Aida Makoto

In 2013 I was lucky enough to stumble across Aida Makoto’s exhibition, Monument for Nothing, at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. I had never heard of Makoto before this, but I was an instant fan; I lingered in the museum for several hours checking out his impressive array of works.

Greeting the audience at the entrance was a massive paper lantern titled Heart. This work evoked much more than simply taking a quotidian object out of familiar scale. It was actually remarkable in how the sculpture did not feel like a hyperbolic stunt; contrary to its size, the glowing light and combination of bamboo, paper and wash of paint presented a very soft, meditative work.

Jumping ahead to a few rooms was a work of a completely different nature and attitude. Harakiri School Girls was like a Quentin Tarantino film crystallized into a single image, but actually more raw and brutal, because even in Tarantino films there is an immediate appeal for the audience to invest in a kind of moral ante before dealing out the cards of the plot. But in this painting, the girls are cute, innocent, and self-defiled: no evil villain to loathe and cheer for his fall, only a complete break with what is not only pure, but also sane. And despite this, there is a kind of aesthetic attraction enveloping the scene in the rendering and color of the picture – which just adds to the unsettling nature of the composition. Unlike Heart, this is not a meditative work.

Thus is the nature of Makoto’s creative brilliance well captured in this solo exhibition. Each work lurched from being a provocative vulgarity, to a meditative pool of stillness, to some that were strangely both in one, as with the giant panoramic painting Ash Colored Mountains. From a distance we see the calm stillness of foggy rolling hills, yet upon closer view the thousands of dead bodies forming them emerge, while a detailed inspection reveals the fine detail of each figure.

I was also greatly impressed by the range of media in the exhibit: video installation, performance art, new and old traditions of painting, collage and manga illustration were included in this panoply. Makoto’s hands are certainly not afraid to go where his mind wanders.