Mechanical people have fascinated people for centuries. A movement developed from within a manufactured body, along with the construction of puppets, bodies and machines, has impressed us since time immemorial as the highest art of mechanical engineering. Leading the way here primarily is Japan, that most fascinating land of applied robotics and projected simulation imagery of the 20th century. Japan has made a name for itself as a centre of miniaturisation and high technology whilst remaining bound up in tradition, in the research laboratories of the high-tech companies on the one hand, in the cultural sector on the other; anthropomorphism of the technological kind. Chess computers were analogous guinea pigs in the service of Turing AI testing, Tamagotchis (lovable eggs) were the first tools with social implications, the Sony Aibo RS7 embodied the perfect dog and the QRIO an anthropomorphic virtual reality toy for the hysterical Otaku community.
The artist Ujino Muneteru, who lives in Tokyo, is a gifted all-rounder and (sound) tinkerer. He knows the game inside out and flirts with it like no-one else. For years, he has been turning everyday objects into sometimes towering sound systems that result in wonderful apparatus based on robots and the idealised concept of auto-productive design. Ujino also transforms modern and outdated technology into (kinetic) soundscapes as a performer, musician and DJ. He builds new objects out of discarded and obsolete equipment and technological apparatus in order to elicit old and new stories from the newly orchestrated materials. Their discarded value is rehabilitated, their bodies given new life – Japanese post-modern animism? In the art world, generating noise makes a fanfare out of detritus. This all leads to an extraordinary insight into the meaning of anti-materialism, a kind of pop iconography.
In his new work for the PSM Gallery, DUET, traditional elements of Noh theatre are sampled in a bizarre way with machine aesthetics and noise-sound generated from it. In highly formal Noh theatre performances, a piece of a motif is shown using masks by the originally all-male performers, accompanied by a Kyōgen comedy performace. These style-motivated scenes are highly artificial works of art using masks and perfectly studied sequences of strict temporal and dramatic strands. In DUET, one experiences this as a robot spirit play that borrows from tradition in the middle of new sounds, rock ‘n’ roll, according to Ujino, although the idea of a person remotely controlled by an invisible hand doesn’t appear to be only in the theatre, but omnipresent. To the sounds of industrial noise, the machine people dance their absurd theatre and strike up a tune together, holding up a mirror to the world of all our Walpurgis nights. Let us pray for salvation!
Gregor Jansen, director at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf
Some background information, with thanks to Wikipedia: In some Noh plays, the action is presented as a so-called “double fantasy-Noh” (复式 梦幻 能 , Fukushiki Mugen Noh). This is a drama with two acts that blends imagination with true occurrence. A traveller arrives at a place where a stranger recounts to him an old legend, before suddenly disappearing (Act 1). Another person later explains to the traveller that this person was actually the ghost of the main character of this legend (间 狂言 , Kyogen, Ai, Eng. “middle act”). In the following night, the ghost returns, introduces himself and shares his real thoughts, memories and feelings with the traveller, asking him to pray for his salvation. Then, morning comes, and the traveller moves on with a prayer (Act 2).