Shiho Kagabu, January 2017

Shiho Kagabu, Critical Point
from Unknown Sculptures Series No. 7, #2
gallery 21 yo-j, Setagaya, Tokyo; 7 January – 22 January


Shiho Kagabu (2017) at gallery yo-j in Tokyo

On the cusp between the scattered and the arranged, Shiho Kagabu’s collection of sculptural works reads more like a singular composition than an amalgam of parts. The room-sheet, however, reveals that various components of the show are indeed pieces in their own right. Perhaps this is a conglomerate entity, subject to fractured disassembly in the face of pressing commercial attraction. My overarching impression was of an orchestrated whole and it was in that context that the show revealed its characteristics to me as I spent my time in this most intriguing of spaces.

Tucked away in a residential district of Tokyo, the gallery space was indistinguishable from its neighbouring houses. Only a small poster at the front declared its true guise, and set my anxious google-map reorientations at ease. The space itself was relatively small but with a high ceiling. Kagabu’s work was distributed throughout the gallery in a choreographed arrangement that worked to converse with both the architecture and the audience. Precarious assemblages put the viewer on alert, carefully having to navigate into the space with an acute awareness of the art and your physical proximity to it. As you move further in you realise you are surrounded on all sides – from above, below, in front and behind – and in this way you are inculcated into the artwork and the environment of its habitation.

The materials used in the works read of a particularly domestic air – clothes racks, table legs, kitchen knives, paper clips. The manner of their assemblage and the nature of their distribution are poetic, refined and considered, which belies their banal and general unappealing qualities as single items. Upended table legs sit in formation and reset the floor as the table top. Clothes racks append to the walls and push directional perspective laterally. Ribbons, wires and string hang in confirmation of original gravity. All of this in service of defining space, enhancing perspectival reach and positioning the body in the non-stable zones between objects.

This activated energetic flow between assemblages sets the room into a charged atmosphere. A long thread of blue cotton restricts access to the central area of the gallery and amplifies the relations between things just as it holds you back from entering into those fields of play. It’s hard not to pace back and forth, as if waiting for permission, and being drawn into the space mentally to compensate for the failed physical allowance.


Punctuating the show around the periphery are three images – a painting, a photograph and a print. The painting is a crude, art-brut style portrait; the photograph is of a gloomy beach with a rainbow in the background; and the print appears to be a low-res office-copier print out of an image of a broken ring on a road in the shape of a 3, with scrawled ballpoint drawings over the surface of the paper. These ambiguous and enigmatic images sit like marker points, triangulating the room in a secret code of bearing.

The worked forms of the objects – wrought wires, twisted ribbons and a cut up and carefully repositioned apple – all speak of intimate gestural interactions. They bring the artist to bear in the space, leaving a residue of a performative activity. This ghost of menial actions runs across the space like a snaking time-lapse of invisible flow moving from point to point, a second energetic flow on another dimensional plane to the objects in the room.

From initial hesitancy born of non-compelling materials inhibiting access to a (by contrast) appealing gallery space, my attraction to the works grew like a dial being turned up gradually and held at the apex. You could almost feel the crackling intensity of the empty space in between things, revealing itself to be anything but empty at all. And the apparently lo-fi quality of materials used in the objects fell into insubordinate inconsequence as the true materiality of the relationship between art, architecture and audience gained ascendancy and made the space sing.

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