Masaya Chiba Sideward Exhibition
Shugo Arts, Tokyo 18 March – 8 April
Lopsided, hunched and bent-over-backwards are just some of the ways in which visitors to Masaya Chiba’s exhibition of paintings must view the works. There’s no option except to look a bit silly while navigating the two rooms where ten pairs of canvases (painted in portrait) and two individual paintings are variously positioned on the floor, high up on walls (both upright and sideways), on the ceiling and occasionally split across all three, resulting in a sort of pirouetting contortion of the body through the exhibition space.
In this series of works (all 2023), a Heath Robinson-like playfulness emerges from the paintings, where elongated abstract forms of balancing sticks of wood and wobbly hoops are arranged on tabletops and against vibrant backdrops. These contraptions – structures that look a bit like they might make things happen, but probably don’t – are presented as one half of each pair. Each has another half: a canvas of the same size (these are all painted pastel yellow), featuring cutout holes into which fit tinier canvases, each displaying a delicate painting of a section from the corresponding contraption in the paired work, and around which Chiba has added seemingly random and disassociated doodles of faces, boats, hearts or abstract marks, more-intricate black-and-white paintings of figures (ghosts, a kitten, a husband and wife) and the occasional object, like a bottle of painkillers or Noh theatre masks, stuck onto the surface of the canvas.
The works’ titles (which refer to both halves of each pair) don’t give way to easy interpretation either, and instead add to a sensation of not knowing what the heck is going on. In Covid Morning/drawing with Bell Crickets/ibuprofen in Los Angeles, for example, a painting of a spindlylooking structure that looks a bit like a bead maze set against a blue backdrop is paired with a crudely painted face, a bug, an ‘X’, a ‘?’ and the aforementioned bottle of painkillers stuck to the top left corner of the frame. The two individual works, titled Green Room and Yellow Room, are paintings of Noh theatre masks – an angry male and a shocked female, respectively – onto which the actual theatre masks have been stuck, sculpted nose-to-painted nose, so that in order to see both faces, visitors have to peer at the works from the side. A more obvious reference, perhaps, to the theatricality of the exhibition as a whole.
Among these seemingly disparate images, Chiba has one more trick up his sleeve: attached to some of the tantalisingly dynamic canvases are miniscule, easy-to-miss ÂÃ code stickers that can be scanned with a smartphone, which lead to short, oblique roughly two-minute videos. Story of Things/drawing with Diagonal Lines – a swirling, looping mechanism on one canvas paired with simple wavy lines on the other – leads to a video in which a disembodied voice warbles a song in Japanese while a robotic figure constructed from wood, cardboard and fabric wanders through a patch of shrubs and trees; a single human hand protruding from the top of the robot makes talking gestures. Sideward Exhibition is an exercise in embracing the unexpected – and a reminder that it can occasionally be fun to be thrown out of kilter.