Takafumi Hara’s “Signs of Memory: Project Pink Windows” at DNA Gallery
By Arden Pennell
The opening of Takafumi Hara at DNA Gallery on Friday reminded me of why I love the Berlin scene: because it barely exists. There were no shrill hipsters, big-name dealers, or celebrities who ambled over from their penthouses. No name-dropping cell phone addicts or art-media paparazzi standing around being savvy. There wasn’t even any wine, just a table of Beck’s, bottled water, and wasabi peas, and a charming toddler who handed me a chocolate from his pocket. In short, there was no pretension to distract from what openings are ostensibly about: art spectatorship. Finally, the art in question was pretty damn interesting.
Hara’s “Signs of Memory: Project Pink Windows,” is an investigation of how we understand our local geography, carried out by pink panels placed in the windows of chosen buildings. From his native to Berlin to , Hara has polled inhabitants about their thoughts and feelings and created tablets of their words, illustrated by child-like, whimsical images. Buildings may have an architectonically-determined significance, but they also have a plethora of personal, private meanings. “Project Pink Windows” asks the viewer to consider which is more real, reminding us, lest we take our physical, built reality too seriously, of the immateriality of hopes and reflections that must precede physical realization.
The tension between material and immaterial is echoed in the play between exteriority and interiority the pink panels facilitate: while essentially blocking the lines of sight into a structure, they also expose something otherwise invisible. This is unsubtle yet effective symbolism that suggests that the best way to “peer into” a building is through not a pane of glass but rather the minds of inhabitants.
The latest incarnation of “Project Pink Windows” is Hara’s transformation of Singapore’s City Hall for the 2006 Biennale, which the current Berlin exhibit documents with a model, video, and reproduced panels. As an especially iconic building, City Hall differs from the residential projects Hara has worked on before, so rather than record inhabitants’ home-grown memories, he worked on gathering citizens’ thoughts about the island nation. City Hall is treated as a metonymy for the city-state as a whole, and each person’s opinion is fair game for a pink window.
In his desire to tamper with the building’s physical significance, though, Hara had to overcome resistance. “People said it was disrespectful to do such a thing to a historical building,” he explains. “They didn’t think it should or could be carried out.” He nonetheless received a civic green light, provided that his questions were screened beforehand, and the panels’ text edited afterwards. Despite the restrictions, an interesting ambivalence about Singapore's place in the globalized world emerges and Hara thereby fulfills his goal of making City Hall wear its underwear over its clothing.
But as appealing as dream-like, neon-clad structures are, Hara’s work is not immune to criticism. For example, the employment of a child-like aesthetic of bright colors and simple images to signify “imagination and reflections” is formulaic, while his routine of question-then-display is susceptible to accusations of artistic shallowness. That is, this routine produces a final product that stays mum on the artist’s role in censoring and shaping the piece, thereby missing the chance to examine the third construction: the work as a figment of the artists’ imagination.
Yet the clichéd “child-like” appearance aptly serves the tension between staid façade and imaginative interior, while the artist’s self-excerption allows the duet between inhabitant and place to more strongly come through. In other words, although a Conceptualist critique of Hara might find much lacking, his almost naïve approach of obvious imagery and nuts-and-bolts emotionality is refreshing, especially in comparison to emotionally-neutered Conceptual pieces whose legacy still heavily imprints the plastic arts. Here is hoping more cities, streets, and sites invite him to bring on the on the pink.
Takafumi Hara’s “Signs of Memory: Project Pink Windows,” is showing at the DNA Gallery until May 19th, Auguststr. 20, Tel +49 30 285 99 652.
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Arden Pennell is a freelance journalist living in Berlin with a DAAD stipend. She writes for Deutsche Welle and Exberliner, among others. She received a B.A, Honors with Distinction, in art history from Stanford University and is currently doing post-graduate work at Humboldt University.