NEW YORK, NY.- Views of Life presents eight Japanese artists, five based in New York and three in Japan, who cast an intent look on life in its many different manifestations, personal, social, or historical. In doing so, some of them also interrogate the meaning of viewing itself.
Hailing from Kyoto, Kohei Yamashita offers a metaphor for the nature of viewing. In rest and other works from his mountain series, he invites the visitor to look into a telescope installed in a gallery. In its eyepiece, the visitor will see a mountaineer resting on a mountainside (or climbing up or arriving at a mountaintop, depending on the work) as though she likewise were on a climbing trek. Once she realizes that she is looking at a small figure posed on a seemingly nondescript rock placed away from the telescope, her attention shifts to the rock to look at it and the figure placed on it up close with her naked eye. The work points at once to the extremely sharp but inevitably narrow focus of the telescope and the unencumbered yet imperfect range of our eyesight, both of which are necessary to have a good view of things in our life.
Trained in ceramics at New York University, Kenjiro Kitade uses the image of sheep to see human shortcomings. In his latest work, New World Order and Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining, he references two recent events, todays information revolution and the disaster at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, with his Sheep Man holding a smart phone and riding on an atomic cloud in search of happiness. His message is cautionary: Life is liable to vicissitude and Do you want to continue living a life with greed?
Both Takashi Horisaki and Takako Oishi look at life in social dimensions. Having studied in the southern cities of New Orleans and St. Louis, Horisaki developed a community-based project titled Social Dress. By taking latex molds of architectural surfaceswindow frames, doors, street numbers, and such to which adhere strata of their aged and deteriorating surfaces, he looks at these layers to understand actions, interactions, environment, and origin of an often rundown part of a city. In recent projects in Buffalo (2010), New Orleans (2007), and St. Louis (2012), he mobilized local art students and residents to help him assemble latex layers in such a way that they, too, could see their city in layers of surface. A recent M.F.A. from Hunter College, Oishi considers herself as a social artist who views human interactions through her video, photography, and performances. With her new documentary method, her subjectfor example, a cookie artist in Moist and Tastybecomes her co-author, who inspires the artist to expand her inquiry to provoke culturally inflected chats on sex among her Japanese friends. Her nonstructural video with interplay among herself, her subject, and other participants amounts to a social critique with no conclusion, only revelation.
Longtime New Yorkers, Katsuhiro Saiki and Toru Hayashi look at landscape. A formalist interested in the counter-aesthetic of monotonous cityscapes, which he has developed into several photographic series that exploit Minimalist repetition and installation-based display among other strategies. In his effort to spatialize photography, Study for Metropolis, begun in 2006, stands out. It is a three-dimensional portable study of Manhattans modernist skyscrapers, wherein he transforms his photographs into polyhedrons, presenting an alternative perspective on his current hometown. In contrast, Hayashi is a conceptualist who maintains the travelers eye, or rather embraces the idea of travel agency. In this capacity, he presents the famous landmarks of a citysay, Berlin and New York in this exhibitionas a series of landscapes as personal space. At first glance, a system of representation he has devised seems cryptic: a straight monochrome photograph of a given site juxtaposed with a color picture of the sky above it (both taken by him), with the latter marked by hand-drawn color circles (which represents the first letter of the sites name). But once we understand it, we join him in a trip he personally crafted. He thus proposes to liberate tourism from all the clichés.
A womens personal life is a shared subject of Hiroko Nakao and Noriko Shinohara, but they look at it in different ways. Long based in London and now back in Tokyo, Nakao explores seduction, desire, and apparent beauty in exquisitely crafted objects which have a strong feminist overtone. The color red has recurred in her oeuvre, including Red Skin and Little Red Riding Hood. Unlike these previous works, which touch upon an uneasy feeling of adult womanhood, her drawing series Red Shoes addresses a girls curiosity with and aspiration to mature femininity, which is represented by her feet stuck in an oversized pair of her mothers cheap red high heels. Shinohara goes very personal with her Cutie and the Bullie, a series of drawings based on her life in New York as an aspiring artist with her enfant terrible artist husband. Intended for an artist book, these drawings chronicle a few decades worth of toils suffered by Cutie, Shinoharas alter ego. Nearing the completion of the series, she excerpts the ending episode for this exhibition. After all these often bitter years, she demonstrates a gracious degree of resilience in an optimistic finale.
Taken together, Views of Life showcases a wide range of emerging and promising talents, each contributing to this exhibition works that encapsulate the essence of their aesthetic and theoretical engagements with todays complex world.
Reiko Tomii is a New York-based independent art historian and curator who investigates post-1945 Japanese art in global and local contexts. Her latest projects include the contribution to the catalogue of Gutai: Magnificent Playground at the Guggenheim Museum, forthcoming in the spring of 2013.