Shimabuku at the Contemporary Art Gallery

I was planning on catching up on some gallery visits during the holiday break so today my son and I headed down to the trendy industrial area of Yaletown to see the Shimabuku exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery. This is the first large-scale survey exhibition in North America by Shimabuku. This was my first visit to the CAG so I didn’t quite know what to expect there.

Contemporary Art Gallery - Vancouver

Contemporary Art Gallery – Vancouver

Well, I don’t think Shimabuku is your ordinary, everyday exhibition photographer (if there is such a thing). He has a wonderful sense of joie de vivre in his photographs and accompanying wall texts. He had a few installation pieces on show as well. As the gallery write up states: “Shimabuku is not so interested in discovering the reasons why, instead preoccupied, through a joyful approach, with unions of myth or mystery and the everyday.” The first installation Something that Floats/Something that Sinks (2008) consisted of four large tubs of water with two pieces of fruit or vegetables in each tub. Some of the fruit sank to the bottom of the tub, while others either floated or circled around the tub. Quite entertaining to watch.

The photographs that were exhibited were fairly large (at least 2 feet wide) and were grainy and had a snapshot quality. One even had the date imprinted in the lower right corner. However, all the images were playful. The first one was a black and white of Shimabuku sitting in a London Underground train shaving off his one eyebrow with a razor (Tour of Europe with One Eyebrow Shaved, 1991). Apparently he toured eleven countries in Europe with one eyebrow, creating a talking point and noting various reactions among the people he encountered. Another photograph features him dressed as Santa Claus standing between a railway line and the ocean. In his hands he is holding blue garbage bags (Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere, 1994). His idea with this photograph was to give the passengers in the train a very fleeting glimpse of Santa standing on the beach so that they could not be completely sure of what they had seen as a Santa-clad figure would be totally unexpected in that particular place. While he was waiting on the train, he proceeded to fill the blue bags with garbage that was lying around. Another myth dispelled! The composition of this photo has power lines and the train tracks leading the eye in on frame right to the approaching train in the distance. A diagonally shaped hill also assists in directing the viewer to the train. In the misty distance we see the outline of a suspension bridge. The photographer dressed as Santa Claus stands in the centre of the frame, his fake beard askew, holding three blue garbage bin bags full of garbage.

But the highlight of the exhibition for me was his video, Then, I decided to give a tour of Tokyo to the octopus from Akashi (2000). In this video we see Shimabuku on board a fishing vessel helping a local fisherman from Akashi bring up the octopi pots. After retrieving a few, Shimabuku comes across one that is just the right size according to him. He puts the octopus into a plastic bag and fills the bag with water, then pops that into a Styrofoam cooler. He then take the octopus on a train ride to Tokyo, lifting it up out of the cooler and showing and explaining the passing sights to it – Mount Fuji, Tokyo Tower. When they arrive in Tokyo he takes the octopus up the Tokyo Tower so that the octopus can take in the view, then he takes him on a walk through a neighbourhood where numerous people stop to look at it. The octopus enjoys a couple of taxi rides along the way too. He is often asked the question “When are you going to eat it?” Shimabuku meets up with a curator he knows and they proceed to the fish market in Tokyo where the octopus is introduced to some of his fellow captors. However, Shimabuku does not leave the octopus there, but instead hops back on the train and takes the octopus back to Akashi and releases him back into the sea. Shimabuku “refers to this work as his Apollo project, involving as it did an adventure far from the natural habitat of the octopus – the fishtank being the equivalent of a spacecraft – isolated from the surrounding atmosphere so that the octopus could survive its voyage into unfamiliarity”. Shimabuku ponders the question on his wall text what the octopus had to say about his twelve hour adventure to his fellow octopi. One can only guess.

Although all Shimabuku’s images have a playful element to them, they are accompanied by some very insightful wall texts which most definitely go hand in hand with the photographs. Without the wall texts the images would not have as much impact. It was a lovely, lighthearted exhibition to take in.

Reference List

Shimabuku. (November 21, 2014 to January 11, 2015) When Sky was Sea. Vancouver: Comtemporary Art Gallery

Shimabuku (2010). Something that Floats/Something that Sinks [online]. Barbara Wien Wilma Lukatsch. Available from: [Accessed 28 December, 2014]

Shimabuku (1994). Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere [online]. Artnet. Available from: [Accessed 28 December, 2014]


2 thoughts on “Shimabuku at the Contemporary Art Gallery

  1. Pingback: Assignment 4: Applying lighting techniques | Lynda Kuit Photography


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