Sunday, November 5, 2017

Tetsuya Umeda’s Spectacle of Extraordinary Objects

Attending Tetsuya Umeda’s show at the Substation was similar to being held captive in a particularly entertaining science experiment. Umeda, a performance artist based in Osaka, Japan manipulated a range of objects, sound and light over the course of an hour. These objects included portable gas stoves, vintage loudspeakers, beakers, lamps and even bags of rice that he began to cook. Umeda’s artistry lied it turning these ordinary items into an extraordinary spectacle for the senses.
In the first intriguing feat Umeda swivelled 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. Umeda proceeded to repetitively heat the rod in the fire, place it on the dry ice and begin swivelling it, again and again.
The next cluster of objects to grab one’s attention consisted of a large, decrepit loudspeaker. Dangling beneath the loudspeaker was a red ball with a light inside and lastly a small fan placed on the ground span the light in rather pretty circles.  
Chasing the next object about to implode/explode was part of the game. On the opposite side of the room a second loudspeaker was lowered from the staggeringly high ceiling. The speaker was suspended mid-air over the balcony’s edge by a long string. The empty space beyond the balcony and the long line suspending the speaker revealed the site-specific nature of Umeda’s work. The relationship between object and space lurched before your eyes.
Umeda meandered around his constructed environment tweaking items and causing reactions, of many kinds. As objects flew into the air audience members gasped. These knee-jerk reactions brought the audience together and showed the visceral link between objects and bodies.
The most memorable assemblage was an enormous glass bowl with a flickering light bulb 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 liquid creating a hypnotising layer of smoke that emerged from the bowl like a snake. 
For audiences unaccustomed to performance art, this piece could be a novel experience or an introduction to a genre of art that demands a significant commitment on the audience’s behalf to stay engaged. Umeda plays with the effect objects have on his audience and the soundscapes of feedback and children gurgling gives an eerie atmosphere to the experience.

One could have tried to figure out how Umeda manipulated the objects, though giving in to the playful mystery of it all was much more entertaining. Umeda himself has said that he is interested in approaching things from “the viewpoint of a zero-year old” and that “encountering something without the context of any prior knowledge whatsoever is far richer and stimulating to the imagination.”
The performance leaves you with a sense of intrigue and alertness. Though the question remains, does he eat the rice?

Tetsuya Umeda’s work was at the Substation, Melbourne October 30 – November 04.

A shorter version of this review is published on Theatre Press

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