I tower over my dead body.
Read this exhibition review ↓
This is the archive of the exhibition called I tower over my dead body. at the Gallery TOH from 4th to 28th November 2021. The artist Rika Nakashima invite the audience to experience the "therapy", which is inspired by The Tower from the tarot cards.
He who asks fortune-tellers the future unwittingly forfeits an inner intimidation of coming events that is a thousand times more exact than anything they may say….we do not go unpunished for cheating the body of its power to meet the fates pm its own ground and triumph.
Walter Benjamin, One Way Street (*1)
The fact that I could see the light first and hear the sound later was very striking to me.
Giorgio de Chirico, The Memoirs of Giorgio de Chirico, (*2)
In general, Tarot cards are made up of 78 cards, 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana. The basic method of divination is to read the meanings and implications from the cards that you happen to pick, but the interpretation can differ depending on whether the cards are in the "positive" or "reverse" position. Artist Rika Nakashima utilises The Tower, the deadliest card in the Major Arcana, for the card's meaning of "liberation, the emergence of the trapped" for her exhibition statement. In the positive position it means "disaster, accident, collapse", and in the reverse position it means "tension, suffering, instability" (*3). In either position, the tower is a bad symbol, but is it a warning or a prophecy for the viewer? In order to deconstruct the meanings of the card, I would like to trace Nakashima's solo exhibition I tower over my dead body. from two perspectives: the upright position and the reverse position.
[ Positive position ]
The gallery was supposed to be a minute's walk from the east exit of Yoyogi station, but you couldn't find it right away. When I checked the address on a flyer you received earlier, the room number of the flat was "1B". You find it in a small building with a pub on the ground floor, but there is no entrance for a basement. You have no choice but to go up the small staircase beside the pub and look for the entrance there. Just to the right we find the heavy door of a gallery with the strange name of "TOH". The name "1B" refers to the room number, not the basement (B1) (*4). The door opens onto a further staircase and we cautiously make our way to the back of the gallery, intimidated by the suspicious "No Entry. authorised persons only" sign. The gallery is a small white room with a counter, numbered "1B" but actually located on the mezzanine floor, with a window at the back looking out towards Yoyogi station, where you were until a few minutes ago. Trains passing by on the tracks, power lines blocking your view, noisy billboards. There was no order, no order at all, just a chaotic urban landscape. You looked down and saw a small railway crossing with yellow and black level crossing barriers rising and falling emotionlessly.
A woman in a white coat at the counter says hello and reminds you that you have made an appointment for an interactive sound installation called The Tower Therapy.
The woman gives you a 'questionnaire' on which you have to tick six questions to be answered 'yes' or 'no'. I hesitated to circle the questions "I am extremely resistant to being led by someone" and "I have wanted to die in the past". You wondered if you should accept the therapy, a form of hypnotherapy, unprotected. The woman, seeing your hestance, adds in a cheerful tone of voice: “The sound installation is a kind of hypnosis.” The sound installation, she says, is a fictional death and rebirth experience. Repeatedly reminded that you can leave at any time if you feel uncomfortable, you slide into a central zoning space separated by a curtain. There's a single-seater sofa and two speakers, and you plunge deep into the fine cushions and put on your headphones. A “man” named Nakashima’s voice blares from the headphones, telling you that you are about to be guided through an experience. Close your eyes, he says, “relax…., breathe in ….and breathe out….. You open your eyes in defiance, not wanting to be distracted by the haunting voice that seems to be invading your brain. Through the translucent curtains I could see the scenery outside the window and hear the distant sound of trains passing through Yoyogi station. Through the curtains they were as faint as an illusion.
The voice says: “You are now a young child of 10 years old, and there is a tower in front of you. You will grow older with each step you take up the tower. On the way, there are three mirrors, and when you look into them, you are asked a series of questions that invite you to introspect: ‘What is the happiest thing that has ever happened to you in your life?’” Was this some kind of initiation? Again, I felt a twinge of alarm.
You have reached the top of the tower. A large moon shines overhead, followed by clouds covering the sky, darkness and silence. Thunder rumbles. Strong vibrations emanated from the speakers and pierced your body. For some reason, you were reminded of an ancient theory, introduced by a TV programme a few days ago, that “more lightning strikes means better mushroom growth” (*5). The association of “Tower, TOH, Ten “ brings to mind even the lyrics of the nursery rhyme "It’ll finally be over. (「塔'Toh'でとうとう'Tohtoh'おしまいよ」in Japanese)”. You felt as if I were a mushroom listening to the thunder, and soon the violent roar through the headphones stopped.
Maybe you are dead. The voice tells us that you are in the Kingdom of God. The landscape through the curtains is finally white. After passing through the time of blankness and silence, your soul escapes from your body and returns to the earth, Japan, Shibuya and Yoyogi where TOH is located. This is the story of the strangest therapy in the world. You don't know how much you could immerse yourself in the fiction, but you do remember that the feeling of being wrapped in the afternoon sun shining through the window was very vivid.
