By Chie YamayoshiWhen a group of Japanese artistic designers hit Costa Mesa's hipperati at the Lab last month, the result of their one-night art affair was typically Orange County: their "multimedia" event consisted of a DJ and a plywood wall hung with inscrutable ink works that (if one is a trained observer like moi) eventually revealed themselves to be one of the artists' greatest creations: a new way of printing the alphabet. It was so totally po-mo: a font no one can read.
The designers, who were adorable and very well-dressed and very successful in Japan, celebrated their artistic achievement by throwing themselves a party and getting Red Bull and a vodka company (if I'm remembering correctly) to sponsor, and everyone was happy. And hiply togged.
One expects the same degree of narcissism from any multimedia artist; really, it's a given. String some lights, spin some tunes, say you're an artist, and watch the pussy come pouring in. But this week, I had the pleasure of seeing one of the finest gallery shows I've seen in a long, long time, and it came courtesy of a successful director of Japanese TV now in her second year at UC Irvine's MFA program. Chie Yamayoshi's "Companion Species Manifesto" takes over the tiny Office in Huntington Beach, sprawling and filling every nook with ridiculous, goofy video of man's best friend complemented by silly tunes, beautiful projections, a papier-mch dog ass and your average little bit of quantum physics.
One can be forgiven for some momentary ADD when one steps into the Office. It takes a while, if you haven't seen the show's title, even to grok the pieces' common thread. Some video shakes like The Blair Witch Project, and it takes a minute to realize you're looking at a dog's-eye-view. Craving has cameras at the bottom of several dishes of water, with puppies lapping furiously until the water churns like Prospero's sea. It always takes a moment for what you're seeing to become clear, but Yamayoshi doesn't just rest on the initial ambiguity followed by the happy (and self-satisfied) light bulb of the viewer's dawning comprehension to make her pieces; each is constructed with multiple elements. In the case of Craving, several dogs are shown in well-melded, alternating bubbles of video, while on the wall below the projections, a papier-mch dog disappears into the plaster, only his hind legs and mildly gaping butthole apparent. My 10-year-old would have been beside himself with hilarity.
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In the small back room, the show's title piece is a dystopic frame of ripped-up circuitry boards surrounding another projection. This one is a blurry-lighted screen in violets and angel-aura blue. When a dog and the hand of a child come nearer the camera, they become more distinct and take form, the child crouching like a dog, the dog wandering. They're never wholly visible, though; there's always a haziness—as if they're jellyfish or swimming in amniotic fluid.
Schrodinger's Dog was out of commission when we were visiting, but the idea—"Schrodinger's Cat" was meant to illustrate the quantum physics of superposition; if you placed a cat in a lead box with a vial of cyanide and then sealed the box, you would have no way of knowing if the cat had broken the vial and thus offed itself while the box was closed, so the cat would be both alive and dead until the lid was lifted—is turned on its head with the advent of closed-circuit surveillance. (Since that part of the piece wasn't working, I don't know if the video would have shown a live doggy or a dead one.) Sharing elements of Deborah Aschheim's recent Laguna Art Museum exhibit "Neural Architecture," Schrodinger's Dog incorporates home-security cams focused on anyone trying to get a gander at the poor mutt. The piece wouldn't be whole without the viewer—and at the same time and in an entirely different strata of meaning, it shows how subjective "documents" have become ever since National Geographic PhotoShopped the pyramids at Giza. What should be documentary is completely false since there is—I sincerely hope—no dog in the box, and any video of said dog would be as genuine as Wag the Dog's Hollywood-backlot war, but without the pretty war orphan/refugee.
Yamayoshi's work here is so funny and stylish (while not resting on style only) I can't think of a high enough compliment for it. But the leaping beagle of Arfish—projected into a small hexagonal fishbowl with a Siamese fighting fish swimming placidly around, while various cryptic legends are shown against blue sky—about sums up my feelings. It's happy. It's goofy. And its parts are a great, great sum.
"Companion Species Manifesto" at the Office: An Art Space, 5122 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 110, Huntington Beach, (714) 767-5861. Open Tues.-Fri., 1-5 p.m. Through Aug. 13.