Love them or hate them, Japanese salarymen, or sarari-man, dominate Tokyo’s public spaces. They march along sidewalks and train platforms with near-military precision, pushing aside anyone unfortunate enough to be in their trajectory. They epitomise Paul Virilio’s ‘dromomaniacs,’ the lumpen roamers of urban spaces (Speed and Politics; Semiotext(e), 1977) obsessed with speed and efficiency.
In many ways, the sarari-man are in a Virilian ‘dromocratic revolution,’ turning Japanese post-modernity into a world in motion. They embody Virilio’s nightmare vision of bodies as projectiles to be logistically harnessed and governed when needed. Not surprisingly, the sarari-man have been variously elevated, vilified, and spoofed in Japanese contemporary culture as long as they’ve been around. They have appeared in manga, anime, and artworks as a cultural phenomenon unique to the Japanese experience.
The latest to tackle the topic is Jack McLean, a Tokyo-based Scottish artist. In ‘Salt Mine,' his solo show at The Container – a diminutive art space in the trendy Naka-Meguro area of Tokyo (curated by Shai Ohayon), the sarari-man caricatured here have been transformed into planks of cartoon faces with monikers like ‘One-eyed Bastard’ and ‘Tart-up.’ But beyond this playful derision of the sarari-man, McLean’s ‘Salt Mine’ is a thought-provoking statement about the condition of post-modern Japan.