Experiencing the the experiment
By Lois Maskiell
Attending Tetsuya Umeda’s performance at The Substation, Newport was akin to being held captive in a particularly entertaining science experiment. This one-hour piece featured the artist manipulating a range of objects, sound and light. These objects included portable gas stoves, loudspeakers, beakers, lamps and even bags of rice that he began to cook. Umeda’s artistry lies in turning these ordinary items into an extraordinary spectacle for the senses.
The first feat of intrigue included Umeda swivelling a metal rod into a lump of dry ice. This rod, which had been heated in the flame of a gas stove made a bizarre screeching noise. Soon, on the opposite side of the room, a loudspeaker was lowered from the staggeringly high ceiling over the balcony. With this loudspeaker dangling from a long string mid-air, the site-specific nature of Umeda’s work was revealed. The relationship between object and space lurched before your eyes.
Umeda meandered carefully around his constructed environment, tweaking items and causing reactions, of many kinds. As objects flew into the air, audience members gasped instantaneously. These knee-jerk reactions brought the audience together in a shared, visceral experience.
The most memorable assemblage was an enormous glass bowl with a flickering light bulb placed inside it. Umeda filled the bowl with water and left his audience to marvel at both the danger and beauty of electricity in water. Umeda continued by crumbling dry ice into the water, creating a hypnotising layer of white smoke that emerged like a snake from the bowl.
For audiences unaccustomed to performance art, this piece could either be an exciting and novel experience or an introduction to a genre of art that often demands significant commitment on the audience’s behalf to stay engaged. Chasing the next cluster of objects to implode/explode was part of the game. Umeda’s performance emitted an overarching sentiment of intrigue and alertness, though the final question remains: did he eat the rice?
Presented by The Substation and Liquid Architecture in association with Performance Space and Room40, Tetsuya Umeda’s work was at The Substation, Newport October 30 – November 04, 2017.