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Caving In

Shadows exist on surfaces as pure image without detail, colour or mass. Immaterial, elusive and ungraspable, they were mistrusted by Plato as representing fraudulent imitations of reality, distractions from truth and knowledge. To be liberated, the prisoners in his cave would have to come outside and face the fully dimensioned world of sunlight – the opposite of darkness, the antithesis of deception. But actually light and dark exist only in and through each other – a shadow needs a source of light from which to be cast and stars cannot be seen in the day because only darkness gives form to light. Arlo Guthrie said in a few words what Samuel Todes and others have said in many: “You can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in”.

For Yukihiro Taguchi’s recent installation at Gallery αM in Tokyo, the Osaka-born Berlin-based artist likened the configuration of the basement gallery space to those enclosed subterranean realms never reached by daylight, caves. With this as his starting point, he created an interwoven, participatory system of shadows, lights, found domestic junk precariously arranged, and ongoing photo documentation. It seemed to extend in several directions from Tu m’ (1918), where some of Duchamp’s icons – the wheel and hatstand – were used to “do a painting with cast shadow” by way of exploring the relationship between two dimensionality and three dimensionality, image and thing.

Plato thought the light of the sun was the ultimate, unpolluted truth and anything else was secondary, but as this exhibition showed, the relationship between light and authenticity is more conflicted than we might assume. The nature of light is such that it can be propagated through projection and reflection endlessly without suffering any loss to the source. The moon, for example has no light of its own; its illumination is a forgery, borrowed from the sun. In the intricately built space the illegitimate shadows of Plato’s cave became their own authentic fakes, independent of sunlight and indifferent to the notion of originality.

The title of the show, Cave, was projected near the entrance to the gallery via a methodically placed hand-mirror that picked up light from outside the room. Second-hand light was also recorded live by camcorder and transmitted to a projector which then cast the shadow of a representation of a horse from the Lascaux complex of caves (estimated to be 17,000 years old) via a page from a second-hand book of reproductions. Sources of origin were consciously made indistinguishable from the interacting forms of reproduction.

As with the young artist’s other recent performative installations, a camera sat on a tripod for the duration of the show silently working away at time-lapse documentation of the perpetually incomplete set-up. The thousands of photographic images will later be compiled in an autonomous stop-motion video work, forming yet another layer of representation. Besides the common analogy of photography and shadows (dating way back Fox Talbot who described the first photographic images as skiagraphy, meaning ‘shadow writing’), the camera’s presence brought to mind Susan Sontag’s statement that the power of photography has “de-Platonized our understanding of reality”, making it no longer plausible to distinguish between images and objects, shadows and realities, copies and originals.

In one corner of Taguchi’s cave the passing of time was documented by the shifting shadows of a tall, single stem pink tiger lily that stood in an emptied wine bottle on the floor before a spot light. On the first day of the exhibition the artist traced the cast silhouette of the freshly cut flower on the wall in pencil, and over the weeks that followed the growing distance between these marks and those of the real live shadows made evident the drooping flowers’ more salubrious past, as well as their imminent extinction. It was a simple gesture of marking duration, and death, through the interplay of artist’s impression of shadows and ‘original’ shadows.

While at first glance it appeared to be a cacophonous and arbitrary arrangement, the evolving space was executed with great skill, exactitude and wit. As with any visual trace of a shadow, what it amounted to was a representation of a representation, but under Taguchi’s apt hands the reconfiguration of time, layering of shadows and interweaving of copies ensured any pretence of originality (the sun) was eclipsed.

Amelia Groom

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