Taro Shinoda at the Roentgen Kunstraum

by Monty DiPietro

Eating: What a concept.

At least that is how Taro Shinoda feels. And to prove his point, the Chiba Prefecture-based conceptual artist turned his attention, and a couple of video cameras, on a pair of identical twins, Ayako and Tomoko Meguro, while they had a rather special meal. The result is an exhibition, "AMT" (Ayako*Medium*Tomoko), now showing at Tokyo’s Roentgen Kunstraum gallery.

The installation consists of two plastic chairs mounted on the tiny gallery’s east wall. Across from the chairs and atop a cantilevered aluminum shelf sit two stainless steel units that resemble hot-plates, each featuring an LED display scrolling menu choices. Stacked atop these are dishes, cutlery, and a couple of wine glasses. Two 10-inch television monitors mounted overhead play 90 minute video tapes featuring the 18 year-old girls, dressed in identical gray one-piece dresses and sneakers, perched three meters high on a wall sitting in the above-mentioned chairs at the Nagoya Museum of Contemporary Art last summer. The twins are eating.

Their seven-course meal of French haute cuisine was prepared by an on-site chef according to menu choices made independently (and privately) by the Meguro sisters It was served by a white-shirted waiter who made repeated ascents up a ladder to clear the last course, to bring the next. Shinoda says the fact that the sisters selected the same items slightly more often than not has significance. Part of the artist’s work has to do with investigating what he calls the "vibrations that happen between people," something Shinoda first became interested in at age eight when he discovered an uncanny ability to telepathically share thoughts with his younger brother.

"Twins are the most synchronized people because they start out as one person," says Shinoda. "and I believe others can learn from them." He says that studying the way twins sometimes communicate without words may lead to new model for interpersonal relationships in the new millennium, pointing out that we waste a lot of energy with telephones and faxes and the internet. Shinoda reads extensively on extrasensory perception, and observing how the Meguro sisters ordered and ate their meals was one of his first attempts to seek out and begin to understand these "vibrations."

This is Shinoda’s fourth exhibition in the last two years at the Roentgen Kunstraum, an Aoyama art space that is probably Tokyo’s smallest, and arguably the city’s most eclectic. The "AMT" show is not the first time Shinoda has used food in his work at the gallery. The artist’s 1997 piece "Caveman," involved the eating of a McDonalds hamburger and a subsequent plugging of body orifices. He explains: "McDonalds is the symbol of fast food. Considering that what we eat becomes cells that constitute our body, what we eat impacts our emotions and feelings. The bodies of people of my generation are made of McDonalds. We think through McDonalds."

If there is a problem with Shinoda’s approach, it may be an over-reliance on and over-simplification of symbols. The Meguro twins sat in chairs three meters above the ground during the Nagoya museum performance because Shinoda says he wanted them to feel relaxed, like queens high upon their thrones. But the young women told this reviewer that they were actually frightened to be way up there on the wall, and they certainly look that way in the videos. Another weakness in "AMT" is the lack of artistic conviction evidenced in the work. While this may be attributed to Shinoda’s contention that he is researching (and the sterile atmosphere in the room suggests this), the artist’s methods are hardly scientific, and so the whole exercise almost comes off as a caricature of conceptual art – a genre that lends itself well to caricature to begin with.

What helps "AMT" is Shinoda’s skill in the technical execution of the work – The whitewashed room and items the artist built for the Nagoya museum performance come together to create a visually intriguing installation. Shinoda has received a fair amount of coverage in the local press, with stories appearing in Esquire and respected art magazine Bijutsu Techo among others, and the opening party is well-attended. The center of attention, sitting in their plastic chairs, is a far-more relaxed-looking pair of teen-aged twins. What did Ayako and Tomoko like best about their first experience with conceptual art? They smile, and answer in near-unison, "the Coquille Saint-Jacques. It was delicious!"


notes: Taro Shinoda’s "AMT" (Ayako*Medium*Tomoko) runs until Feb 27 1999 at the Roentgen Kunstraum (3401-1466) in Minami-Aoyama, Minato Ward, Tokyo.
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