Shimabuku brings food, fauna and fun to first ever retrospective at Ikon

By Mark Sheerin | 26 July 2013

Exhibition review: Shimabuku – Something that floats/Something that sinks, Ikon, Birmingham, until September 15 2013

Colour film still of an artist holding an octopus on an overcast beach
Shimabuku, Then, I decided to give a tour of Tokyo to the octopus from Akashi© Shimabuku. Courtesy Ikon Gallery
It might seem a bit odd to be reporting on the menu at a show launch. But artist Shimabuku is more interested than most in food. Pickled cucumber, fish and chips, salt and pepper ice cream all chimed with the extensive two-floor retrospective in Birmingham.

And the artist has spoken about the ability to taste his artwork, regardless of whether or not you can consume it. Fruit, vegetables and octopus also feature, in a show full of surprises with the lightest of touches.

A simple observation that some fruit sinks while others float is the basis for the work which gives its name to the show.

Tiny motors in six steel basins on the floor circulate their watery contents as tomatoes, limes, an apple and a potato orbit one another at varying depths. This is akin to a classroom demonstration and I overhear one bemused visitor compare the artist to a small child.

But this may be the highest compliment of all. As Picasso said: “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." The forty-something has done so, and his youthfulness comes through in the text accompanying the work as often as the work itself.

Tour of Europe with one eyebrow shaved is as straightforward as it sounds. A black and white photo from 1991 shows him with razor at work. And he writes, as if narrating a children’s book: “Because I had only one eyebrow people looked at me in shock. But I also made a lot of friends.”

Again, in Cucumber journey, Shimabuku plays the ingénue to great effect. For the purpose of this work he took a journey from London to Birmingham by canal boat during which time he pickled vegetables. His hosts, as reported, were Geoff and Jean.

Colour photo of a man shaped kite flying past the sun
Shimabuku, Flying Me (2006)© Shimabuku. Courtesy Ikon Birmingham
The text on the wall reports: “Geoff and Jean began by saying ‘Why is making pickles while travelling on a boat art?’ But by the end they said ‘Maybe it is art. Why not call it art?’” So thanks to their two week-long encounter with Shimabuku, the English couple have become veritable Duchamps.

Indeed, contemporary art lovers come in all forms here. In one of the funniest pieces in a frequently amusing show, the Japanese Artist has curated a show for the simian residents of Monkey Mountain in Kyoto.

Inspired by the sight of these creatures examining bits of broken glass, Shimabuku has given them flowers, feathers and a rag doll to contemplate. The resulting artwork is a sweet colour photo and the monkeys look to be tough critics.

In an even more audacious move, the artist offers a rich cultural experience to an octopus, bringing an eight tentacled friend on a train trip from Akashi to Tokyo and back. His actual destination is a fish market where he meets doomed fellow members of the species and lives to tell the tale.

As such Then, I decided to give a tour of Tokyo to the octopus from Akashi is a piece which veers between infantile cruelty and naïve hope. We can but hope that the star of the film ‘enjoyed’ his spell on dry land, albeit in some way we are yet to understand.

It certainly seems, meanwhile, that fish get on well with potatoes. That’s a relationship which goes beyond your local chippy. In a neon titled piece called, Shimabuku’s Fish and Chips, an underwater camera follows the encounters of bobbing potatoes and unpeturbed fish.

This film has been well staged in a white box which takes on the rich blue reflection  of the water on screen, while a lazy and minimal guitar provides a light hearted soundtrack. And sure enough, unless you are vegetarian, the piece will make you hungry.

Near the culmination of this feast of extrapolated whimsy is a surprise package. As the title suggests, Doing something you didn’t plan to do, will give the chance to try something you hadn’t bargained for when you visit Ikon. More I cannot say. So for that reason and many more, go.

  • Open 11am-6pm Tuesday to Sunday. Admission free.

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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