Too far to see … Tadasu Takamine @ Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

To the Sea

Tadasu Takamine’s work occupies a dreamy headspace in which sexuality and the politics of sex are examined with a calmness that allows for a reading unburdened by conventional notions of morality and hetero-normative assumption. Although his art is not completely removed from these confines, it is at least held at a distance that encourages a re-assessment or a chance for a different kind of objectivity.

The distance that Takamine creates seems key to his work. The five pieces that make up Too far to see – the artist’s current exhibition at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery – combine to build a collective neutral space. Although each of Takamine’s videos has a powerful emotional pull, what they don’t do is manipulate the audience towards any definite grand narrative or point of view.

The exhibition opens with Water Level and Organ Sound (2004). Two women drift underwater, disappearing and reappearing from sight, their bodies glazed with ethereal light. The gorgeous effect is heightened with the discovery that the film is actually lit from behind by a light shone through a real glass tank of water, through which the film can be seen in an even more unearthly gaze.

Water Level and Organ Sound (2004)

Within any grey area there is contradiction. The conflict in Tadasu’s work becomes apparent during Inertia (1998), in which a woman rides atop a speeding train and battles to stop her dress from constant gusts of wind that reveal her underwear. The artist succeeds in using an unusually obvious metaphor that still manages to stand separate from its seemingly natural signifying role – the nightmare and sleaze of being assaulted during rush hour – and Inertia still holds a collected and thoughtful hush as beautiful and everyday Japanese landscapes continuously vanish down the tracks. The menace is there, but there is still beauty, an uneasy yet natural pair.

For the filming of God Bless America (2002), Takamine lived in a small red room with his partner for two and a half weeks. Sped up and time lapsed footage show the pair as they live, fuck, eat, smoke, work. In the centre of their temporary home is what looks like a huge pile of Plasticine. Takamine and his partner continuously mould the clay into different shapes, often creating totemic heads. The faces turn from more traditional tribal visages, into that of George W Bush. The most overtly playful piece in the exhibition, it seems to show how the pair has chosen to confine themselves from the policed freedom of the outside world, in a temporary autonomous zone in which they can act as they please.

God Bless America (2002)

In some ways I felt that God Bless America was slightly less cohesive as part of the exhibition – not in quality, but in mood – although bizarrely, it led on perfect to the next film in which a stationary camera gazes at the face of a woman resting her head on a pillow. As her breath stutters and her eyes roll, the viewer can hypothesise various situations: she could be masturbating, dreaming, or sick. In fact the woman is Takamine’s partner, three hours away from giving birth. The lack of explanation given in the film allows for a more complex reading, in which the lines between sex and pleasure blur. From the playful and anarchic genesis of a relationship in God Bless America, the new start of a family begins in To The Sea (2004).

The most controversial and therefore discussed piece of the show is Kimura-San (1998), in which the artist is shown sexually pleasuring a disabled friend, who indeed is the namesake of the piece. I was reminded of Crispin Glover’s It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE which focuses on the violent sexual fantasies of a man with cerebral palsy. Takamine’s ethical dissection of sexual needs and rights of the disabled is less visceral and instead is more about an expression of affection. The artist talks of his friendship with Kimura-San and the act of masturbation depicted in the film, in my eyes, manages to transcend any notion of shock value or any of the other harsh and misplaced criticisms of the piece.

Kimura-San (1998)

With Too far to see, Tadasu Takamine has revealed a confused and sometimes uncomfortable set of films. However ultimately they possess a spirit free from calculation or pre-planned controversy. Some critics may struggle with the apparent simplicity of the allusions that Takamine often references with his work, but the sincerity of his investigations seems to overpower that. With these videos, rather than trying to make grand statements I got the feeling, very much, of an artist thinking out loud.

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