There’s something onanistic about this new suite of oil paintings by Satoshi Kojima. Placing cartoonish bodies within Op Art compositions, the Tokyo-born, Dusseldorf-based artist telegraphs an intense resonance of the isolated self. Anxiety elides with ecstasy, pleasure with dread. The figures are alone or twinned. A man wearing nothing but a necktie and open shirt is about to spiral through glass shards, each of which reflects his face. Another is his own sound system, one fingertip a stylus. In Pandemic (2020), a femme in a bandit mask like Erotica-era Madonna slides down a pole; the painting’s title demonstrates how quickly this reverie turns cruel, with connectivity a slippery wish in a fever dream. In Akashic records (2020), the piece that lends this exhibition its name, a pair of dandies in white suits are plunged to the bottom of a flower vase as if martyrs to the bloom.
In theosophy, the Akashic records are a compendium of thought across time and space, encoded on a mental plane above the terrestrial sphere. And while the sites here resemble discos (illuminated floors, mirrored walls, a glossy grand piano), they aren’t merely fantastical interiors but another universe—a series of vortexes, perhaps infinite, in a palette of wine-stained, unsweetened pastels. Kojima also parallels nightclubs with railway stations, suggesting a cosmic journey but moreover liminality, that sense of waiting to the brink of endurance.
The characters are depicted suspended or cornered, variously complacent, downcast, stupefied. In catch me if you can (2020) [pictured], a naked man is ensnared in a web of studded leather straps which become his collar, cockring, armbands, anklets. He sticks his tongue out; as with others, he gives a come-hither look, perhaps in futility. His countenance suggests he’ll edge alone towards la petite mort. He’ll be gooning. As the Urban Dictionary contributor FunkyJerker describes: “When the gooning state is achieved, the man’s body becomes for allintents and purposes an appendage to his erection.” The goon is then “freed of all social codes of conduct, and his arousal, alone, dictates his reactions.”
Who are these drowned dandies and zonked goons? Not the beau monde. They have bellies and bald heads. They’re compromised, glabrous, show too much zeal. They are tender perverts, sweet creeps. Their alienation is heightened within these slick locations, illuminating how we can viscerally, if counterintuitively, feel real—to crib the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott by way of Sylvester—when faced with the hyper-constructed. In the blast of air conditioning, under neon, to the sound of disco, huffing poppers, we fuse with the synthetic yet glimpse something elemental.
Kojima paints as if towards perfection. It’s all but impossible to detect human-made brushstrokes. I don’t take this as the artist denying vulnerability, but indulging the precarity of aspiration. The paintings present us with the porcine and alien, freaks hollowed and shattered and desperate. Yet this peep show doesn’t appear misanthropic or even othering. I think of the character in the film Desperately Seeking Susan who sighs, “Desperate. I love that word. It’s so romantic.” These weird, lone romantics are not banished to hell; they party in a purgatory, erotic and uncanny, where they slip across surface upon surface. —Jeremy Atherton Lin
Satoshi Kojima, catch me if you can, 2020. Oil on canvas, 59 × 43 1/4 × 3/4 inches. Courtesy Bridget Donahue, New York.