While the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is holding a solo exhibition of the Japanese artist Sohei Nishino, Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in New York takes this opportunity to present Bricolage, a selection of the artist’s large-format photographs. In fact, these are not exactly photographs, but rather montages of hundreds of images. Each collage, each “Diorama Map,” represents a city (San Francisco, New York, Amsterdam, New Delhi, or Havana) as reconstructed by the artist using contact sheets of pictures taken during his walks.
Sohei Nishino likes to cite the work of the eighteenth-century cartographer Ino Tadataka, but one might more spontaneously draw a parallel with the ideal cities of the Renaissance. The aesthetics are different, even opposing—it would be hard to say that Nishino’s montages are harmonious or idealized—but the gesture is the same: it’s about representing a city, not in an objective, informative, documentary way, but rather as in a dream or fantasy. The viewer is riveted before the images, lost in the mass of details, while the choice of the large format plays on the contrast between the form of the city—the map—and the urban experience lived from within. The difference in scale between the two—between the bird’s eye view and the street-level view—is vertiginous.
The very title of the exhibition, Bricolage, reminds us that the only possible experience of the city is to live in it, and that a map is an abstract view created by the mind. Nowadays, we are so accustomed to being able to find where we are on a map that it might be difficult to imagine a time when the shape of the city one lived in would be unfamiliar (and no one even felt the need to sketch its outlines on paper). Thus, in contrast to the cartographer who forsakes subjectivity and relies on objective elements to draw a map, Nishino creates an empirical project: his maps are made up of chaotic visions he uses to cobble up his maps. The result is whimsical, privileging personal experience over any principle of reality.
Hugo Fortin is a New York based writer specializing in photography.
Sohei Nishino, Bricolage
January 12 to March 4, 2017
Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery
505 W 24th St
New York, NY 10001