Process and Transformation at JART6th
JART, the annual Japanese showcase, exhibits at the WAH Center (Williamsburg Art and Historical Center) from February 26th-March 6th. Featuring Japanese artists from New York, Tokyo, Berlin, and Stockholm, this unique and transformative gallery experience was curated by Hiro Shiraishi of Pepper’s Project, a Tokyo based art group. Displaying works of various media, the viewer is confronted with a complex constellation of works composed of reflective moments. Soft sculpture, video installation, photo compilation, and multimedia production flood the space. The works within the gallery are imbued with a continuing sense of process and its emerging transformative dimension, asking the viewer how they can begin to work through the recollection of past experiences?
Many of the works in the exhibit center on this exploration as a meditative and reflective process. Rika Kitazawa’s urban drawings awaken the spectral hauntings that linger amidst a sullen city scape- we feel modernity cast its grand shadow over recognizable architectural forms with the use of harsh angles and glowing auras. Carefully arranged drawings can be read as film stills that piece together fragmentary moments, crystalizing into an isolative experience for the viewer. A striking sense of the uncanny reveals itself through these barren landscapes with Kitazawa’s use of shadowy apparitions that appear and disappear; they remain eerily distant and peripheral. The viewer is only given glimpses, quick snapshots, or sharp flashpoints of the surrounding terrain. All human presence is absent as a daunting dystopia envelops the viewer. These are visions that display a fear of the unknown, once familiar objects emptied of any significance. Overall, Kitazawa’s newly reconfigured landscapes offer a fragmentary projection of a humanity reeling from modernity.
Detail and Installation View of Rita Kitazawa’s Works
Shifting focus from these phantom cityscapes, Yoko Haraoka’s series is comprised of three large scale portraits accompanied by an installation of mugshots and profiles spilling from folders scattered across the floor. Captivated by the multifaceted, eccentric personalities rampant in NYC, Haraoka embarks on a humorous investigation of wild and untamed character portrayals, essentially archetypes and stereotypes of Japanese subjectivity. An adversarial energy is cultivated within each persona she creates, radically exposing the transparencies of gesture, deconstructing a performativity of deviancy and altercation. Each pose demystifies normalized conceptions of “naturalness” through satirical archetypal embodiment. Haraoka’s performative work reconceives melodrama, thwarting preconceived notions of innate human behavior. This series ultimately ruptures the limitations of gendered personas, exploring what it means to be a Japanese woman in American society.
Installation View of Yoko Haraoka’s Works
Embellishing upon the exploration of identity, Yuko K.’s video and photographic work transform our conceptions of marked time, blurring the separate boundaries of past and present to allow for a persistent process of collective transformation. Static photographs document a past historical moment, while juxtaposed video reels persist as a cyclical process, utilizing repetitive form and audio/visual technique. “Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” coalesce through gestures signified by interracial couples. These gestures signal a breakdown in communication between mixed couples, clashing at once as conflicting messages lost in translation. A frustration in miscommunication arises, one that speaks to the adversity Asian Americans face as marginal subjects in America. Each frame destabilizes the viewer’s desire for consistency, sometimes presented in synch but in other stills, disharmonious. Yuko K.’s installation forces the viewer to re-conceptualize the adversity and difference in encountering the “other”, embracing a multicultural persistence of strength and encouraging the formation of vibrant and subaltern communities.
A reconstructive sense of memory presents itself in Yumi Hasegawa’s installation work. Here, painted landscapes tap into a youthful emotionality; abstract forms converge across each canvas, pulsating vibrantly. A spindly wooden chair is positioned across from the paintings, and when approached transports the viewer to Hasegawa’s childhood. As one moves closer to the piece, they are compelled to crouch down and peer into this imaginary house’s framework, captivated by its wholeness, struck by its ability to situate the viewer within this experience. The exuberance of Hasegawa’s youth, and nostalgic pangs, are evident. Ultimately, Hasegawa successfully cultivates a reflective space, one that allows the viewer to revisit past memories and interrogate nostalgia writ large.
