Sometimes described as an “incestuous artist collective,” due to a tendancy to publish the same small group of artists time and time again, Yaso magazine nonetheless features some of the more prominent names in decidedly dark “gothic” style art. Though it would be disingenuous to claim they adhere strictly within national borders, the artists are predominantly Japanese – with the notable recurring exception of Trevor Brown – and feature everything from illustrators, photographers, painters, fashion designers, doll makers, and beyond. Following any publication of Yaso, which abides by something of an irregular annual cycle, a subsequent series of exhibits will follow at Parabolica-Bis, the magazine’s gallery and performance space.
Just a few blocks away from one of the nation’s most famous temples and tourist destinations, nestled in a back alley just beyond an avenue laced with shops specializing in traditional Japanese dolls, one can walk into something of a parallel universe. Historically speaking, Asakusa was once famous for both temples and brothels, though the same sort of notoriety still hangs over the area today. Following this precedent, one can see how the physical layout of the area’s geography subtly mirrors the subconscious. The facade of tradition and order thinly veiling a deeper, perhaps darker, product of modernity.
The Parabolica-bis building is difficult to find, but impossible to miss. The lower floor features a glass display room exhibiting a cacophony of intriguing thematic pieces to anyone walking the alley. It consists of two floors, housing two exhibit spaces and a shop / cafe space. Occasionally the table or two is removed in favor of more exhibit space. However, the shop itself stands alone as a shrine. Filled with books, magazines, prints, postcards, and other mementos among works of art, it’s one of the better choices to shop or browse for darker art and doll images.
Most recently, batsu had the fortune of attending the Victorian 3 exhibit at Parabolica-bis. It was her second visit. The lower gallery featured an extensive collection of Mari Shimizu’s dolls, and the upper gallery featured something of an eclectic fashion installation exhibit.
While I was grateful that the fashion exhibit was free, it seemed to clash with the overall ambiance of the museum. Various bodices were suspended from the ceiling among a colorful sea of fish sculptures, wearing concoctions that varied from jewel encrusted ballerina busts to Harajuku rainbow-bag-lady street wear. An obnoxious sea of aqua-blue balloons littered the room, alluding to an underwater fantasy. The fashion designer herself was in the adjoining cafe space, entertaining friends, generally talking loud and annoying other guests.
Not to give a bad impression of the museum on this first review, the Mari Shimizu exhibit was also somewhat lackluster. I’ll attribute this primarily to a group of Shimizu’s followers (friends?) trotting around the area, playing with their hair and squeeling, “Look! Isn’t that cute! OMG – so cute!” like a broken record. Not to sound fussy, but I’m of the opinion that Mari Shimizu crafts a delicate portrait of broken childhood dream, albeit with crude brush strokes and sticky tears of glitter. The performance was also annoying.
Let’s assume that not everyone shares my (non)sensibilities, and that some things defy words. Perhaps “cute” was the only way they could express the broken images of themselves that they saw resonating throughout the pieces. Perhaps also, their interaction with the outside world is restricted to shopping in Harajuku, where they drown their worldly sorrows in the material blisses – and where such conversation skill is tantamount. Ah, yes. This is the portrait.
The spectacle reminded me of the time I showed a group of Chinese peasants Marc Ryden’s Anima Mundi. It is definitely wrong to feel a sense of cultural superiority in such a situation, which I do not endorse. Put simply, these happenings underline the chasms of cultural gap that exist in the world around us, regardless of whether or not we live in the same city, engage in similar societies, or wish to entertain them with a ride their water buffalo.
However, I would indeed patronize the museum again, and intend to do so in a few weeks at the opening of the Victorian 4 exhibit, featuring dolls by Koitsuke Hime.