Suspended in abstraction


‘Maybe there are too many things in Tokyo,” says Katsuhiro Saiki, “because for me, New York City is the only place where I can relax — although I think it could be said that there are too many artists in New York City.”

Best known for atmospheric photographs, the personable and unpretentious Saiki, 37, left Tokyo four years ago, and has found both inspiration and success working out of a live-in studio in the NY borough of Queens. A selection of his new works, including sculptural pieces, are on view in his one-man show, “Suspension,” at the new gallery SCAI X SCAI.

An offshoot of the innovative SCAI the Bathhouse gallery in Yanaka, SCAI X SCAI is a smaller, limited-hours project-space beside the Complex Building of galleries in Roppongi.

Taking as his subject matter everyday objects which seem to be, or actually are, suspended, Saiki’s recent work deals with a theoretical distance. His subjects exist in the real world, yet are presented in a manner that communicates apartness and suggests abstraction. This process of abstraction allows Saiki to explore a new potential of perception.

“I’m interested in the relationship between reality and abstraction. For me, abstraction is not found in appearance or shape, but rather in distance from reality,” he explains. “For example, when I walk in the street and look up, I see buildings — and what I see from the ground is a parallax view. However, in my mind I believe I am seeing 90-degree angles.”

Saiki has created a set of small sculptures of skyscrapers, constructed with photographs and cardboard and formed so as to exist in space the way we actually see them, that is, with the buildings narrowing as they rise higher. Viewed away from their normal place on the street, our consciousness can no longer correct for the distortion of perspective, no matter how we strive to visually recreate their actual dimensions.

Also included here are photographs of disparate subjects, such as jellyfish from a Coney Island aquarium, and a chandelier that caught the artist’s eye during a trip to France. The conceptual thread that unites, then, is the show’s title, “Suspension,” the idea of things floating somewhere outside the moorings of the quotidian, real-life objects which morph into abstraction.

The chandelier, for example, made up of different-hued crystals, is opulent and overwhelming when compared to the typically restrained and minimal Japanese aesthetic. It is photographed with no reference to its context, surrounded only by darkness, appearing almost otherworldly.

The remaining work is a series of smaller monochrome photographs of a light fixture and a lighting stand from Saiki’s studio. The pictures are cut into strips and rearranged, collage-style, to suggest a mirror-like diffraction. Again, the artist begins with familiar objects, then coerces them toward abstraction.

Not surprisingly, Saiki’s style produces uneven results. And the show itself, although themed, relies on a tenuous conceptual linkage. But this is not necessarily bad, as it gives an impression of ongoing experimentation — these being studies which may eventually find a more cohesive form. In this regard, “Suspension” serves as an enjoyable overview of the ambitious and personal creative process Saiki has developed in New York.

Located next door to SCAI X SCAI in the Complex Building are several other galleries. The storefront Magical Artroom gallery is showing a two-person exhibition titled “Worm Hole,” which features crisp and sometimes naughty vegetable photographs by Yumiko Utsu, who won the coveted Hitotsubo Exhibition prize for photography this year, as well as a couple of fun, short videos by the stage-actor-turned-artist “Cobra.” One is an autobiographical piece, “My Name is Cobra,” in which the artist makes use of wacky costumes and props to take the viewer on a surreal, fast-edit romp through a forest. The videos run for about 10 minutes each.