Atsushi Okabe’s graduation work is an experiment with Rubik’s Cubes and abstraction. The result is graphic, colorful and pleasing to the eye. By zooming the lens of his camera while the shutter is open, Okabe creates latticed images that seem to plunge away from the viewer into geometric and unearthly spaces. It’s a bit like the tesseract in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” or op art by Victor Vasarely.
On first seeing these images, gallery owner Kana Kawanishi saw beyond ordered patterns and perceived what she thought was a particularly esoteric sensibility. Okabe’s “Faces” at the Kawa Kawanishi Gallery, reveals the results of a developing practice in new work that is more simple and less visually seductive than the Rubik’s Cube images, but much more discombobulating.
Okabe takes everyday objects and materials and photographs them as surfaces that — either through changes in scale or their arrangement into uniform compositions — become baffling and bizarre. The intention behind this has a whiff of Platonic idealism: Okabe is driven by the desire to share his notion that all around us is a kind of harmony of shapes and forms that we can perceive if we strip away the distractions of function and cultural association.
One work is a photograph of the top of a cardboard box — which, frankly, does appear outrageous, and haters will be outraged by the seeming artlessness of it. If you are willing, however, to be challenged and entertained by a two-dimensional representation that is indistinguishable from the represented object, except that it has no depth — it’s a real head trip. Another work is a massive magnified image of the red post-code squares on Japanese envelopes. Initially quite unrecognizable, the brown manila background gives the impression that it could be a photograph of a modern cave painting, or an aerial view of an alien pattern scorched into a cornfield.
Altering the status of quotidian objects by putting them in a gallery has been raising ire for close to 100 years now. Objections to it remain largely the same, but artists’ intentions have been extremely varied. Certainly it has been used to make disproportionate piles of cash for what could be questionably described as piles of rubbish, but it has also been essential to expanding our conception of beauty.
The problem now could be said that it has, in turn, become something of an orthodoxy. Especially so in Japan, where separating art and daily life has a shorter history than in European and U.S. cultures. Despite this, “Faces” definitely has its own mojo going on, with an odd and intriguing depth behind the surface.
“Faces” at the Kana Kawanishi Gallery runs till July 11; noon-7 p.m. Free. Closed Sun., Mon. www.kanakawanishi.com