Yeats once wrote ‘The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.’ What if you could fast-track that? What if you could completely alter your perspective and perception of the world in less than an hour? Miyanaga Akira is a Kyoto-based artist whose moving image works take the mundane aspects of life—from catching a train or driving a car—and make them sublime with abstraction.
Realtime is Akira’s first Australian exhibition and is currently showing at NGV International. Born in 1985, Akira identifies himself as being a digital native and describes his process of working as intuitive rather than influenced by a premeditated strategy. In an interview with Jane Devery, Curator of Contemporary Art at the NGV, Akira explains that it was the freedom of fine art studies that allowed him to develop his artistic practice. Instead of citing particular artists Akira says: ‘I have been influenced by music—especially classical piano composers, such as Erik Satie and Claude Debussy.’
Akira’s approach to videography does seem to be like that of a composer. His images become fragments which are strung together in new arrangements, much like notes are used to create chords which in turn builds a melody. Though without knowing that Akira has been influenced by Debussy I would have guessed that his musical influences would include John Cage.
His layering of images removes any sense of chronological order. There is an elasticity of time, it is stretched out before springing back. I mages are distorted and rearranged.
The titled work of the exhibition—’Realtime-Materiel’—is a projection over five meters long. In this piece Akira has filmed commuters moving through a Japanese subway station. The camera is positioned low so it feels like the viewer is standing amongst the crowd and immediately makes the spectator feel less like a voyager and more like they are involved. No one acknowledges the camera, they purposefully walk past, bundled up in thick overcoats, scarves and the occasional surgical mask. The images start to warp and morph into sharp angles before finally losing tether to reality. The images form star shapes which collide. There is the occasional flash of knitwear and puffer vests worn by the commuters. The sounds of footsteps and ticket carousels continues in the background—the soundtrack of crowded yet conversation-less urban landscapes.
Akira seems to want to create conversation in these spaces. He is a co-founder of GURA studio, an artistic collective located in an old sake storehouse. GURA provides studio space for artists as well as hosts alternative events. It encourages the creation of community and a ‘grassroots network’.
‘See Saw’ runs for 4 minutes 25 seconds yet there is no distinct beginning or ending to the piece. There are two images of the same bridge angled as if the cars are rolling off the road into the sky. It is beguiling. It takes a moment of inquiry to orientate yourself.
Akira’s work is the sort of art to riff off. The set-up of the show encourages self-interpretation as there are few panels and the panels that are present are all set at a distance from each projection. This is a clever way of stopping people reading their way through the exhibition and to instead engage with the work itself. What does it all mean? How does it make you feel? It encourages lengthy introspection and would render wide ranging interpretations. The videos certainly hold people in sway. They sit or stand with eyes darting, decoding, watching and unwrapping what it all means.
Despite the footage being entirely shot in Japan, Akira has decided to use English titles in his films because it is a global language. The piece entitled ‘Wavy’ is accompanied by a panel explaining that the Japanese word nami translates into ‘wave’, ‘ordinariness’ and ‘row of something’. Akira explains he wanted to explore the multitude of meanings found in linguistics and visuals. The complexity of linguistics is not lost in the use of the word ‘wavy’ as it can be interpreted through the paradigm of physics, namely the effect of light and sound waves on space.
In Wavy this includes light and line waves caught in refractions and reflections of sunshine on skyscrapers. Then there are the wave-like motions of a field of flowers swaying in the wind as the camera tracks parallel to the action, representing the essence of longitudinal waves, although the viewer can watch the piece without considering the transport of spatial disturbances. Akira’s work is sure to cause any viewer to be perplexed and pleased in equal measure.
Realtime is at NGV until April 30th