January 1, 2010
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
November 5, 2009 – January 31, 2010
Japanese artist Taro Shinoda was in residence at the Gardner Museum in 2007. Inspired by the nighttime fall of moonlight in the central courtyard, he developed a work first shown at the Istanbul Biennale that fall, Lunar Reflection Transmission Technique, in which images of the moon that he captured in Tokyo and Istanbul using a home-made telescope and a video camera were shown simultaneously.
Returning to the Gardner, Shinoda silvered the walls of a darkened gallery. At one end hangs a projection screen, at the other is a low platform for viewers. His purpose is to evoke a Japanese engawa—a vantage point between the built environment and nature for the meditative viewing of a stylized Zen garden. During a residency in Los Angeles in 2005, Shinoda built a mobile engawa that could be towed anywhere. Any prospect seen from it could become an object of meditative contemplation.
The object of meditative viewing in the Gardner is a circa 45 minute black-and-white video projected on the screen. The camera never moves. A patch of light appears in the upper or lower left corner of the dark screen and steadily expands across it, revealing itself as the face of the moon, familiarly streaked and cratered. As its surface crosses the field of vision of Shinoda’s camera telescope from left to right—so large as never to be visible in its entirety—its light gently suffuses the silver-walled gallery. An occasional scudding cloud partly obscures the continually shimmering lunar terrain. The moon’s ethereal body passes steadily beyond the frame, diminishing until the final sliver disappears, leaving darkness in its wake. Then a long lens shot of an urban scene at night fades in. We make out the illuminated sign of a hotel, or a rippling flag, a wind turbine, or a minaret. An airplane lands, we glimpse car headlights on a distant road, a beacon flashes. These different nocturnal city scenes, shown in turn between the various passages of the moon, share one feature: the scintillation of electric lights, whether in buildings, streets, or on runways.
The city fades out and the moon reappears. Its passage across the screen is never twice the same. It seems overwhelmingly close: close enough to promise intimacy, while the urban sites remain forbiddingly remote, devoid of human presence, except when a person appears diminuitively at a distant apartment window. Intertitles announce the cities in turn: Tokyo, Istanbul, Limerick, Boston. The same moon glides at the same speed and in the same direction, though at different angles, over each.
From our seat on the engawa we feel the world turn, prompted by the ceaseless progress of a moon casting its cold light on the cities of the earth. Few of us who live in cities know, on any given day, whether the moon is waning, new, waxing, or full. We rarely witness the moonrise. Yet if we take the trouble to do so, we, like Shinoda, might feel its gravitational strength provide a unifying experience to humankind.