The power of art: what I learned today about Tokyo and its public transport (less perfect than you might think) – all through the work of Japanese installation artist Yuko Mohri

LeakyThe White Rainbow gallery is a lovely oasis of calm unexpectedly located just a hop, skip and a jump from the hustle & bustle of Oxford Circus. I was here to see Japanese artist Yuko Mohri’s first UK solo show, which follows hot on the heels of her residencies at the V&A Museum and Camden Arts Centre.

The exhibition, ‘Leaky’, is an installation of Mohri’s project Moré Moré – a long-term research project into the Tokyo metro. Please bear with me; it is much more interesting than it might initially sound, and in fact the project’s first iteration won the Nissan Art Award 2015.

A little bit of background about Mohri. Primarily an installation artist, she reconfigures everyday items (lampshades, bicycle wheels, rubber gloves…) and machine parts that she collects in cities around the world, fashioning them into self-contained ‘eco-systems’. Her installations are frequently free-form, so might be spread over the gallery floor, across a wall or, as with ‘Leaky’, set into a two-dimensional frame. Into each configuration, Mohri introduces an unexpected element, such as an electrical current or a flow of water.

This kinetic installation at White Rainbow takes the form of a circuit, incorporating found materials including wellington boots, plastic bags, sponges, umbrellas and watering cans, ‘wired’ together to contain flowing water. The inspiration? Makeshift water repairs that Mohri noticed in the Tokyo metro. Odd though this might sound, scratch a little deeper and you begin to understand Mohri’s thinking, especially when you encounter photos dotted around the gallery that she took of said repairs. I’ve never been to Japan, but have always assumed it to be a high-tech, gleaming, smooth-running kind of place where everything works perfectly, including its metro system (bear in mind that I’ve spent several weary decades commuting via London’s decidedly non-perfect underground system). Well, having viewed Mohri’s photos I can categorically state that Tokyo’s metro system may be flawless, but the ongoing repairs made to it most definitely are not. “Ramshackle” would be a kind way to describe these mechanical equivalents of elastoplast which take the form of buckets, cellophane, duct tape and…upside-down umbrellas. Frankly, they have to be seen to be believed.

And it is these makeshift repairs which inform Mohri’s installation. I must admit, when I first ventured into White Rainbow, having read a brief account of this exhibition in Londonist, I was sceptical as to how effective it would prove. Could not, in all honesty, understand how it would work as an art form. But, having now been privy to Mohri’s photos and gained a clearer understanding of her objectives, I must admit to actually liking it. Art can be serious, it is beautiful but sometimes ugly…and it can also be playful. I left the Gallery with a big smile on my face, having been impressed, amused and, most definitely, entertained.

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