasising liquid analogue rather hard digitalality.  The aesthetic tends towards of clean lines and primary colours, minimalism and symmetry looking both attractive and futuristic.

I see these same principles in Takahito's work: blocks of interconnected vivid colour - a design that both looks beautiful and technically utilitarian.  The application of these designs to the human body doesn't render it grotesque, rather givint it a serene beauty, the models dressed in fictionsuits that allowing them to penetrate a sci-fi future. The lines of the physical body are broken up, jet black backgrounds swallowing human lines, leaving expressive disembodied faces, individuals transformed into the digital rather than flesh.

Here, individuality as we'd commonly think of it has been all but erased.  The natural reaction is discomfort, it's one thing to rush forward and embrace a technological existence, but another kettle of fish if you have to sacrifice autonomy and individuality to participate. The idea of physical appearance as irrelevant in the internet age is both scary and bursting with transformative potential.  After all, if anybody can be anything, who can you trust?  

The disturbing end of the scale are those that develop a masquerade to extort money or sex: constructed identity used as a weapon.  But, the idea of anonymous digital avatars we send out to represent us is now almost universal, be it a user-name to comment on Twitter, the polygon bodies of online gaming and the robot faces of Daft Punk or the entirely virtual popstar Hatsune Mika.  I think that allowing yourself to develop parapersonae: a full deck of alternative 'you's is a great thing, you create shoes and place yourself within them, increasing empathy by imagining yourself as something  entirely different, something not even necessarily human.

Takahito argues that sacrificing physical individuality is an essential component of modern technological life. He refers to himself as the creator and breeder of a Cyborg tribe, embodying a philosophy that embraces modernity rather than rejects it, the act of allowing Takahito to modify your appearance a neat reflection of how allow our own behaviour to be changed by the technology we carry around with us.

The modern technological world is easy to take for granted, yet even 30 years ago the notion of every person being constantly connected to a worldwide communications network by a buttonless, touchscreen computer that fits in our pocket was literally science fiction. Society transferred into this future so seamlessly that it's impossible to predict the longterm impact on human behaviour.  We find our way through the streets by signals sent from geostationary navigation satellites, we make small-talk with friends on the other side of the world and listen to any piece of music whenever the fancy takes us.  We're already members of Takahito's cyborg tribe, his designs a visualisation of how far we've come than a glance into the future.  

This naked anti-Luddism is refreshing, and makes it entirely appropriate that Takahito places his work within historical continuity.  The eyes staring out from painted faces recall African tribes, Japanese geishas, woad-smeared barbarians and Hindu sahdi's (among many others).  From a distance his models look like they're had their organicity buried under paint, but as you get close you realise that in many cases the paint accentuates it.  Pores seem to cast shadows across the flesh, the texture of skin highlighted and brought out.  We soon understand that these modern digital masks fit perfectly within a wider anthropological behaviours, merely a modern manifestation of an intrinsic human instinct.

This is forward thinking, optimistic and egalitarian art, pinning down a precise, modern form of consciousness.  The relaxed, zen-like faces of the models speak of a digital future that should be embraced rather than fought against - technology not an alien intrusion but an essential component of humanity.  

Though the photographs on display in the Arbeit Gallery are evocative and nicely laid out, I would have liked to see a bodypainted model in attendance: a physical manifestation of Takahito's ideas in the gallery would have tipped the launch event over into the truly memorable.  Still, this is a striking display of photography, and well worth checking out.

Influence: A Solo Show by Irie Takahito is at Arbeit Gallery, Unit 4 White Post Lane, Queen's Yard, E9 5EN from 3rd to 31st October 2013

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