SHINRO OHTAKE, Book #1/Layered Memories, 2015, scrapbook with screen print, lithography, etching, acrylic, lacquer spray paint, aluminum tape, silkscreen print, paper and stainless steel, 106 × 85.5 × 26.5 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy STPI, Singapore.

Paper – Sight

Shinro Ohtake

Japan Singapore

“Paper-Sight” is the first solo exhibition in Singapore by Japanese artist Shinro Ohtake, currently on at STPI in Singapore. The show features 30 of nearly 140 works that were produced during the artist’s prolific residency at STPI in late 2015. His multimedia practice, relatively unknown outside Japan, is difficult to describe: a painter, collagist and musician, Ohtake assembles found visual and aural detritus into eccentric, chaotic pastiches. His densely layered, occasionally immersive installations are often accompanied by dissonant “soundtracks,” and place visitors in the likes of a repurposed bathhouse or schoolyard, and before puzzling altar-like contrivances and assemblages of tangled imagery.

SHINRO OHTAKE, Indigo Forest 15, 2015, lithography on Saunders paper, 143.5 × 111 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy STPI, Singapore.

Ohtake is best known, however, for his many-layered “Scrapbooks” (1977– ). The books within this series overflow with torn, glued and painted odds and ends sifted from the artist’s random encounters with found objects—photos, packaging, ads, comics, posters, clippings, graphics, labels and more—that he has amassed for decades. During his residency with STPI, Ohtake mined that collection for materials to use in papermaking and paper-pulp painting. The latter, a process developed by STPI, involves mixing pigments into paper pulp, building up images with layers of colored pulp, then pressing them into a single piece of paper—a technique that echoes Ohtake’s own collaged compressions of ephemera.

The “Paper-Sight” exhibition is schizophrenic: half of Ohtake’s pieces involve graphics and buzzy neon color; the other half consists of monochrome abstractions that seem at first to be brushwork sumi-e—Japanese ink wash paintings—but are in fact lithographs and paper pulp paintings. These works depict Ohtake’s recollections of the wooded site where he exhibited at Documenta 13 in 2012, for which he erected a shed astir with pop-culture kitsch, personal mementos and accompanying sound, collectively entitled Mon Cherie: Self Portrait as a Scrapped Shed (2012). At STPI, Ohtake’s series of paper-pulp works, titled “Path (2015), revisited the backdrop of Mon Cherie, depicting it as a claustrophobic, pulpy-black forest. In his lithographic series “Indigo Forest” (2015), Ohtake used dark-indigo toner powder to create the loose, textural “brushstrokes” of a bleak, half-glimpsed woodland.

By contrast, on the other side of the gallery, Ohtake introduces works in brisk neon palettes that incorporate multiple printing techniques. His fluorescent colors evoke radioactive luminescence, in reference to the nuclear meltdowns that devastated Fukushima, Japan, in 2011. The massive paper-pulp paintings, Pasture and Yellow Path 1 (both 2015), hang from floor to ceiling, each comprising two enormous sheets of paper in fizzy palettes of yellow, pink and crimson conceived as flashes of instantaneous irradiation. Pasture is one of the artist’s more overtly sardonic images: beyond a cute pink cow, an abstract entity—a mountain, cloud or radioactive steam—roils on the horizon. Nearby are Black Wall and Yellow Wall 1 (both 2015), which are large-scale paper works larded with unspecified vinyl LP records. In Yellow Wall 1, Ohtake entombs dozens of smartly aligned records within a pulpy morass of acid-yellow. Black Wall, meanwhile, is self-referential: its surface is embossed with exquisite record-shapes, and the chitinous rims of those records emerge from within the paper itself.

SHINRO OHTAKE, Yellow Path 1, 2015, paper pulp-painting, 356 × 458 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy STPI, Singapore.

Book #1/Layered Memories (2015) comprises 320 bound pages of double-sided prints that are hybrids of etching, screen-printing and lithography; at 130 kilograms, the book is a fantastical sculptural presence. A perusal through its kaleidoscopic pages, which are about one meter long, reveals myriad combinations of the artist’s stockpiled imagery, which couple, clot and morph into hypnotic visual brews. Ignoring conceptual formula, Ohtake conjoins his disparate visuals and then binds them into an eloquent codex. Much of the gallery is devoted to outtakes from Book #1 that have been framed and hung as diptychs, collectively as the “Yellow Sight” (2015) series. In each, two prints are mounted side-by-side in yellow shadow-box frames with yellow-tinted glass. Not only does the glass “contaminate” the prints themselves with a sheen of bilious yellow, it taints the gallery’s concrete floor with yellow reflections. Individual print images overlap and coalesce, and they are paired up with no discernable sense of relevance. Yellow Sight 7 juxtaposes the enigmatic image of a garden wall next to a muzzy portrait overlaid with graffiti-style graphics; Yellow Sight 10 pairs a garish crackle of what might be dried paint alongside indistinct vintage pornography.

In these works at STPI—and throughout his practice—Ohtake eschews deliberate composition and coherent narrative; yet by simply layering his day-to-day visual encounters, he re-energizes the miscellanea of a life observed. In “Paper-Sight,” banal cultural tropes become fascinating and legible, to be read as the artist’s private zeitgeist.


SHINRO OHTAKE, Black Wall, 2015, screen print, vinyl records embedded in STPI handmade paper,  205 × 170 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy STPI, Singapore.

Installation view of SHINRO OHTAKE’s exhibition “Paper-Sight” at STPI, Singapore, 2016. Courtesy STPI

Shinro Ohtake’s “Paper – Sight
” is on view at STPI, Singapore, until November 5, 2016.