Review by Matthew Larking for Japan Times

Thursday, April 17, 2008
A simulacrum of the city
Special to The Japan Times
'With love from . . ." — it's the kind of message an expatriate might pen. Implicit in it is the warmth in the offering, a written embrace.

Artist Jårg Geismar's installation "with love from . . . "

As the title of an exhibition by Jårg Geismar at Nagoya's Gallery HAM that's running till May 2, there is too, in the marks of the ellipsis, the intimation of something unspoken: things to come, perhaps the possibility of the fitting together of a personality with a place. Geismar has collected his fair share of worldly destinations; born in Sweden, the artist studied at Germany's prestigious Dusseldorf Art Academy in the 1980s, when the school boasted as its professors the influential documentary photographer Bernd Becher, contemporary provocateur Joseph Beuys and groundbreaking video artist Nam June Paik. Since receiving his Masters of Arts at the New York's New School of Social Research, Geismar has studied, taught and exhibited at any number of places in-between New York, Europe and Tokyo, where's he has been based since 2004.
Perhaps a loss of specificity has come from the accumulation of so many destinations and their accompanying sensations. At Gallery Ham, certainly, the turbulences of such movements and of things partly seen are born out by "with love from . . ."
Geismar is shown at work in an untitled video that accompanies the installation. The artist tapes cellophane sheeting onto the window of a high-rise that looks onto the city — presumably Tokyo, though it could be any metropolis — and in quick strokes loosely draws scenes in various colors in what appears to be less a system than intuitive guesswork. The improvisational character of the line work lends a fragility to the designs; imagery such as buildings deform into a free play of shapes, as much a series of abstractions as recognizable images.
The result is a kind of architectural vista with floral motifs drawn alongside or over the top of geometrical formations. But the intermingling of the forms works against the natural desire of the viewer to pigeonhole the buildings as connoting geometry, or the long stems of flowers — which echo the soaring edges of skyscrapers — as merely organic. Geismar appears to be insisting that as buildings are erected one story at a time, they too represent an organic development.

Artist Jårg Geismar's installation "with love from . . . "
In the installation on Gallery Ham's wooden walls, the cellophane sheets are affixed by red cables that have an artistic function themselves. The lines demarcate the edges of individual drawings in a way that the translucency of the cellophane doesn't because the wood paneling of the wall behind shows through. The curving wood grains both complement the artist's mark-making and partly consume it.
In the middle of the gallery there are also weather-beaten planks suspended from the ceiling by red cables. These bright lines throughout the gallery are visual echoes of the vertical nature of the city, as they create margins at various heights that create the impression of skyscrapers dominating a horizon.
This concentration on urban spaces relates to drawings done by Geismar on cellophane cigarette packaging, which a film on the video Web site YouTube shows the artist scavenging from around Tokyo. The artist drew on the cellophane and erected an array of little structures that, when backlit, cast off colored light like stained glass windows.
Indeed, "A window onto the world" may be the single most accessible point of entry into Geismar's installation. Several cellophane works are framed in wood, and act like window frames, such as one in which a potted plant is seemingly placed upon a window sill. However, if these pictures open out onto views, they are not clear ones.
The vagueness of the images is bound up in the cellophane canvases that Geismar uses. The material reflects back the gallery light so that the imagery is often obscured by the glare. When moving through the pieces, there is the appealing experience one gets from the fleeting optical sensations of a city in movement.
Such ephemeral moments are further emphasized in the previously mentioned video installation. A notable moment shows a night scene shot from a skyscraper. The stuttering movements of a hand-held camera take in flickering lights until a spotlight in the distance appears to hone in on it, flooding the lens with a beam of light that dissolves the glittering spectacle of the city.
Work such as this takes time to "see," and any conclusions are essentially provisional. Movements between times and places, and the fugitive nature of optical experiences accompanying them, aren't amenable to full comprehension. But as Geismar, who is concurrently showing at the Prague Triennale, makes diaspora part of his working methods — and of his personal life — it makes sense that this compelling dispersion is at play in his Nagoya exhibition.
"with love from . . ." is showing till May 2 at Gallery HAM, 2-8-22 Uchiyama, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya-city; 5-min walk from Imaike Station's Exit 2 (Higashiyama and Sakura-dori lines); open 1 p.m.-7 p.m. (Closed Sun., Mon. and Holidays). For more information call (052) 731-9287 or visit