After finishing the sound installation, you inspect the other works in the room one by one. On the wall there is a notice "Yesterday's fatal accident (in the tower) / Death 08 / Injury 25", which may be the number of people who experienced the therapy (those who died in the fiction) and those who only saw the exhibition without experiencing it (those who did not die). We can't help but think of the crossroads in life that determine who lives and who dies. The choice of fate may have begun as soon as you stepped into the room, ignoring the warning that it was "No Entry. authorised persons only". The possibility that some viewers may have walked through without experiencing the therapy now seems to you to be a redeeming thread (for walking through is also a form of strength). The modern ceramic urn, named earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, has little hint of "death" (it is rather a cool conceptual art), and the film sheet with the tarot cards wonder, "can tarot cards be interpreted as works of art? (Is it possible to remove the symbolism from a Tarot picture?)”
The woman in white said she would read tarot if viewers wished, but there was already a visitor at the participatory work. You approach the window again, alone, and see the light coming through the clouds. Then you realised that one of the photographs on the window was taken from the same point of view as the view outside. In the picture, a billboard reads "God is dead" and you feel that your body is standing between the spiritual and the conceptual.
[ Reverse position ]
The perspective turns 180 degrees. From this point onwards, I would like to go outside TOH and take a walk around Yoyogi station to relativise my therapeutic experience in the gallery. In the photographic work The Public Speech on the window, there is indeed a billboard with the words "God is dead", but this part of the image is actually a composite. Nakashima says that she would have liked to have rented the billboard in real life, but she was unable to do so for the very secular reason that the cost of advertising was too high. It should be noted, however, that the fictional passage through the "Kingdom of God" and the faked propaganda billboard of the death of God take place in concentric circles around Yoyogi station. It should be noted, however, that the fictional passage through the "Kingdom of God" and the propaganda of his death by means of an edited image take place within concentric circles around on Yoyogi station. This is because here there is an antinomy in which the mystical experience of one is uprooted and denied by the publicity of the other, mainly through the action of voice and text.
Let's look back at the exterior of the building where the gallery is located: above the window of TOH on the first floor, there is an electronic billboard. This is also Nakashima's work. At a slow speed, the board spits out the words “My heart bleeds for accidents resulting in personal injury (or death)” from left to right. To whom is this message addressed? If you read it literally, it's a word of condolence for the deaths of the people who have died in accidents, but if you read it as “the people who died = the people who experienced the therapy at TOH”, it could be taken as a word of repentance, “I'm sorry that I killed all the visitors with hypnotherapy”. Or could we read into it a cynicism that mocks the deaths of others, pretending to feel sorry for the world? Or can we find in it a resonance between social events and the inner world of the individual? The cheaply flickering letters on the electronic billboard have no voice, so it is difficult to guess their true meaning. What we should consider, however, is the ambivalence of the message, which functions as a kind of external “advertisement”. This ambiguity opens up the public and private in a fierce way, freeing language from its customary functions and effects.
Move on, this time to the level crossing we saw from the gallery window. This is the famous Umayamichi crossing, which is known as the "unopened crossing". There are other crossings in Yoyogi where the level crossing barriers remain down for long periods of time, blocking pedestrian access. Why can't we get rid of these crossings, which sometimes affect the foot traffic in the neighbourhood and sometimes cause railway accidents for pedestrians who try to force their way across?
The short answer is that it has to do with the peculiar structure of Yoyogi station. In recent years, the number of trains passing through the station has increased due to the opening of the Sotetsu and JR direct lines, and the problem of "unopened level crossings" during the morning and evening rush hours has become more serious (*6). The Shibuya Ward Assembly has submitted a request for a multi-level crossing, but the topographical conditions have made it difficult to improve the crossing. The crossing is one of the oldest in Tokyo and has a strong connection with Yoyogi as it was built in 1885 when the Shinagawa line of the Nippon Railway (the predecessor of the Yamanote line) opened.
It is no mere coincidence that TOH's window frames incorporate this level crossing as if it were a single image. This is because level crossings, which cannot be elevated or abolished - public objects that cannot be demolished so easily - are in close proximity to “death”, and therefore have an aspect that connects with Nakashima's exhibition. The symbolic power of The Tower card, as a symbol of "liberation, the emergence of the trapped", plays an important role in opening a small hole in "public objects that induce death because they cannot be demolished".
Once you have seen the crossing, we recommend you take a look at the old Yoyogi station building. Compared to the west exit, which is crowded with prep schools and restaurants, the east exit, with its unique arched entrance, has an old and grim appearance. From there, through a narrow subway and up a flight of stairs to platform 4 of the Sobu Line in the direction of Chiba, you will find Nakashima's work, which has sprung out of the TOH and emerged on the platform ( The Tower Spread, which imitates an advertising poster). Then, from platform 3, take a look at the tracks towards Chiba. You can see the beginning of a sharp left turn and get a slight sense of the topography of Yoyogi station (*7). Another highlight is the strange step on platforms 2 and 3 where the Yamanote and Sobu lines cross. Nearby is a sign saying "Watch your step" and a fence to prevent people from falling over, and if the timing is right, an announcement saying "Please watch out for steps" will also fall from above your head. It is very unusual for a station to have steps on the platform. This is due to the extreme gradient of Yoyogi station and the development of the railway extension. Yoyogi station, along with its neighbour Shinjuku station, has been repeatedly extended and the distance between the two stations has been reduced to a bizarre degree. Yoyogi and Shinjuku are now too close to each other and this has resulted in a strange levelling of the platforms (*8).
