24 Frames Per Second: The Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo

Walking through the stylish neighbourhood of Gaienmae towards the hip kitsch-cool street of Jingu-Mae, one finds themselves bustled between hipster-esque cafés and aesthetically edged design shops. It is in this precinct of Tokyo where the delicate debonair meets the unpolished urban; and also where the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art can be found.

Established 25 years ago in 1990, the Watari Museum was designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta for the Watari family. Today, the Museum hosts four exhibitions a year and has recently exhibited the work of artist and photographer JR. Famous for his vast street murals, JR focuses on concepts of identity and community using faces of real people as templates for larger political criticisms in contemporary society.

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Watari shows three JR films in the current exhibition, each of which stand strong as a captivating and moving works of art with a real weight of social concern carrying them. The first film, RIVAGES, sees a grim industrial graveyard of shipping containers framing the portraits of dockers working across the port. The 5 minute 54 second film reveals the role of each man working in the port and their new task of pasting the eyes of a woman – the first woman to cross the port – onto a number of containers crossing the world from France to Malaysia. Commenting on both solitary, traditional male professions and women’s singular position as victims of war, rape and crime, JR’s film is touching and telling of the current gender roles in the contemporary world.

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The second film focuses on the island of Ellis, a skeleton of a community distanced from the metropolis of New York. The small island became a gateway for many immigrants entering the United States; a vast number of which who were never permitted to carry on to New York and instead told to return home. ELLIS follows a ghostly Robert De Niro walking the halls of an abandoned hospital overlaid with hundreds of illusory newcomers. Snow dances through shattered windows and settles on the cold, concrete floors where faces look up at the camera, desperate for a new home in New York. The beautifully composed score juxtaposing the film’s imagery adds to the work’s overall enchantment whilst emphasising the melancholic memories the installation work brings to the surface.

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Finally JR screens his urban ballet film Les Bosquets, a short dance film inspired by the 2005 suburb riots in France. Once again JR beautifully combines the gritty, metropolitan with the graceful exquisite by presenting the New York City Ballet and individuals of the ghetto of Montermeil in a turbulent, formidable dance routine composed as a battle between police and local communities.

24 Frames Per Second is a bewitching exhibition which has been expertly curated throughout the Watari Museum. From the large murals of immigrant families and portside workers absently staring at visitors from the looming walls of the gallery’s interior, to the simple stark display of each film in darkened rooms, the installations work superbly well. JR and the Watari Museum have come together to present an exhibition of fractured social histories and mesmerizing aesthetic qualities like no other film and photography exposition today.

JR’s Picture Show: 24 Frames Per Second is on display at Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo until 29 November 2015. A must see if you are in Tokyo and in search of a moving, emotive exhibition display.

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