Seeing and Believing in Mori Art Museum

Mori Art Museum is located in Tokyo’s upscale Roppongi Hills. It’s not too difficult to find, given the number of signboards and maps that are placed at regular intervals. A winding staircase (with a glass facade) in Mori Tower, one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo, leads to the main ticketing area. I bought a combined ticket for Mori Art Museum and Tokyo City View.

Artist in Focus: Leandro Erlich

As a kid, I used to view the world in absolutes. There’s right and wrong; good and evil; success and failure; happiness and sadness; and intelligence and stupidity. I don’t think I was ever taught to believe there could be an in-between the absolutes. Many years later, during a film appreciation course in ad school, through the voices of world cinema, I realised: I was far removed from reality. Perception had been my only reality for the better part of my life. As a traveller, I’ve had to constantly fight a battle with my own perception, the one that’s shown to me, and my quest for reality. As an expat, it only gets harder because reality gets blurred with a preferred perception when you spend so many months away from home.

Perception and reality are fluidic depending upon the environment we are raised in and the experiences we’re exposed to. It’s a concept that I’ve struggled to understand. I’ve always wanted to know the ‘absolute truth’ and it’s quite possible, there is no single truth. Perception is one of the multiple truths of reality.

“What we think is real is also a human perception.”

Leandro Erlich

Argentinian contemporary artist, Leandro Erlich toys with this principle in his showcase exhibition, “Seeing and Believing”. The clever wordplay questions a popular phrase, “Seeing is Believing,” and forms the underlying theme for most of his works on display. This commemorative exhibition (18.11.2017 – 1.4.2018) showcased some of his best works (40 in all) spanning an illustrious career of 25 years.

The Exhibition

Port of Reflections

Artist’s Name and Work Title: Leandro Erlich Port of Reflections

These photos are licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan”

A dimly lit room puts your senses on high alert. Your eyes can easily be fooled and play tricks on your mind. And if that is what the artist intended, I’d say: he was successful. As I walked away from the light towards darkness, I felt a sense of unfamiliarity with the environment, not knowing what to expect next. The sound of the creaking wooden floor, beneath my feet, gradually gave way to a swooshing sound. A faint outline of a glowing boat came into view and it appeared to be in motion. Now, there wasn’t water below the boat and yet, I was compelled to believe the boats were afloat in water. So, do we see what we want to see; or can we see beyond what’s shown to us?

The Cloud

Artist’s Name and Work Title: Leandro Erlich The Cloud

These photos are licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan”

The next display took the theme of perception and belief forward. Ceramic ink was used to create cloudlike outlines of Germany, Britain, France, and Japan. The exhibit toys with basic human nature and our need to find meaning in something that could mean nothing at all. More often than not, what we see or want to see is determined by what we believe or have been lead to believe. Seeing shapes in star constellations or cloud patterns is a tradition passed from one generation to another. It’s in our nature to give shape and form to shapeless, evolving forms. Geographical boundaries are created by us, but if viewed after a period of thousand years or more, those landmasses would neither have the same shape nor form recognisable by us — negating our need to differentiate on the lines we draw between us.

The Classroom

Artist’s Name and Work Title: Leandro Erlich  The Classroom

This photo is licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan”

At first glance, this exhibit resembles a dilapidated and deserted classroom. The artwork was especially created for the exhibition in Mori Art Museum, Tokyo.

  Artist’s Name and Work Title: Leandro Erlich  The Classroom   

These photos are licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan”

When viewers enter the observation area, their  reflections are cast on the reflective glass of the classroom before them — creating a spooky, ghostlike effect. The exhibit is an attempt to take us back in time, into our childhood, and make us reminisce about life as a child. The exhibit can also be interpreted as a critique of Japan’s declining birthrate and the challenges it will have to face in the future.

The Room (Surveillance 1)

Artist’s Name and Work Title: Leandro Erlich  The Room (Surveillance 1)

This photo is licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan”

The Room is an interesting concept and highly relevant in the times we live in.  Viewed singularly, a display gives an illusion of a seemingly innocuous capture of a dull room. Nothing jumps out of the screen, nobody walks in, there’s no spooky ghost, or person that needs to be observed. It’s just another empty room with nobody in it. The pointlessness of the exercise dawns upon the viewer within the first few minutes.

