Masaya Nakahara

Waiting Room, Tokyo

published in The Wire No.403, London, 2017

DIY/punkish neo-dada collage has long informed a trail of noise rock visuals. Flipping through RE/Search’s Industrial Culture Handbook from 1983 registers the tropes of these aggregated aesthetics: atrocities in Ben-Day dots, scrappily cut from bad photocopies, desultorily attached to cassette covers and zine covers, scrawled with Wite-Out and frenzied biro. It’s a murky world of vague angst claimed by an aggravated youth raging against the world with flagrant imprecision. Maybe the ejaculatory Uzi-spray of violent imagery is the point. Whatever the case, it borders on quaintness now—particularly as so much of it lacks the acuity of original collage iconoclasts like Jamie Reid, Linder Sterling, The People’s Republic, Barney Bubbles, The Cryptic Corporation and Devo Inc.

Quaint was not in my lexicon as I wandered through Masaya Nakahara’s exhibition of collaged paintings in the small upstairs gallery space of Waiting Room in Ebisu. Better known to noise-heads from the early ‘90s as Violent Onsen Geisha, or more recently, Hair Stylistics, Nakahara has diversified his practice over the years to include painting, film criticism and novel writing. Noise remains integral to his collage methodology. Most of the works are original gallery pieces from the last few years; quite a few have accompanied Hair Stylistics’ releases and flyers. On the one hand, the works’ aggression conforms to a certain mono-dimensionality in noise culture with its time-frozen sense of avant-radicalism and flounced polemics. On the other hand, the exhibition allows one to dive into the semiotic murkiness of Nakahara’s fascinating artworks, as they visually echo his collaged ‘anti-music’ bursting with sardonic playfulness and brute assemblage.

Superficially taken, the exhibition constructs a predictable panorama of misogynist psycho-sexual frottage: fragments of women’s bodies hover in congested clouds of cut-up imagery. They resemble necrotic Orientalist cherubs floating in psychedelic penumbrae, often with gaping mouths and erased pupils. Yet culturally taken, a traditionalist vein throbs through these assemblages, linking their aesthetics to the ero-guro strain of ‘erotic-grotesque’ literature of the 1930s and its resurgence in 1960s softcore ‘pink’ movies and yokai ghost cinema. Bordering between the puerile and the psychotic, Nakahara’s collages are horrifically sexualised. They’re scrappy, intense, rude, nihilistic, and strangely grounded in their own unavoidable thematics. Like their ero-guro forebearers, they are haunted by a taunting sexualisation and bound by their sexism.

I’ve always been bemused by noise music’s unabashed onanistic staging and presentation. Sure, noise music’s rejection of rock heroics removed the ‘rock’ and left its imaged residue of noise, overload, amplification, saturation and distortion. This essentialist processing is often thrilling, but the same procedure also generates a surfeit of unchecked sexualised angst. It’s like replacing the sonic phonographic experiments of Jimmy Page with the smell of his semen. Nakahara’s images seem ever-so-slightly conscious of this fretful condition of noise-jerking. Numerous paintings feature splotches of white paint, brown goop and black splodge, often textured as if to wilfully corrode the mottled newsprint and torn magazine pages. This semiotic violence directed at the surface of the canvas is of course a staple of early 20th Century modernism, but here it finds an invigorating analogue in noise music’s own catalogue of effects: distortion, gating, flanging, feeding-back, looping, sampling, compressing. As reprehensible as it might be to some, Nakahara’s outsider visions cannily merge the clinical and fetishistic procedures of noise-making and mark-making.

Text © Philip Brophy. Images © Masaya Nakahara.