Threatening the precarious peace of everyday life are unforeseen incidents, disease and emotional turbulence. Such are the dramatic narrative threads running through “Song to Life, Struggles of the Soul,” the third installment of the “Ascending Art Annual” at Wacoal Studyhall Kyoto. Focusing on early career works by three young female contemporary artists, these seemingly negative stimuli are artistically productive and are employed by the artists to celebrate what the exhibition heralds as the “dynamism of life.”
The impetus for Maki Ohkojima’s whale theme was traveling for 2½ months on the French oceanographic research vessel Tara in 2017. Coming upon a dead whale, its skin melting and its fat floating on the sea surface, Ohkojima saw the birds, fish and sharks gathering to consume it. Subsequently she began thinking of the sea as the primordial “soup” begetting life, then swallowing it back up again to sustain other lives, and hence her “whale series” began.
Ohkojima is represented by two massively scaled whale images displayed in the venue’s atrium: “House of the World” (2018) and “Blood of the Sea” (2018). Using acrylics, crayons, peacock feathers, fishing nets and plastic odds and ends found on the shores of the island of Awashima in the Seto Inland Sea, Ohkojima conceives the whale as a messenger, relaying to her the changes accompanying the circle of life on a planetary scale.
Yuriko Sasaoka’s small-room-sized installation of video screens, “The Sun I” (2019), is an ode to her beloved father — the “sun” in the artist’s life. The main projection video was inspired by a letter she wrote from Poland to her father, the day before his cancer surgery. The video scene is like a stage set mock-up, which is frequented by green goblin-type puppets that chant a resurrection ritual and offer prayers, counting down to Sasaoka’s father’s recovery.
On the walls flanking the main projection are monitors showing uniformed former Soviet soldiers repetitively whacking at something off-screen like a game of badminton. Before these are several monitors featuring a singing head with hands and a long black veil indicating a reclining body. The reference here is to Lenin’s body, permanently preserved in Moscow. Such additional imagery was apparently inspired by the artist’s plans to stay and exhibit in Russia in 2020.
Yurie Kawagoe exhibits 13 works whose creation was fueled by destructive emotions. With jealousy, loneliness, weakness and cowardice in mind, she transforms her psychic surpluses into fantastical insects made of mixed media, displayed within specimen glass cases. Such surrogate insects, Kawagoe discerns, seemingly arrive out of nowhere to take up residence in the human heart as parasites that feast on and manipulate the host.
One example is “The State of Dying of Coward III” (2017) for which an insect grows among the roots of a wilting narcissus flower, in three developmental stages. Sacrificing the life of the coward, Kawagoe says, emboldens the artist’s own character to bloom. Kawagoe considers her unhealthy emotions, sublimated into insects, “adorable” and invites viewers to find the same.
“Ascending Art Annual Vol.3: Song to Life, Struggles of the Soul” at Wacoal Studyhall Kyoto runs until Jan. 18; free entry. For more information, visit www.wacoal.jp/studyhall/gallery.