Blending things is a favourite preoccupation for young Japanese trailblazer Yoichi Ochiai.
As a scientist and media artist, Yoichi’s exhibition Image And Matter at Cube 1, Isetan The Japan Store in Kuala Lumpur, focuses on cyber arts, science and building gateways between the digital and natural world.
“Depending on the person, the scientific approach can appear to be art, too,” says Yoichi during a recent interview in KL.
Though his biography emphasised his PhD in applied computer science (from the prestigious University of Tokyo in a record two years), the 29-year-old points out that he started his academic career with a Media Art degree from University of Tsubaka.
“I’m always looking for how to combine artistic interpretation with technical things. I can’t make oil paintings or carve sculptures, but with computers, I can express my thoughts and take my ideas further,” he adds.
Yoichi, an assistant professor, is currently employed at University of Tsubaka as its head of Digital Nature department.
Image And Matter, featuring 19 works exhibited at the Isetan The Japan Store, provokes an emotional connection with the audience by placing them inside the technology, instead of explaining it to them.
The “Yadori” installation lets visitors control a frog puppet while viewing the world from its eyes by wearing an Oculus headset (a type of virtual reality goggles). Instead of focusing on the intricacies of remote controlled machines and virtual displays, Yoichi shares a more relatable future where puppet shows are conducted with headsets.
“Among humans, our bodies are all the same, but in the digital world we can reimagine our bodies as frogs or rabbits (using avatars).
“Through this Yadori project, I want to explore how to transfer humans into other shapes (in the material world) with the help of kinetic shapes like these puppets with actuators,” he explains.
Yoichi reveals the inspiration for many of his projects came from his love of movies.
“I think movies are one of the most common forms of VR (virtual reality),” he says, pointing out how everyone has been able to “go to the moon” thanks to the footages of the Apollo 11 and its moon landing mission.
In making a more contemporary example, Yoichi blurts out that wizard Harry Potter is a kind of science fiction.
“If science is knowing the method behind the magic, then in this era, science is practically magic as everything just works even if no one knows how it does,” he says.
He gushes about how Google Maps has now allowed a person to “climb” the Rocky Mountains by using the street view.
“This notion would have been insane in the 1990s. Yet, now, people are going up Mount Fuji and to parks just to take selfies, so why not let people fly to a location within the virtual world?” he says.
Yoichi imagines that future societies wouldn’t be able to make the distinction between VR and the material world.
“The future would be more Harry Potter-like … no one would care about computers and how it happens, they will just accept things,” he states.
Another of Yoichi’s pieces that seeks to challenge the perception of reality is the Do The Cocktorches Dream Of Firebugs? installation, where he injects bio-luminescent fluids into cockroaches to transform them into fireflies.
“Everyone dislikes cockroaches, yet they like fireflies, which are basically glowing cockroaches,” he says, pointing to a video of some squeamish volunteers who didn’t mind being in a small room with cockroaches after being told that the glowing insects were fireflies.
“I think the way to change our mind towards a living being is by changing its visual representation,” he explains.
Defying the image of nerdy scientist in a lab coat and thick-glasses, Yoichi conducted the tour in a sharp all-black suit and matching combat boots.
While the Japanese artist has exhibited in many galleries and festivals like the Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria, Tokyo Designers Week and Roppongi Hills gallery in Japan, this is his first large-scale solo show.
Yoichi reveals he was drawn to how Malaysia is a meeting point of the region’s cultures and decided to have his first exhibition in KL.
The Image And Matter exhibition runs at Cube_1, Isetan The Japan Store at Lot 10, Jalan Sultan Ismail in Kuala Lumpur till Jan 14. Admission is RM30 (adults), RM15 (youth, 13-17 years) and free for children (below 12). Opening times: 11am-9pm. More info: thejapanstore.mistore.jp.