Buddha in Cyberspace
in the Market Arcade Public Art Windows
and at The Campos Group Dec. 1 - Dec. 31 1997
In contemporary Japan, tradition and technology co-exist side by side in everyday life, often in startling juxtaposition. Geishas wearing elaborate kimonos teach businessmen how to use the internet in Kyoto. A high speed bullet-train whizzes past a rice paddy where farmers in straw hats tend to their crops.
In Yoshio Itagaki's work, old forms are sampled and blended together with new ones to create a kind of virual-reality Japan of the future. Using a computer -- the lynchpin of modern society -- as his thread, he sews together a kind of patchwork quilt with textures as varied yet interwoven as Japan itself is at the close of the twentieth century. Pieces of nineteenth century woodblock prints, are combined with photographs, abstract shapes and the artists' own anime cartoon characters.
The themes range from the serious to the whimsical. The anime character Mushroom Hiroshi seems to be sadly asking "why?" as atoms fall down around him in the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing. In a work which appeared in Raygun magazine, Cybermonk stares with a tearful eye at a darkly apocalyptic sky as townspeople taken from a Hiroshige print walk along on a beautiful snowy winter day. Whereas in the original, the figures seem to be mundanely carrying on their lives, heads bowed to protect themselves from the weather, in their new context they seem to be rushing away from a more ominous snow that possibly suggests radioactive fallout. Such images, although they employ the same techniques, appear in stark contrast to the almost campy nature of Karaoke Lesson, in which Cybergeisha happily entertains her patrons.
Many of the works explore the idea of communication and how it will change in the future as a result of advancing computer technology. Itagaki imagines a world where the computer as we know it now in its present physical form, is no longer even neccesary. Cybergeisha sends messages via amorphous red shapes reminiscent origami cranes.
Itagaki carries the theme of communication in cyberspace a step further by connecting it with Buddhism. In Zen Buddhism, the dominant form observed in Japan, spiritual enlightenment is reached primarily through meditation. But in Itagaki's imaginary cyberspace, different media are used as paths towards enlightement. In Blue Buddha, a cartoonish statue sits plaintively inside a television screen. Cybermonk prays using a line of small red spheres stretching into infinity.
This too is a new take on an old idea. In Thailand, where Itagaki spent part of his childhood, Buddhist teachings are thought to be conducted via a kind of "spiritual electricity" when sutras are chanted. It's just one example of how, throughout his work, ancient and modern traditions meet, and in doing so blend together into a continuous whole. Through it we catch glimpses of the past, which in turn give us a peek into what the future may be.
Heather Harlan is an independent writer/journalist living in New York City.
Yoshio Itagaki was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1967. He first began painting at the age of four in Bangkok, Thailand and decided to become an artist when he was 17 after viewing an exhibition of Joseph Beuys and Nam June Paik in Nagoya. Itagaki graduated from the Tama Art College in Tokyo in 1991 and later came to the United States to study at New York University, from which he recieved a Masters Degree. Since 1995 he has been exhibiting his work in galleries throughout the United States as well as in Europe.
PUBLIC ART - Market Arcade Complex
617 Main Street
Buffalo NY 14203