If you’re looking for something to revive your inner creative after a harrowing week of midterms, look no further! Check out Maywa Denki’s retrospective exhibit, Nonsense Machine, at the Ming Contemporary Art Museum for a fresh look into the limitless possibilities of gadgets and gizmos.
My friend and I impulsively trekked to the Ming Contemporary last Saturday despite having gone mostly blind from nonstop midterm prep. As a forewarning, the museum is a little off the beaten tracks because it’s actually a renovated paper machine factory. It adds to the significance of Maywa Denki’s work, but it does make for a lengthy subway ride. What I appreciate about the Ming, though, is that due to its small space and industrial atmosphere, you’re immediately transported into Denki’s world. There are no formalities, like at larger art museums that I’ve encountered where art feels at once dissected and protected by maps, glass, and guards. It’s raw!
Denki is actually an artist unit composed of two brothers, Masamichi and Nobumichi Tosa. However, you will mainly see the younger brother, Nobumichi, in the exhibit’s video demonstrations and descriptions. The brothers’ three main collections of products are “Tsukuba”, “Edelweiss”, and “Naki”.
“Tsukuba” is a series of musical instruments that are completely independent of but simultaneously inspired by traditional instruments, i.e. drums, saxophones, guitars. So you get instruments like the Otamatone, a saxophone-guitar hybrid instrument that looks like a giant music note with a cheerful face that emits sound through its “mouth”.
Although sadly we weren’t able to tinker with the instruments ourselves, the exhibit offered plenty of other ways to understand their creation and use, from video footage to a sketchbook library where visitors could browse Denki’s creative process.
My personal favorite collection was “Edelweiss”. The series centers on a flower motif, presenting a surreal story on man and woman’s differing attitudes towards PLASTICA, beautiful but toxic products made from the essence of flowers. While I was disappointed with females’ portrayal as insensitive and materialistic, the story and corresponding artwork was captivating. Denki even wrote a book for this series, titled The Matsu Kyo that is available for reading if you’re looking to take a break in the museum.
“Naki”, the third series, is an array of nonsense machines following a fish motif. For example, Denki created fish bone power cords (unironically warning against contact with water) as part of the exhibition. As with the rest of Maywa Denki’s products, “Naki” is both fiercely functional despite its whimsical aesthetic. They may be collectively referred to as nonsense machines, but once you’re drawn into the exhibition Denki’s vision becomes anything but.
Due to popular demand, the exhibition has been extended until April 10th.
Photos Courtesy of Cathy Zhang
Featured Image Courtesy of Kadallah Burrowes