Artist’s Name and Work Title: Leandro Erlich  The Room (Surveillance 1)

This photo is  licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan”

To make a point, the artist multiplies the display of this room with 25 camera captures — from different angles. It wouldn’t too be hard to question the redundancy of an exercise like this and realise ‘being watched’ is something we will never avoid in the future.

Changing Rooms

 Artist’s Name and Work Title: Leandro Erlich  Changing Rooms

These photos are licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan”

At first, the exhibit looks like a collection of changing rooms on display. I poked my head inside and didn’t know whether I could explore it. An usher signaled me to go inside. The mirrors formed a maze of blank spaces and reflective surfaces. To get to the other side, a viewer has to solve the maze of illusion and avoid bumping into mirrors.

White Flight over Day, Black flight over Night

Artist’s Name and Work Title: Leandro Erlich White Flight over Day, Black flight over Night

These photos are licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan”

A moving picture, behind a frame of an airplane window, transitions from day to night.

The View

Artist’s Name and Work Title: Leandro Erlich The View

This photo is licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan”

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954) and Krzysztof Kieślowski’s “A Short Film About Love” (1988) weaved stories around voyeurism, even before, reality television made it perfectly acceptable for audiences to succumb to the voyeur within. The View, conceived by Leandro Erlich in 1997, touches upon a similar theme. A sequence of videos, scenes from everyday Buenos Aires, unfold behind the blades of a window blind. The viewer, quite naturally, gets engrossed in the lives of the people he or she witnesses. As humans, we’re bound to feel a emotion when we see the lives of others.

Artist’s Name and Work Title: Leandro Erlich The View

These photos are licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan”

As cities grow vertically, with neatly stacked rows of glass windows, and loneliness makes people more disconnected from each other; it probably will be easier to cave in to voyeurism. But those who stay in glass windows shouldn’t watch others, for it may be hard to avoid being watched by someone else.

Golden Frames

Artist’s Name and Work Title: Leandro Erlich Golden Frames

These photos are licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan”

Two identical paintings are placed on opposite sides. The paintings mirror each other and create an illusion of an infinite reflection. The viewer is tempted to believe in the reflective ability of the painting — mistaking it for a mirror.

Building

Artist’s Name and Work Title: Leandro Erlich Building

These photos are licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan”

Life without gravity would have been intriguing. It would make a nice concept for a science fiction book. But what if we could control gravity, defy it on a whim, and even have a little fun with it? This artwork questions Newton’s laws of universal gravitation and even our own beliefs on what falls down from a building.

Warning: Spoiler below

Artist’s Name and Work Title: Leandro Erlich Building

This photo is licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan”

A mirror, placed at a 45 degree angle, reflects the facade of a building below. The facade of the building forms the base of this exhibit, wherein a viewer can either hang from a ledge or defy gravity. It’s interesting to see how people interpret the concept of gravity when its open to experimentation. Some viewers tried to have fun whilst others stuck to what they knew.

 

 

11 responses to “Seeing and Believing in Mori Art Museum

  1. I’ve long since come to the conclusion I’m not a “real” artist; much of what passes for art and presumably evokes an emotion in some just leaves me wondering, how does that qualify as art? A few of these are cool, others, meh. I guess reality gets in the way of the intended perception.

    • I know what you mean. Mixed-media/ contemporary art can be a bit confusing. To appreciate some of these exhibits, one has to let go of reality. I used to have a hard time with appreciating contemporary/mixed-media art earlier. I guess that changed after making friends with some mixed-media artists. 🙂

    • Light and darkness can create that effect. The first exhibit was a bit scary, not knowing what to expect next. I found ‘The classroom’ spooky too. 🙂

    • Hi Helen. How was your Australian holiday? I love exploring local museums. It’s not always possible with our packed schedule, but I had fun in this one. 🙂

  2. I loved your creative directions to The Mori as the opening of this post. And oh how I thank you for taking me to the Leonardo Erlich exhibit. My favorites are the boat (but of course), the cloud, and the classroom. Perception is definitely reality and I am slowly trying to expand mine. Get’s tougher with age.

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