ob, Lights Shimmering Between Realms
Kaikai Kiki Gallery, Tokyo; 20 January to 23 February
Young, wide-eyed women stand in soft landscapes like ethereal marker points in the paintings of an artist called ‘ob’. An ambient soundscape set the mood of the show, performed lived by Ai Kamano and Kazuki Sugawara, and also worked as the score for a video piece titled Reminiscence. This moving image piece and a large sculpture of a cabin were the only non-paintings in a show of 20 artworks but worked together for a cohesive whole, tied as everything was in this show, by the omniscient presence of young women as subject.
There is much of a liminal nature to Lights Shimmering Between Realms, with these ever-present female subjects sitting somewhere between child and adult, with a footfall so light upon the ground as to be floating. The environs are open landscapes, next to lakes and on beaches, commonly with the figures pausing along a path. The feeling is of an apparition of a figure more than a human presence, a ghostly wandering where the wispy air of the figure gradually solidifies as the landscape turns to mirage. This slippage pushes and pulls at the ascendancy of figure and surrounds – for at one moment there is a spectre in a field, and the next it is a figure in a hazy limbo world. The viewer is left teetering on the fulcrum, and in an all together pleasing way, made to float themselves in a blur of whimsy.
The sculpture of the cabin sits as an adjunct to the suite of paintings, planting an all together material presence into the gallery. The cabin is externally reminiscent of the sort thing you’d stumble upon in the woods, made of timber and tin and slightly ramshackle. The interior, however, is gutted and turned into a sort of gallery cube, with all but the one side wall (which is missing) painted out with imagery reflecting the painting style – soft colours, floating female figures. It reflects upon a folklore from the Tohoku region of Japan where I young girl falls in love with a horse. The theme driving this work echoes the paintings in that it reveals a focus on the human connection to nature. There is a clear love for the beauty of the natural world and a craving sense of wanting to belong as part of it.
Stylistically the works conflate contemporary Japanese figuration with a Symbolist air, and bringing to mind Odilon Redon and even Monet. Soft layers of colour, pastels of pinkish hues and baby blues, build up to produce a waxy and haptic surface and generate soft-focus blurring akin to some abstract expressionism of the 1950s. These touchstones of art-historical references situate the work into a lineage and dare I say, pedigree, that seems at first anathema to the context of the creation by a young artist in one of the world’s most technologically advanced contemporary cities. Especially given the apparent anime inflection in the work, the ambient beats accompanying the video piece and the actual video work too – which blends animation with hi-def videography. The referral back to ancient folklore however, does position the character of the works into a place of shared occupancy among the flowing eddies of genre-specificity in the grand river of art history.
While the figures tend to occupy a more dominant positioning in the image plane, centring one’s focus and sitting as pivot points in the composition, one of the more pleasing visual aspects to the paintings is where areas of the painted surface veer to abstraction. The sand on the beaches, the clouds in the sky, the water of the sea, the soil of the pathways – these fields of outstretched natural substance sing in a way that pulls the paintings into a dreamlike territory of pure meditation.
But, either facing you down in either defiance or a pleading need are the big dark pupils of the figures, reiterating their singularity and necessity. Some figures are sideways busts which read not completely unlike the renaissance portraits of Piero della Francesca (another historical nod tucked into the works). Rather than holding still to be captured though, they read more as glimpses of transitionary movement. In fact, along with a liminal quality there is a transitory nature to this show too, the two qualities so often connected anyway: love that cannot last, atmospherics of sunsets and sunrises, pathways, clouds, waves. Things that are in the process of moving from one state to another. Colours that are not easy to pin down even. Everything becoming. Everything in flux. But always with a central figure, the young female form, holding the punctum point of nucleus at the centre of the orbiting realities and surrealities of inner and outer worlds.