As I mentioned in my last post, one of my highlights of this year's Rencontres d'Arles is Naoya Hatakeyama's exhibition at Arles' cloître Saint-Trophime. The exhibition includes two series: Scales, a recent commission for the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and Maquettes / Light, a series of images taken ten years ago but which Hatakeyama has only recently found a satisfactory way to exhibit. The first room presents the more recent Scales work which is made up of three parts: a series of five large panels showing a composite aerial view of Tokyo centred on the Mori Art Building, and then two groups of smaller prints of different scale models of the city of New York: Tobu World Square in Tochigi, Japan and Window of the World in Shenzhen, China.
Hatakeyama, a long-time photographer of architecture, seems to have been drawn towards scale models as they are disappearing from architectural practice. Nowadays the architectural process begins and ends on a computer screen, with photographs of scale models being replaced by print-outs of their computerised cousins. With this in mind, Scales explores the significance of these models just as they are becoming obsolete.
When I first saw the images of Tobu World Square's miniature New York, I was puzzled. These are classic b&w New York cityscapes, so classic that they feel familiar. Most people will have seen photographs of Manhattan's dense, towering architecture that look exactly like these: they have become an almost universal visual vocabulary. It wasn't until I reached an image of a giant man, towering over the tenth story of one of these skyscrapers, that it became clear: this is not New York but a hyperrealistic scale model of the city. The precision of the Japanese model is extraordinary (the website boasts that there are as many as 145,000 "people of 1/25 size" who "live in the park", and no two people are alike) and Hatakeyama's placement of the camera at ground-level and clever use of natural lighting plays off the ubiquity of this type of imagery of New York architecture, making the illusion of a 'real' cityscape complete.
In the second section of the series, Hatakeyama travelled to China, to Shenzhen's Window of the World theme park. Whereas the Japanese created a precise replica of New York based on multiple visits to the city and the use of precise architectural measurements, China's model was based purely on postcards and other images of New York cityscapes. It is essentially a composite representation made up from multiple photographs of the city, and as such it has a strange, removed relationship to New York itself. Hatakeyama chose to shoot these images in color, and the flattened perspective and muted colours of these rickety skyscrapers give the images a painterly quality (he was reminded of Paul Klee's palette when shooting these images). The model is in poor shape and the buildings sit at odd angles to each other, which gives these images a desolate, post-apocalyptic feeling.
The second part of the exhibition is the earlier series of Maquettes / Light. The presentation of these is brilliant: Hatakeyama has found a way of making apparently 'normal' black and white silver-gelatin prints of Tokyo by night emit light (which your computer screen is not going to replicate: see them in person). The brilliant whites and deep blacks of these photographs give the scenes an ultra-vividness. They are no longer photographs of the city, but of light itself. Juxtaposing these with Scales gives the work an added dimension: we are made to question whether we are looking at a real cityscape, or another maquette. However, where the images of Tobu World Square give off a sense of dread at the thought of our world being trapped in a single moment of miniaturised time and space, these Tokyo nightscapes seem to be living fragments of the flow of light and time.
In a year when much of the work on show at Arles felt like a punch in the gut, Hatakeyama's exhibition is a refreshingly seductive, gently provocative invitation to start a conversation. A conversation about the nature of the modern city and the ways in which we attempt to make sense of this reality.
Scales. Maquettes / Light: Tautology of the Image Cloître Saint-Trophime, Arles. 7 July - 13 September 2009.
Rating: Highly Recommended
Further reading: Kultureflash