Artist Yasuhiko Hayashi and John Curtin Gallery director Chris Malcolm. Picture: Brad Coleman

It's no longer enough to stare at a small painting on a wall and call it "experiencing art". We are now often invited into immersive environments, artist-created dioramas that envelop us in imagined worlds and engage more of our senses than just the visual.

This is certainly the case with the works of Paramodel, the name used by Japanese creative collaborators Yasuhiko Hayashi and Yusuke Nakano, graduates from Kyoto City University of Arts who began working together in 2001.

As part of this year's visual arts program, the duo, who are based in Osaka, have created Paramodelic - Graffiti, a wonderfully loopy, optically stimulating installation at the John Curtin Gallery using materials they have mostly sourced locally. It's a practice they repeat each time they install a site-specific work (they have exhibited similar pieces in China, Indonesia, Singapore, Brisbane and Switzerland but it's the first time they will have done so in Perth).

"We found most of what we have used here in Bunnings, actually," Yasuhiko says through an interpreter.

"The materials are just normal things, like panels and foam and white sand. The quality of the sand differs according to the area we sourced it from and I was very interested in those differences."

The 600sqm installation uses mass- produced toys, bright-blue plastic train tracks, toy construction vehicles and animals to create a fantastically original landscape that is very detailed in execution and dreamlike in feel.

"Originally the use of plastic toys just came up as a fun idea, but as we continued we began to find meanings in it, or rather meanings we created from the process of using them in our work," Yasuhiko says.

But he is quick to point out that the meaning visitors take away from Paramodel's work is completely up to them and not for him to dictate.

"I don't want to decide what people think about our work," he says. "But I do find everyone wants to touch the work and that is interesting. If it was just a painting without toys, people may not feel comfortable to touch the work.

"They feel they are allowed to do that. That feeling has something to share with my feeling when I create the work, so the artist and viewer have something in common."

The notion of playfulness is integral to what Paramodel do, which is why children and adults tend to respond with equal wonder and enthusiasm to the work. Yasuhiko says he was definitely one of those children who liked to play with toys ("and I still am playing with toys").

While these days Paramodel's preparatory work is done via computer - matching their creative vision to the specifics of the place where it will be installed - much of the process is still spontaneous and improvised.

"While these days we measure the size of the space and work up a computer model, at the basic level what we do now is the same as in the early days," he explains. "In a sense it's still being created as we go."

Another Japanese artist who works in the immersive context is Yayoi Kusama, who, since the 1960s, has been creating site-specific installations, often populated with unusual protruberances and many thousands of dots.

It's clear that Yasuhiko is frequently asked about Kusama, and though he says they often get lumped into the same category and shown together in galleries, he views their work as very different.

"I don't always understand why we are so often put together," he admits.

"The only common feature is probably that she is using the installation space in an expansive way - and also that we are Japanese.

"The results of our work may seem similar but the way she started her art, and the meaning of her work, is completely different from ours. But I admire her - she is a great artist."

Paramodel is a contraction of the words "paradise" and "model", essentially the artistic blueprint for each work created by the duo. It is also a play on the Japanese word puramoderu, which translates as "plastic toy diorama", another fitting description of their work.

When asked to define the nature of the creative relationship between himself and Nakano - that is, who actually does what in each installation - Yasuhiko struggles to answer.

"We can't say it's decided," he laughs. "It's a bit complicated. We don't have clearly defined roles. We use the same materials, but how we work is completely different.

"We just decide where to start and it's almost like two works connecting."

The West Australian

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