Sun, May 04, 2003 - Page 19 News List

A new exhibition takes a look at who is traveling where

By David Frazier  /  STAFF WRITER

Japanese tourists. They're maligned, ripped off and fairly ubiquitous. In Room Air, a group exhibition by Yoshiniri Hosoki and Fumiya Sawa at Taipei's IT Park art gallery, Japanese tourists become something even more: archetypal tourists, travelers in search of a different kind of same.

The installation is based on a fictitious airline called Room Air. Acting as both an airline and a travel agency, Room Air, like a tour group, claims to offer a whole world of exoticism within its own safe and sanitized boundaries. The company knows the truth that newness is only desired as a sprinkling. Or in other words, what tourists most fear is something genuinely foreign.

In one expression of this idea, Satomi Matoba's Map of Utopia blends England and Japan onto a single map that has London as just a short bullet train ride from Osaka.

Room Air's friendly illusions are mostly based on would-be travelers' expectations. They're built up through maps, photos, videos and props. At the entrance Hosoki has installed an old style, mechanical arrival/departures board, a train station relic from many decades ago that flaps loudly every time the schedule updates itself.

Destinations are exotic, esoteric and incorrectly spelled, from small isles in the south Pacific to African towns, to Keelung in Taiwan. Many of them don't have airports.

The travel illusions played upon here are nostalgia, where the image of traveling always has a ring of the past and discovery of the vain hope that there's still something new out there -- a notion that in recent years has driven tourists further and deeper into every last nook and cranny of this rapidly contracting globe.

Other works admit both the fallacy and addiction of travel. Photos by Tomoko Yoneda at the same time show postcard-perfect views of Buenos Aires and generic hotel interiors. Nannpu-shokodu offers the inflight menu, a hyperbole of exotic foods (including a Canadian mineral water that takes decades to filter through solid rock) that are not such fantastic exaggerations when compared with the real dining habits of residents of Tokyo, London, Taipei or any other international metropolis.

Contemporary critic Manuel de Landa has pointed out that cities, through air links, telephone wires, satellite transmissions and other streaming tentacles, feed on the world around them.

Travel is just one aspect of this harvesting of new ideas and inspirations, the one examined in this exhibition.

Travel's ultimate paradox is that by feeding on the foreign, it destroys it by making it known. Once a locust swarm of tourists descends on a new destination, it bleeds it dry and moves onwards.

In one sense Room Air participates in (and describes) this destructive cycle, but in another it offers a way out: it knows that tourists don't really want anything new. They just want the illusion.

Room Air is on display through May 24 at IT Park (伊通公園) art gallery located at 41, I-Tung St, Taipei (北市伊通街41)

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