The Travels of Mariko Horo
October 11 – November 20, 2007
The Travels of Mariko Horo inverts the “Marco Polo Syndrome.” The thirteenth-century Venetian traveler has become a symbol of Western Man exploring, categorizing and analyzing the exotic East. The exoticizing gaze thinks itself a magnifying glass, but is in actuality a half-silvered mirror. The traveler means to describe new lands, new peoples, new cultures, but in reality he sees images of his own culture superimposed over a vague and exotic background. In The Travels of Mariko Horo, Marco Polo’s gaze is reversed, the mirror inverted, as we view the exotic West through Mariko’s fictitious but observant eyes.
From the Mariko Horo website:
“Sometime between the 12th and the 22nd centuries a woman journeys westward from Japan, traveling through space and time, searching for the ‘Isles of the Blest,’ the Buddhist paradise said to float in the Western Seas. She will be called Mariko Horo, Mariko the Wanderer. She encapsulates her impressions of the places she sees in her travels in a series of ‘Horo-gramms,’ 3-D virtual worlds. She invites you to visit her worlds and see the West through her eyes.”
The Travels of Mariko Horo is an interactive 3D virtual reality installation, a fantasy virtual environment that users explore at their pleasure and peril. Mariko is a fictitious character I have invented to incorporate the viewpoint for this project. Users will never actually see Mariko – except perhaps in a mirror. In essence they will be Mariko, seeing the exotic and mysterious Occident through her eyes and her experiences.”
The Travels of Mariko Horo was inspired by Japanese artists who, while Japan was closed to the outside world, constructed the West in their fantasy as an exotic and unknowable universe. They had only a few maps, books and prints brought in by the Dutch or via trade with China, but enhanced them out of their own fertile imaginations. They appropriated Western artistic conventions such as perspective into their work, using this exoticizing gaze to see their own world in a new way, just as one hundred years later Western artists would appropriate Japanese conventions to renew Western art. Mariko’s vision of the West also reflects the “hidden Christians” in Japan who, while Christianity was forbidden on pain of death, secretly venerated images of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy Kannon as the Christian Madonna.
Research on The Travels of Mariko Horo was sponsored by a Japan Foundation fellowship and a residency at the Kyoto Art Center, during which Thiel became acquainted with the collection of “foreigner art” at the Kobe City Museum, currently on exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum.
Production was supported by a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The 3D browser license and technical support is provided by Bitmanagement Software GmbH.
The exhibit was curated by Misha Neininger, Executive Director at 911 Media Arts Center.