To get a taste of Japan, there are good eateries spread across the south land that serve up deliciousness with a dash of umami. There is no need to canoe across the Pacific Ocean. In order to grasp a sense of art happening in Japan, however, a group of young and mid-career Japanese artists have recently flown over and set up shop in Arena 1 Gallery, putting on display a variety of Japanese aesthetic sensibilities currently occupying Tokyo and beyond.
Curated by Los Angeles artist Kio Griffith, the group exhibition, titled FlowerBirdWindMoon, offers a plateful buffet of whopping 37 artists, including a several local guest artists who possess cultural ties to Japan. The experience is overwhelming — but positive. Some works are instantly Japanese, while many others quickly disperse the notion.
Akira Shikiya’s delicate spherical sculptures, built on site from ordinary plastic utensils and plates, smartly play with the idea of locality. Red Solo Cups are undoubtedly American; clear plastic containers with short silver twist bands not so much. The banal and boring source materials surprisingly inject anecdotal stories and meanings into Shikiya’s fragile structures.
The painted vinyl sculpture installation by Satoshi Saegusa pushes away any easy cultural association. The unintelligible construction of the wooden structure and red tapes, which mark the territory, further demand that the work be experienced on a visceral level. Seeing glossy colors and uncomfortably tight, kinky wrapping gestures make bodies twist and twerk.
A tension from the intense encounter is diffused by the presence of humorous works. Shisei Hashimura’s depiction of a Japanese woman in a grocery store presents itself as a pleasant, peachy oddball. With a slightly skewed perspective and perplexing facial expressions, the seemingly mundane scene becomes at once mysterious and hilarious. Nevertheless, the mood instantaneously turns somber upon discovering the artist’s signature, signed in 2012 — a mere year after the disasters struck Fukushima. Everything about the painting is suddenly turned on its head.
Other highlights include small monochromatic paintings by Tomoaki Shibata. Gestured in passionate or menstrual red, the four private paintings appear to narrate a sexual frustration and fantasy of the fictitious, teenage Japanese Paul Gauguin. Mitsuko Ikeno’s alien-esque sculpture is a Wedgewood fine china turned grotesque. Think Gizmo and gremlin hybrid. As if there is not enough to see, Los Angeles native Devon Tsuno mercilessly bombards the already overloaded visual sense with a wall of thundering patterns and dashing colors.
Welcome to Los Angeles. We are glad that you came.
FlowerBirdWindMoon is on view at Arena 1 Gallery in Santa Monica until July 18, 2015.
Images by author unless otherwise noted.