Paul Batt

RAPT! 20 contemporary artists from Japan


Rapt! - 20 contemporary artists from Japan is one of the most exciting art projects to emerge from the Japan Foundation in recent times. Organised by Japan and Australia for the Year of Exchange, this series of exhibitions, residencies and public events will showcase the work of twenty Japanese contemporary artists, in Australia.

Dr Toilet’s Rapt-up clinic at Kings ARI

I wear my sunglasses at night
So I can, so I can
Watch you weave
Then breathe your story lines
And I wear my sunglasses at night
So I can, so I can
Keep track of the visions in my eyes
Corey Hart (1983)

Let one-hit-wonder Corey Hart’s tune Sunglasses at Night set the mood for an encounter with Naohiro Ukawa’s Dr Toilet’s Rapt-up clinic, an artwork comprised of a block of toilets, surveillance cameras, one-way mirrors, disco lights and sunglasses. Walking into the main gallery of Kings ARI, visitors will immediately note a large architectonic installation, a five-cubicle toilet panopticon. Each cubicle has headphones and a pair of sunglasses. Accessorising endows participants with audio and visual sensory effects: psychotropic video and a combination of ‘noise’ or sound art and live internet streaming of ten Japanese television channels (mirroring Ukawa-san's server computer in Tokyo), of which Ukawa has said that staff can change channels whenever they feel like it. Exposure to these audio-visual elements elicits a deep brain massage, escorting spectators into a state of total relaxation, not dissimilar to the initial stages of sleep, which is a scary thing to do while on the toilet.

The adjacent gallery contains another component of the installation, with four video projections presenting surveillance footage of the panopticon toilet. This space is clearly meant to be a ‘viewing room’, in which voyeurism is promoted. It was funny to see VIPs on the opening night hovering in the surveillance room to avoid entering the panopticon toilet. For those heeding the call of nature, the King’s functioning public toilet exposed them to the third part of Dr Toilet's Rapt-up clinic, where Ukawa set up a closed-circuit television with more live footage, providing lavatory users an even weirder perspective on the uncomfortable inhabitants of the panopticon toilet.

Ukawa’s work presents a number of slippages between public and the private spheres. But how does Dr Toilet’s Rapt-up clinic respond to the theme of the Rapt! project? The project title, ‘rapt’, refers to techno-culture and notions of immersion and absorption. In the Rapt! catalogue, the project’s curators postulate that immersive and sensory-based experiences are symptomatic of contemporary Japanese youth culture. This symptom might be problematic, the curators argue, because, “young people are enjoying a mass-consumption lifestyle, but at the same time, [are] becoming absorbed in their own world without any relation to the society around them”. Such lifestyles can potentially lead to apathy; however that is just one aspect of techno-culture. As the Rapt! curators also note, “it is possible for artists, while ‘immersing’ themselves in something, to arrive at positive results by leaping into an imaginative realm that is divorced from existing value systems”. That is, immersion in technology can promote transcendence from the everyday and subsequently allow for a more poetic and creative state of being.

In Dr Toilet’s Rapt-up clinic, Ukawa traces the fine line between vacuous and expanding psychological states that can be experienced by participating in technology and popular culture. Through its advancement of direct sensory experience, and also, its humorous and carnivalesque endorsement of toilet-voyeurism, Dr Toilet's Rapt-up clinic successfully unravels the program’s themes.
Posted by Veronica Tello on RAPT Bogsite
Photos: Warren Fithie