Mariko Mori at the Gallery Koyanagi

by Monty DiPietro

Miniskirted media darling Mariko Mori beams a wild childís smile from the cover of the March issue of "ARTnews," the New York-published "Newsweek" of the art world. Not unlike compatriots Taro Chiezo and Yasumasa Morimura, Moriís conceptual work is characterized by simple social commentary expressed through high-tech materials and processes. If the Asian Invasion is shifting the art worldís focus from America much in the way 1950s New York School Painters stole the spotlight from Europe, then it is artists like SoHo-based Mori who are leading the way with work developed in form, if naive in content.

"Mirage" is an exhibition featuring a video installation and three prints on glass by the Japanese artist at Ginzaís Gallery Koyanagi.

Against the rear wall of the posh commercial gallery, a laser disc player endlessly spins Moriís five-minute "Miko no Inori" [The Shamanís Prayer] video on a Sony KL-50 High-Definition TV. Accompanied by the artistís ambient sound composition "Kotoba wa Tokete" [Melting Language], the hypnotic piece features a tranced, silver-haired Mori in a silver vinyl bodysuit sporting shiny polythene pillow wings. She cradles a 12cm diameter crystal ball, slowly rolls the sphere from one hand to another, raises it to her face, kisses it gently, then tilts her head back, eyes closing in rapture as she lowers the ball to her pelvis. There is magic in the video, shot at the new Kansai Airport. For a few rare moments, the standardization and conformity that define peopleís lives are displaced by the variety and possibility promised in this cute little cyborgís virtual world. The fleeting feeling is that one has vicariously gotten in - to get out.

"I like the healing power of crystal," explains Mori, "We have lost the sense of spirituality in this century. We have to create harmony and peace for the next century." Moriís eyes open wider and her voice adapts a measured cadence as she pours out a memorized list of what she wants to [or does not want to] communicate with her art; "...Humans must progress further, not only mentally, not only theoretically, not only culturally, not only technologically, not only politically, not only scientifically, not only . . . you know . . . um . . . in those ways . . ."

Pressing the 29-year-old artist [based on published reports, Mori will not disclose her age] to serve up something not on the standard new-age menu is fruitless. And therein lies the poverty of depth in much of the conceptual art coming out of this countryís young artists.

Moriís work is generally well received in the west. She has been invited to the next Venice Biennale, and aboard the "Galaxy," a 77,000 ton British luxury liner that set sail last year with 170 works of art, a Mori photograph is displayed beside works by Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Jeff Koons.

Her performances, one featuring the "kosupure" [costume play]-cum-cyborg artist handing out tissues on a New York streetcorner, have been hailed as brilliant parodies of consumer culture. The attendant photodocumentations have taken her to a large American audience - curious, perhaps for a glimpse of futuristic art from futuristic Japan.

"Mirage 1, 2 & 3," a series of 76x61x1.3cm crystal float glass transparencies of "Miko no Inori" stills, are mounted atop stainless steel pedestals in the center of the gallery. Again, the high-tech works are striking; Mori staring through reflecting contact lenses, eyes framed by a mauve racoon-mask made-up on her serine visage - "Mirage" seduces the viewer into Moriís spiritual oasis.

A question nags: What is the essence of Moriís world?

"My religion is art," explains the artist. Wired rogue pearls shoot from the necklace around her neck. Her far-away eyes and Princess-Leah hairdo are betrayed by the hit of foundation-masked acne flecking her round face, "I am my own guru."

At 7:30PM, the random schmoozing flow of opening party guests ebbs to afford the ever-smiling Mori a brief solitude. Exploiting the lull in her cosmic hostessing duties, the artist slips into the galleryís rear office, morphing into human mode - shoulders drop, a lovingly cradled bouquet of flowers is tossed aside insouciantly as Moriís hand reaches up to scratch her nose. Out in the gallery, guests continue to marvel - in hushed tones - at "Miko no Inori" as oasis of spiritual serenity.


notes: until May 27, 1997 (3563-3236).
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