Keiko Narahashi: Picturehood
Hudson Franklin, April 23 – June 13, 2009
The majority of works in Keiko Narahashi’s Picturehood embody the continuum between two and three dimensions. For Narahashi, “picturehood” seems to imply that a picture, or representation, is as present and material as any three dimensional object. Picturehood, on view at Hudson Franklin, recalls pragmatist philosophers’ “objecthood,” in which an object can be either a physical thing or a thought (the object of mental focus). A prime example is “Painting,” a tray filled with dried black acrylic paint hung on the wall, which equates the action of painting and the product of that action with paint itself. Narahashi’s exhibit suggests that a sculpture is a picture, and a picture is a sculpture.
The first thing I noticed in the show was a found child’s chair in close proximity to “Flat Chair,” the latter a white clay chair rolled flat and hung on the wall. This work recalls the sculpture of Richard Artschwager (in particular “Splatter Chair,” 1992) which, through forceful and playful deformation, grants domestic objects illusive power. An important difference between “Flat Chair” and “Splatter Chair” is that Narahashi’s found chair inhabits the same room as her created chair; the found chair maintains an important stance as part of the artwork.
“Flat Shoe” humorously transforms a large clay shoe into a nearly unrecognizable smushed mass in the corner of the gallery. The buttons on the surface, really symbols of buttons, directly refer to the 1950s era child’s shoe that inspired the work. What’s clever about this piece is that the “shoe” looks like something you would find squished under a shoe; this shoe is simultaneously the flattener (by association) and the flattened (in literal presence). Significantly, the viewer is able to pick up and hold the child’s shoe in the back of the gallery. Narahashi does not let the context of the gallery space blunt the pleasure of wanting to touch and then touching.
An artist with a clear love of metonymy, Narahashi seems to be always paying slightly more attention to the parts than the whole. In “Untitled (one black vase split),” a ceramic black vase, which is itself halved, stands in as the label for a complex assemblage. The base of this work is an elegant table, which, with its legs heavily off-kilter, appears incapable of structural support yet holds a mass of black elements. This playfulness with balance and gravity evokes an Alice in Wonderland mood. The comically long list of dimensions of “Untitled (one black vase split)”— 57 1/2” x 32 1/2” x 6 3/4” + 10 3/4” x 5” x 1/2”—reads like an equation sans equal sign.
“Untitled (stacked),” made of polystyrene, canvas, wood, and oil paint, makes me wonder how many silhouettes one solid structure can have. From the side, stacked blocks get incrementally larger and wider and then recede just as gradually back towards the wall. The dry surface reads as wet, and I’m guessing the work’s actual weight is a fraction of that implied. These inverse visuals abound in Narahashi’s work, not as “gotcha” tricks but rather as intuitive studies of perception.
Bottles play several roles in Picturehood. In “Still Life (some bottles on a table),” Giorgio Morandi’s wavering painted bottles seem to have materialized into objects that, by some magic, remain metaphysical. Unlike in Morandi’s paintings, these bottles have space and air between them; an edge of one bottle is never simultaneously the edge or shadow of another. It would be interesting to see a single mass of clay that appeared to be several independent bottles. Narahashi pushes this work further by photographing the sculptural still life, returning the bottles to two dimensions (“Still Life (photograph)”). What’s more, the viewer is able to pick up and rearrange similar bottles in the back of the gallery, a reminder that sight is an activity of perpetual arranging.
Unlike the bottles in the “Still Life” pieces, “Flat Bottle,” a clay bottle that has been split two ways down its center and rolled smooth, has completely departed from its precedent. In fact, its most immediate visual parallel is a Greek cross. In this case Narahashi has taken the interior of the bottle, in which there is usually air or some liquid, and made it into a dense solid which relies on the absence of air pockets for its intactness.
Narahashi’s work is most powerful when it employs mediums that contradict its appearance and connotations. Her earlier box paintings made of gessoed parchment paper were often mistaken for ceramic pieces, and this visual ambiguity seems to have nudged Narahashi towards her successful experimentation with clay. If paper predicts clay, then what does clay predict?
Laura Hunt is an artist living in Brooklyn.