Installation View of Yumi Hasewaga’s Works
In its 6th year collaborating with the WAH Center, Pepper Project’s Curator, Hiro Shiraishi brings together fragmentary experiences of marginality, identity formation, and memory traces. Resistance and persistence rupture our relationship to the “Other”; a fear of the unknown, the unfamiliar. These moments of confrontation facilitate the viewer’s encounter with difference and historical sites of trauma. The semblance of marginal perspectives unveils the inner complexities of Asian identity, promulgating a liminal space for marginal art creation to thrive, where imaginative communities can sustain an empowering sense of collectivity.
Shahida Abdulsalam, Contributing Writer for the WAH Center’s Blog
Meditation and Imagination at the JART6th
At the opening of the latest exhibition at the WAH Center, contemporary Japanese artists take center stage as they fill the space with the depth and breadth of their collective imaginations. The Annual Emerging Japanese Artist’s Exhibition takes on a unique approach to the organization and exhibition of Japanese art, and each artist has their own relation to and continuing dialogue with Japan. Some artists are coming directly from Tokyo, while others are transplants living and working in Berlin and Stockholm, and others have taken up permanent residence in NYC. The show, as so many exhibitions at the WAH Center, shows a group of artists that defy the boundaries between various traditional media and collectively display a full range of formal styles and techniques. Incorporating a wide range of materials from fabric to nylon, metal and bleached wood, the artists are evoking an intimate yet complex relation to body, self, place and other. In this exhibit one has the great privilege of moving from the expansive first to second floor of the WAH Center, as the show has a second filmic component on the first floor grand hall.
Detail of Jun Ando’s Work
On the opening night, the crowd grew from a small gathering to a merry and lively bunch discussing the aesthetic expressions that lay before them. Many gathered around the large central piece that mimicked an expansive Zen garden in miniature and drew on the time honored Japanese meditation garden tradition. This was an exceptional way to organize the large main hall so that each piece seemed to branch off this central meditative garden exhibition. From here we can look to Jun Ando’s multi-media collages and Hyewon Choi’s installations as similar meditative sites, where metaphysical and philosophic concerns are broached. In Ando’s work there are heavily glazed surfaces with ambiguous imagery that shows through to give the viewer a sense of disorienting space, these are haunted landscapes of memory and desolate existential contemplation. Reading the artist’s statement we can see the heavier elements of artistic intent, as the artist states, “Art is to relieve the pain of life. Life is a process of death;” a statement that certainly smacks of an existential angst and contemplation of mortality.
Detail of Choi’s “Plant Cages”
Choi’s work departs considerable from this thematic providing instead a perspective on the relation between nature and artifice. Her metal constructions are meant to hold natural plant life and suggest an interesting cohabitation between the man-made world and the vegetal wilderness. Complete with documentation the work shows how the metal constructions are meant to house the plants but also provide a unique instance of plant life adapting and even reclaiming the artificial constructions of man. The artist provides an interesting commentary on what she calls Plant Cage: “Plants have phenomenal vitality and power to breed unlike anything in this world…they have lived by transforming and adapting to various environments as credited in histories and stories.” Choi continues in her statement to suggest that the cages are just stand-ins or props that enable us to better preserve and enjoy what really matters, the natural and generative plant-life, “preserving the beauty and uniqueness of each of these lives.”
Detail of Yuki Ideguchi’s Work
Overall, there is an interesting negotiation with what Japanese art and artists hold as historic precedent and what they necessarily take as a launching point for an adaptation of the new, the contemporary, a dialectic between tradition and innovation. Within this dialectic, formal elements such as painting and sculpture have been taken up only to be adapted and augmented to fit the artist’s vision and intent. One artist, Yuki Ideguchi, engages in a direct and provocative dialogue with elements of Japanese painting and culture, taking certain traditional references and juxtaposing them with pop-art cartoon and brilliant rainbows of color. Ideguchi’s painting Wave and her Life and Death, are satirical if not parodic gestures at serious issues in traditional Japanese painting like the natural sublime and human mortality. Possibly the most stunning aspect of the show was the second component which came in the form of an Amory Night performance set that included live animation, interpretive dance and several musical ensembles. Here too the relationship between tradition and innovation is carried forward in provocative ways that challenge narrow or singular readings of what Japanese art looks like and how or for whom it signifies.
Jonathan Judd, Contributing Writer for the WAH Center’s Blog