The thing about writing a blog about London with a twist is that it takes you to parts of the city you might otherwise never have thought of visiting. Take this week, for instance, when I got the Overground to Hackney Wick, which turns out to be a little bit of industrial wasteland squashed in between Hackney Marshes, Victoria Park and the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. I was there to see an exhibition by Takahito Irie who paints people – literally.
Irie was born in Hiroshima and graduated from Tama Art University in Tokyo, but is now based in Seoul in South Korea. This is his first solo exhibition in the UK. As you would expect, I asked the obvious question – what is a Japanese artist from Korea doing exhibiting in Hackney Wick? The answer is that the owner of the gallery, a new venture called arebyte, met him in South Korea, and the exhibition, titled Influence (part of Irie’s H/U/M/A/N/M/A/C/H/I/N/E project) has been shown in Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo and Weimar, Germany before reaching the UK.
I really didn’t have much idea what I was going to find, but the sparse, concrete floored space of the arebyte gallery proved a fitting home for Irie’s photographs of his painted people. They hung from the ceiling in rows like flags on the field of battle, the bodies contorted into poses that showcase both the art and the mood that Irie is aiming for.
It’s a combination of a Japanese cultural aesthetic with pseudo-African ceremonial-like rituals. His painted people are like the giant ‘mobile suit’ robots in the Gundam anime series. They are transformed into something greater that combines humanity and technology, just as the tiny humans in the cockpit mounted in the chest of the giant robots become part of the greater machine.
Irie explores the impact of technology on consciousness and the human body; the change in the relationship between man and machine over time and the point at which they blur and shape one another. He paints onto the skin of human beings as if initiating them into a new world.
I liked the fact that the name of the painted subject was included on the back go the picture – it made it seem more real, ‘paintings’ of actual people.
There were also a number of smaller, framed photographs and a video showing the artist at work and his subjects actually moving, displaying different angles on the work.
I’m sorry it took me so long to get to this exhibition – it opened at the beginning of October and closes on the 31st, so f you want to go and see it you’ll need to hurry. The gallery is very close to Hackney Wick station and there are excellent directions on how to get there on their website. Ring the bell to get in. I’m not sure about opening times, but I just turned up on a weekday afternoon and it was fine.