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50th Venice Biennial, Japan

Heterotopias (Other Spaces)
By Yuko Hasegawa, Commissioner

Heterotopias can be found in real society, where they exist as distinct sites of resistance.

Heterotopia: An organ, or a part thereof, in an abnormal location, the tissue structure not being in its normal place. (Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary)

Heterotopia signifies "hetero topos", or "other spaces", and is a word that can be interpreted in a number of different ways. When we refer to a place that is not "here" but " other place", this could be many things - a place that is out of the ordinary, the peripheral or the displaced. In contrast to utopia, with its symbolic meaning of an ideal place which exists "nowhere", heterotopia, signifies an actual place "somewhere", whether it be ideal or not.

Various theories on "other spaces" are emerging from the growing interest in the issues such as the peripheral and "the Other" as a result of a reconsideration of modernism. For example, Michel Foucault refers to utopia and heterotopia as peculiar spaces that at once relates and contradicts with other sites, and also, as "Other spaces" that deviate from the everyday. Although utopia is an imaginary place that does not exist in reality, heterotopia exists among actual institutions and systems, transcending people away from reality. Foucault mentions museums, libraries, oriental gardens, fairgrounds, colonies, brothels and ships as heterotopic spaces that, though rooted in everyday life, are completely foreign, or heterogeneous, spaces. Foucault theorizes heterotopia as a periphery of modernity, constantly threatening the certainty and closed nature of modernity to the brink of destruction. Heterotopia, as in the medical and ecological terms "ectopia" and "heterogony" are in fact "different" or "displaced" sites. Similarly, however, they are also predictors of transformation, giving "normalcy" a jolt.

A Work of art manifests itself as actual space. This exhibition is an attempt to reveal two aspects of heterotopia through the spaces created by works of art. That is, the heterotopia as "other space" working from the periphery, threatens the rigidity of mainstream modernism. Another is that this contestation of heterotopia, moreover, transcends systems, politics and the notion of right or wrong, resulting in an ecological transformation or mutation.

Japan can be said that it is heterotopic in many ways. Not only is it geographically peripheral as an island that lies in the Far East, it embraces a wide range of cultures with great voracity, deconstructing that other cultures while Japanizing them within its own context. A metaphorical image of such dynamism would be Tokyo, where many different spaces come together, becoming intertwined and jumbled together.Like a rampant growth of heterotopia, here, we can see the abundant product of intensely hybridized sub-cultures. When seen from the topos of modernism, these are peculiar and external spaces that continue to exist as other-spaces.

Two Japanese artists chosen for the Japanese Pavilion, Yutaka Sone and Motohiko Odani, creates a space of deviance through their works, or in another words through the creation of actual sites such as sculptures and video installations. These can be understood as "counter-sites" that "are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality."(Foucault)

Yutaka Sone continues a physical and metaphorical journey towards an "unreachable place", creating works of video/film, sculpture and drawing based on landscapes he encounters during this process. As in the tale of "the man who digs a bottomless swamp", Sone's work is an extension of scenes seen in everyday life. However, through Sone's almost absurd attempt at something that "can never be realized", viewers find themselves drawn into an unknown landscape - a place of deviance.

"Her 19th Foot" a work in which 19 monocycles are joined and ridden simultaneously by 19 people speaking different languages, "Snow Leopard" a marble sculpture in which Sone attempted to sculpt Hong Kong by night, and "Night Bus" in which Sone gets a friend to travel on his behalf to record, on video, night scenes, as seen from the moving bus, that no one sees. These are "inversions" that results from the juxtaposition of everyday spaces in real life with a space where the impossible is being attempted.

What Sone refers to as "the creation of unknown landscapes to create unknown emotions" and as can be observed in his use of amusement parks and jungles as subjects, it is about the creation of heterotopia. In another words the construction of "counter-sites" that inverts the real space and the everyday while keeping close relation with them.

Odani, who grew up in Kyoto, an environment in which the Far Eastern cultures have been accumulated and have been heavily compressed, utilizes the outstanding techniques and skills of woodcarving to create sculptures imbued with both tradition and an exciting quality of contemporary sub-culture. Odani's imagination, rooted in academic classicism and cultivated by science fiction, horror movies, comic books and MTV, culminates in works that invoke our primitive senses such as sensuality, movement, speed and fear. His work, with its grotesque splendor and intense sense of speed, is also, in a sense, schizoid(disrupted/dissociated) and pathological, and at times evokes humor and the absurd. His work reflects the heterotopic quality of the space where he stands (originates/comes from), where hybrid oddities are accumulated.

Odani often creates works depicting mutations of human bodies or spaces that evoke alteration/permutation/mutation. These works can also be seen as metaphors for the allopatric speciation (speciation resulting from geographical isolation, through which genetic change that brings about reproductive isolation between two groups) that took place between the two extremes of traditional academism and subcultures in the geographically isolated place that is Japan.

Sone plans to make a new work titled "Double River Island" as a model of "blend of heterotopia". Odani also creates an installation of new works as a heterotopia for a place of mutation.

Heterotopias can be found in real society, where they exist as distinct sites of resistance. The heterogeneity and mutation of these two heterotopias - the works of these artists - transcends the conflict and confrontation of the real world by way of resistance.


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