Tasman Richardson, Peter Doig, Tim Gardner, Sarah Anne Johnson, and Daisuke Takeya at the MOCCA

The MOCCA has always had a knack for innovative and challenging curation, combining seemingly incongruous pieces for a more nuanced take on their chosen themes. Its most recent reboot is no exception, with the combination of Tasman Richardson’s immersive Necropolis, the group display Spectral Landscape, and Daisuke Takeya’s memorial installation GOD Hates Japan.

For those who remember David Hoffos’ spectral Scenes from the House Dream exhibit from 2010, Necropolis provides a similar sensory experience. But while Hoffos’ technological vision was more of a lucid dream, allowing the viewer to explore the mechanics behind the illusions, Tasman Richardson maintains total control of the participant’s eerie experience.

Except for the faint glow of the TV screens, the tunnels are pitch-black. If you’re sensitive to strobe lights or you can’t make it through a carnival haunted house, approach with caution. Alongside the flickering light of the screens, the installation’s sound plays a very disorienting role, as ambient noises surge toward the viewer in an arrhythmic manner.

Exploring Necropolis is like slowly waking up to a horror movie on the television in front of you. Linking video with death culture, Richardson has created an immersive experience that forces the viewer to consider their relationship to the media they observe. The work is chiefly composes of found footage, which only adds to the uncanny feel. Scenes are taken from films such as Poltergeist, the Ring, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, works that also located technological innovation as a point of unease.

The exhibit’s most powerful piece is “Memorial,” in which footage from four film adaptations of the Joan of Arc story are arranged into a dynamic stained-glass window. Despite its religious overtones, any sense of the sublime is undermined by the fire that forms the “window’s” center. The Joans are ultimately consumed by the flickering light, and the viewer is reminded more of her violent death than of her divinity. “Memorial” is the only piece which we are allowed to fully stop and contemplate inside Necropolis. Despite the room’s large size, it’s also the piece most likely to give you claustrophobia, as the window provides the only reference point to locate yourself within the dark space.

Returning to the conventional gallery format is a little disorienting at first, and it won’t be long before Spectral Landscapes transports you all over again. Painters Peter Doig and Tim Gardner and photographer Sarah Anne Johnson have sought to invert the conventional artistic presentations of landscape and create an entirely new space for our ideas of the wilderness.  With their vibrant colours and digital manipulations, this is the pastoral seen through a kaleidoscope. Johnson’s photographs are the most visually arresting, though Gardner and Doig also present exciting takes on the theme with their paintings and screen prints.

Lastly, I made my way over to the installation in the MOCCA’s lobby.  As a memorial to the Japanese tsunami, as well as a response to Douglas Coupland’s 2001 book GOD Hates Japan, artist Daisuke Takeya has constructed, then demolished, a Japanese beach-side home.

I couldn’t shake the question, is this suitable memorial, or just kitsch? In surveying the overwhelming clutter of toys and magazines, the viewer is conflicted between focusing on the individual objects over the greater devastation, all the while illuminated under a harsh neon light. As well as contemplating the endurance of these objects after a natural disaster, we are also asked to question social media and criticise consumer culture. You can’t criticise this work for lack of ambition.

Takeya offers up love and empathy as methods of relating to the symbolic owners of these objects, but love is simultaneously celebrated, simulated, and criticised within the display. Viewers are invited to record themselves saying “I Love You,” which Takeya admits “has become a cliché through public discourse and mythic associations.” Like Richardson and the artists behind Spectral Landscape, Takeya offers up the conventions of his chosen medium and subject matter with a dose of irony, but he doesn’t provide a more satisfying alternative that can combine the conventional with the fantastic. It’s a shame, as his photographs of the actual Japanese devastation, presented without commentary or alteration, are incredibly powerful.

Necropolis, Spectral Landscape, and GOD Loves Japan are on at the MOCCA until April 1st. Admission by donation.

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