Chihiro Minato


at Kurenboh


This show was a superb dialogue between art and site. The gallery, at the Chohouin Buddhist temple in one of Tokyo’s old neighborhoods, is an experience in itself. It is entered through a low door that requires bowing; next is a hallway paved with loose white stones that slow and magnify movement while creating an auditory experience. At the far end is a donation box and a white marble slab with two sets of slippers, limiting the number of viewers who can occupy a small gallery, entered through another low door, and its still-smaller second room. The all-white rooms have no corners. Walls, floor and ceiling meet in curves that make it difficult to determine precisely where you stand. It’s a not-unfamiliar installation effect that various artist and architects have used, but here it carries additional resonance.

Photographs by Chihiro Minato, a professor at the city’s Tama Art University and a member of its Institute for Art Anthropology, were on display under the title “‘Mind the Ma’/photographs and words.” (Ma can be translated as “emptiness,” “between” or “interval” and refers to both time and space; the title puns on the British “mind the gap.”) All the works are gelatin silver prints, small to medium-size shots of European subjects, among them, in the larger room, old walls in France, a dolmen, a chapel floor carved from lava and a battlefield. The second room included views of Freud’s window and mirror in Vienna, graffiti scrawled on an engraved stone plaque, hands setting type, Mont Sainte-Victoire and a violinist at the Budapest train station. The show’s organizational concept was spelled out in a bilingual gallery sheet: the first “heart chamber” simulated the birth of “image,” which precedes thinking. The second heart chamber addressed “history and its double” and “the form suspended between nothing and clearness.”

I would describe the exhibition as dealing somberly with time and communication. The photos are not technically notable; you attend to relationships, sequences, the moody suggestiveness of the scenes. The images seem weighted with something-history or portent, it’s hard to say. Their small size draws you close, and inconsistent dimensions and placement made them float in the seamless, almost ethereal environment. The fact that this gallery is attached to a temple clinched the sense of significant import. Akiyoshi Taniguchi, the Buddhist priest who is head of the temple and director of the gallery, attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and studied with the photographer and essayist Leo Rubinfien. Called home to take over a hereditary position, Taniguchi decided in 2006 to create the gallery (designed by architect Makoto Yokomizo) to combine his two causes. “Art is like looking at yourself, touching your heart,” he told me. “The gallery is a space for training yourself.”

Photo: View of Chihiro Minato’s exhibition, 2012; at Kurenboh.