White Rainbow’s current exhibition, ‘Chu Enoki: Enoki Chu’, curated by Kodama Kanazawa, is the first European exhibition of works by acclaimed Japanese artist Chu Enoki. From metal casts of assault rifles, tackling the fallout of a formerly militarized nation besieged by the Cold War, to shaving off the hair on one half of his body and traveling to Hungary to see a friend, ‘Chu Enoki: Enoki Chu’ presents Enoki’s collision of life and art to the removal of any separation.
Born in 1944, Enoki has no formal art education. However his childhood, impacted by the raging Cold War, and the US army’s exerted presence in Japan after the second world war under Douglas MacArthur, helped Enoki achieve some of his most emphatic work. In ‘AK-47 / AR-15’ (2000-03) casts of Russian-made Kalashnikov assault rifles and American-made Colt assault rifles are presented in a low sombre lighting, in methodical rows, emulating the original context for these weapons. The work is inscribed by Enoki’s fear of impending nuclear holocaust in the midst of the Cold War, a fact heightened by his experiences after the US army bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The rifles are also a painful reminder of the violent atrocities carried out by the Japanese empire in the first half of the twentieth century.
Enoki has a long history of performance work, which, like his sculptural installations reflect personal social and cultural uncertainties, as well as those facing Japan’s global identity. This is humorously tested in ‘Going to Hungary with HANGARI’ (1977-79 / 2015) whereby Enoki shaved the hair from the right side of his body and travelled to Hungary to visit a friend. ‘Hangari’ in Japanese translates as half-shaved, and has an almost identical pronunciation to ‘Hungary’. During the journey, Enoki was stopped by the police multiple times due to his bizarre appearance. This is illustrated by small intimate photographs showing candid shots taken during his travels. Often members of the public are discomforted, exhibiting subtle body language and, in some cases people even leer at him.
The following year he shaved the left hand side of his body and photographed the result. This is presented in the black and white diptych showing two nearly identical portraits of Enoki with a slight, wry grin; each portrait with a different side of his body completely shaved. Highlighting the level of commitment and dedication to his craft, the work also reveals his need to assimilate life and art, an idea echoed by the exhibition’s mirrored title ‘Chu Enoki: Enoki Chu’. Enoki’s limited international profile must surely be made more prominent from here on in.