The art of destruction

Despite the languishing economy, one business that never seems to slow down in the Tokyo area is construction. And since there’s no place left to build that doesn’t already have buildings on it, the demolition business appears to be in a state of perpetual boom as well.

The tearing down of buildings is such a big part of life here that it has inspired at least one artist, Hayato Suzuki, to sketch and paint the machines that do the work. Several of his paintings caught my eye last night as I walked past Gallery Mozart in Ginza.

Suzuki’s particular focus is hydraulic excavators equipped with demolition claws. His works range from highly realistic (including a large canvas of a machine at work within the ragged walls of a partially destroyed building) to phantasmagoric (small sketches of machines made of bones, which look like something from a David Cronenberg horror film).

His painting “Ogi Obake” falls in the middle of this spectrum. At first glance, it looks like a bouquet of metal claws, as you can see from the exhibition postcard that I have copied with permission from gallery staff at the top of this entry. But on further inspection, its joints begin to look like eyes, and the fanned claws suggest the bony frill of a ceratopsian dinosaur. And in fact, the painting’s title can be translated as “fan monster.”

Most of the works at Gallery Mozart contain hints that the hydraulic excavators are somehow alive. The paintings pulled me into the gallery because I know that feeling myself.

I recently watched the demolition of an old building over many days, and I too became fascinated by the movements of the machines. Time and again, an excavator arm would move back and forth over a pile of rubble with feline grace, dipping low here and there as if sniffing at the pieces and trying to decide which one might be worth picking up to eat. Or it would gingerly touch and probe a wall here and there before finally choosing a part to seize in its jaws and gnaw vigorously, chewing determinedly through concrete and rebar before pulling back to rest, or giving up and looking for a better spot, or finally succeeding in tearing away a nice fresh chunk of edifice meat.

I know there was a man in the cab who served as the artificial creature’s brain, but that didn’t stop it from looking like a single living entity. And I have a feeling that the operator regarded the machine as an extension of himself in a certain way. Otherwise, why would he have to move the claw back and forth over the items he was thinking about touching? Wouldn’t it be enough to simply shift his gaze? Apparently not.

You can see more of Suzuki’s work at the gallery’s blog, here, here  and here.

The exhibition runs through the end of this month, with Suzuki appearing in person at the gallery (which you can find via the map below), on the 28th, 29th and 30th.

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