Yoyogi station was opened in 1906 and has undergone many renovations since then. However, as with any railway development planned for convenience, the problems inherent in the local area are bound to erupt somewhere along the way. Such is the case with the "unopened railway crossing", where the TOH is located, and where the Tarot and therapy are carried out. We must not forget that both Tarot and therapy are carried out in a place where the strains of urban planning are so great that a special magnetic field may be responsible for throwing off the compass of interpretation. Even if what I have said so far is perverse, it is still possible that Nakashima, who is familiar with Yoyogi and has been involved in performances that intervene in public spaces, has unconsciously received the strains of this place and fed them back into this exhibition.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the interpretation of tarot cards changes depending on whether the pattern appears correctly or upside down. However, the reversed position does not mean that the meaning of the symbol is reversed. It is up to the diviner to decide whether to use the reversed position or not. It is possible that the creators of the cards did not anticipate the reversed position, and that the reversed position may cause confusion. In other words, the more possibilities, the more risk of misinterpretation. In light of the above, the viewer must make his or her own judgement.
Finally, let's take another look at the design of The Tower card that Nakashima used for the flyer of her solo exhibition and the posters advertising the station. It is a Marseille card with a simple line depicting two people falling to the ground after lightning strikes the top of a tower. I tower over my dead body. is an exhibition that amplifies the destructive power of the lightning strike by betting on a single card with a bad meaning: The Tower. The search for the inner world and the attack on the urban space are carried out simultaneously, with contradictions and misalignments. So what comes after the release from collapse? And what if the destructive power of the Tower card can destroy your own destructive power too?
Again, we ask the viewer. What do you believe and what do you reject when you arrive in Yoyogi, in the midst of the distortions of urban planning, in a room of a building with a strange structure that makes you mistake the first floor for the first? Has reincarnation therapy transformed your real body? Do you really think that therapy is just art and that you can critique it from a "distance", from the comfort of your position as a viewer? Is there a special revelation that tells you your destiny and is it only for you? To what extent does the Tarot tell us the future? Isn't the basis for determining the correct position of the Tarot cards themselves distorted? Did you draw the cards yourself or were they grabbed by you? Do you willingly adopt the risk of the opposite position, or do you first suspect inducement or external pressure to accept the risk?
The sky outside the window flickers. After a short delay, a thunderstorm, both artificial and real, roars.
1 - Walter Benjamin,One Way Street, translated by Kazuyuki Hosomi, Misuzu Shobo, 2014, pp. 146, 148.
2. Giorgio de Chirico, The Memoirs of Giorgio de Chirico, translated by Takashi Sasamoto and Violet Sasaki, Tachikaze Shobo, 1980, p. 9.
3. The "tower" card has several meanings. Nakashima uses Alejandro Jodorowsky's work as a reference, but if you want to trace the very basic meaning, you can check Wikipedia for an overview.
4 - Why is TOH located on the mezzanine floor but its room number is "1B" (by the way, other rooms on the same floor are also located on the first floor but their room numbers are "101, 102..." etc.)? It has a pub at the front entrance on the east side of Yoyogi station and a 6 storey building with offices and a sushi bar at the back. The building has a six stores building with a pub at the front entrance and offices and a sushi bar at the back.
5 - For a scientific test of the theory that lightning strikes produce a good crop of mushrooms, see the following article: "Lightning Strikes Increase Mushroom Yield". According to the article, mushrooms grow well even if they are not struck by real lightning but by an equivalent electrical stimulus. The sound effects of the sound installation "Tower Therapy" were basically recorded by Nakajima in the vicinity of the venue and at TOH (e.g. the sound of climbing stairs, the sound of a railway crossing). The only one of these that was created artificially by combining multiple sound sources was a thunderstorm. This difference between natural and artificial sounds seems to be one of the key points to understand this work.
6 - The media has often mentioned the problem of the two famous "unopenable level crossings" near Yoyogi station ("Two 'unopenable level crossings' near Yoyogi station: Serious problem as Sotetsu trains enter"). However, as far as I could see from the window of the TOH, the crossings were not so much "unopenable" as they were operating normally.
7 - "For the driver of the Yamanote Line, entering Yoyogi station from Shinjuku station is said to be the most difficult part of the line because of the curves and ups and downs, making it difficult to time the brakes" (Wikipedia, "Yoyogi station").
8 - For more information about the steps in Yoyogi station, please refer to the following article. Yoyogi Station is one of the most popular stations in Tokyo. The charm of the station's architecture".
Text by Mio Nakajima
Translation by Matthew Garrett
Photos by Naoki Takehisa