Torimitsu Confronts Global Corporate Culture

Midori Yoshimoto

 

Primarily a sculptor and installation artist, Momoyo Torimitsu has consistently addressed timely social issues in superbly executed three dimensional forms and video. Coming of age during the decline of the Japanese bubble economy, Torimitsu shares a keen critical sensibility of Japanese society with artists of the same generation, including Yoshiaki Kaihatsu. Among her earliest works was Pleasure of Destruction Merry-go-round (1995) which positioned resin-cast sculptures of two high school girls in sailor uniforms on their hands and knees alternately with two white goats on a red turntable. Actually functioning as a Merry-go-round, the sculptures were offered for visitors to ride on. The red round turntable symbolized Japan as the rising sun while goats and girls represented scapegoats or the damned of the society. The work uncannily suggested the degeneration the bubble economy triggered in  Japanese society, which shed its traditional boundaries and sought sheer pleasure. 

 

Of the many topical issues that captured Torimitsu’s interest, those associated with the corporate culture became her main focus. Soon after graduating from Tama Art University in 1994, she premiered Miyata Jiro, a life-like robot of a stereotypical salaryman (Japanese-English term for a white-collar worker) that crawled through the streets of Tokyo’s business districts. Torimitsu dressed as a nurse and followed the robot to exchange its battery and steer it away from obstacles. The absurdity of a young nurse tending a groveling middle-aged salalyman was not only farcical, but also satirical of the corporate soldiers who sacrificed their private lives for their employers’ and the country’s interest. The frequently reported news of salalymen deaths from overwork (karōshi) made this work poignantly relevant in the late 1990s. 

 

Inspired by public response to Miyata Jiro in Japan, Torimitsu took an opportunity to come to New York in 1996, to explore the reaction  to the robot  in varied social settings. With a scholarship from the Asian Cultural Council, Torimitsu participated in the P.S.1 International Studio Program and staged the crawl of Miyata Jiro on Wall Street and near the Rockefeller Center. These performances drew large crowds and major press coverage, allowing Torimitsu to go on the tour with the robot in Amsterdam, Graz, London, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, and Sydney.

 

This international experience led to her next work, Inside Track, shown at Deitch Projects in New York (2004). The work consisted of three new male robots of different ethnicities crawling about an office floor: Lee (Asian), Gunter (Anglo-Saxon European), and Mark (Caucasian-American). In a video included in the exhibition, the three businessmen raced through a corridor of an office building, evoking the fierce competition of the American business world. At the nearby Swiss Institute, Torimitsu simultaneously presented Horizons, an astroturf diorama, decorated with styrofoam buildings and mountains and swarmed with 100 GI-Joe-derived robots in business suits. The allusion to the American war on Iraq was apparent when corporate soldiers crossed over oceans and national borders to take control of cities and oil fields. Although many robots broke down and their suits wore out by the end of the exhibition, a few dozen remaining robots kept on fighting the never-ending corporate battle.    

 

While experiencing life in New York expanded Torimitsu’s interest to global issues, living away from Japan also permitted her to view her country from a critical distance. In her installation Danchizuma-Endless Sunrise (1998), she highlighted the monotonous, conformist lives of four middle-aged Japanese housewives residing in a suburban apartment complex through their idealized photographic portraits and a diorama of their town encased in a yellow plastic bubble. Similarly, the two gigantic, identical, inflatable plastic rabbits in her Somehow I don’t feel comfortable (2000) physically expressed the cramped and repressed feeling of Japanese society as well as her subversion of the country's kawaii (cute) popular culture.  

 

In 2001, Torimitsu created a series of site-specific works in collaboration with small family-run factories in Sumida Ward, Tokyo. After discussions with the factory workers, she incorporated many of their final and waste products in her work, such as plastic suction cups, toys, metal scraps, and machine sounds. This collaborative experience suggested her potential for public art. For the Japan Society exhibition, Torimitsu will present an interactive installation of sleek office furniture to heighten the corporate aesthetic of efficiency and monumentality.   

 

 

2007, September for “Making a Home” catalogue