Serpentine Gallery, London, 22 February–10 April
My family never liked to throw things away and boy, did they love a bargain. No wonder I ‘got’ this show by 2002 Turner Prize shortlistee Tomoko Takahashi, a Japanese artist now based in London.
The exhibition comprised around 7,600 objects collected, donated or found over a period of months, which Takahashi then painstakingly sorted and arranged throughout the Serpentine. There was a method to this madness. The galleries suggested locations—kitchen, playroom, workroom, garden—into which she could focus her eye for patterns, colours and textures while indulging an instinct for impish juxtapositions (a child’s wellie stuffed with white plastic cutlery; fruit-shaped fairy lights strung inside a dishwasher). Children’s chairs clustered on a wooden stair to nowhere, as if they’d been blown there and froze. Several menageries of tiny plastic animals roamed upon kids’ pool table islands. Elsewhere hung road signs and empty frames. The floor of the brightest, largest room was covered with puzzle shapes, game pieces and playing cards (‘Fred’s fresh fish fries faster’, ‘Dick discussed the discus’). The darkest space held a tangle of tubes, cords, cupboards and scaffolding where outdated computers rubbed shoulders with fake crows. There were writings on the wall, too, by Takahashi herself—notes scribbled from within the overwhelming maelstrom of things.
Takahashi transformed the Serpentine into a riotous catch-all for the games people play. This was a wry celebration of disposable consumerist culture through which the links between creativity and mess were made plain. Plus the impulse to find order in chaos. The over-all effect? Familiar, fun and crazy-making. As indicated above, I know about rooms you can’t walk into because they’re spilling over with stuff, and where the meeting of floor and wall is obstructed. My innate belief that just about everything is of value or use to someone is a recurrent blemish upon the fragile face of my own domestic bliss. The waste and decadence underpinning Takahashi’s show were redeemed on the final day via a beautifully-managed take-away, in which the public was invited to come and cart off the gallery’s contents. What a perfectly convivial illustration of the adage about one person’s junk being another’s treasure. I walked away with five new wooden stirring spoons, several handfuls of toy beasts and a peculiar sense of contentment. To me that’s not rubbish.
Donald Hutera writes about dance and live performance for The Times and many other publications