The Present Unhinged : Maio Motoko

The Present Unhinged
The International Context of Maio Motoko

Jeremy Gales
Independent Curator

At three pm, rays cast off an adjacent building fall hard across the gallery floor. Windows cut the light to size: when it hits, it seeps, gathering in an estuarine manner. Receding shadows form silhouettes around the installations; splayed in a grand jeté, they silently play host to the afternoon’s supple performance. It is indeed rare that a material work of art participating in a natural occurrence should defy any Cartesian notion. Yet, when this is done, it is through the most humble and dutiful of participations. Visual artist Motoko Maio’s installations are perceivable in the same context as their surroundings, rather than something applied or added; their presence will either convey the ambience of the space they inhabit, or will dictate.

Suggesting much more than meets the eye, the works embody all aspects of a multi-sensory experience, transcending the visually perceptible. The theoretical and practical foundations from which the works are conceptualised date back to the early 80’s when Motoko cut her teeth, so to speak, on screen-making and scroll-mounting in Tokyo. These foundations give continuity to the interchangeable and impermeable aspects of the installations. The boundless versatility of both arrangement and location exerts its ability to manipulate space through structural perception.

At the pinnacle of the artist’s raisonné is Moment by Moment Heartbeat by Heartbeat  (top image), a 10 screen installation with the potential to encapsulate the viewer, its interior spirituality channelling similar awe to the Musee d’Orsay’s Monet Nymphea installation . Created for an exhibition at the Kennedy Centre in Washington D.C , Motoko’s composition goes beyond dexterity, inclining toward the abstraction of natural processes. It is a visual codification of seasons, elements, day and night, derived from a distinctive use of hues and materials resulting in the extrapolation of the non-objective landscapes that grace its many faces. Tropes of tradition are skillfully averted with both subtle and overt gestures. In a loud play to the contemporary West, Motoko’s work Koku (pictured above) slashes thousands of antiquarian kimono to create a gradient palette across the face of the screens.

There are no reserves or futures; when a supply of fabric finishes she will move on to the next. One face with coarse, treated paper can be turned, folded or flipped to produce a subtle nod to the Rimpa school – two moons (pictured above), so pronounced they are almost ‘Pop’, and when capturing light, are luminous.

Temporality plays a significant role in the viewing experience. It is impossible to anticipate a horizon as each layer and side conveys fortuitous discovery. The Installations seek to explore the present in which they exist. Fugacious structures open to change at any second, they take shape only to morph and disengage. Motoko’s concentration on the ‘now’ sees the thesis of her practice avoid the historiographic turn of the ‘oughts’ and in so doing, she positions herself in the contemporary.

The cool black timber laid gallery floor stops short in front of the aptly titled ‘Chameleon’ (pictured above). Steeped in visual contrast, the installation offers an insightful look into the discursive qualities of Motoko’s use of mixed media. Nearing five metres in length, the work duels between two sides: the first white-on-off-white layered washi capable of pulsating tranquility through any cube; the second, almost stained amber covered in archival accounting receipts from the Tsukiji fish market (pictured below), thus creating a direct dialogue with Marcel Broodthaers. The nodal point of this dialogue centres around texts and materials used in a constructional context to create art. This is not to be confused with the Dadaist notion of re-imagining materials as artistic objects.

Installation and conceptual art have been almost synonymous since the late twentieth century. In what was a movement fast becoming static following the art market crash of the early Nineties, the media of Installation and the genre of Conceptualism fused. Critique put forward by post-modern-anti-conceptual and formal movements such as the Neo-expressionists and Stuckists, is unable to be applied to Motoko’s installations. This is the first point of departure from the aforementioned similarities to the conceptualist aesthetic. Criticism from these groups falls flat when applied to Motoko’s installations as they are not only outside the ‘conceptual movement’ without a structured narrative, they are also perceivable as paintings, sculptures, decorative objects, furniture or installations. This overcomes the hang-ups posed by the pro-painterly.

Duality is ever present in Motoko’s oeuvre; it is a commonality she shares with contemporary environment (installation) artists such as Alex Da-Corte and Ibrahim Mahama in that their unique practice is based on/ underpinned by two cultures. The richness of cultural resource allows Motoko to deconstruct her subconscious through creating art. There is also an intuitive adoption of Fluxus elements present in the use of mixed-media to build time-based installations of found materials. However, the installations are not attributable to any particular medium or movement, their immediate position unhinged from an Eastern tradition or Western narrative.

The differentiator, aside from the unique distillation of arbitrarily identified influences, is a mastery of materials and their application. Within the Western art narrative this would translate to something like Turner, saliva and egg yolk; a powerful intervention on the global art stage forged through partial adoption and unique application. Avant Garde and Fluxus producer John Cage believed in the idea of artworks that forever morph and have no beginning and end. Renowned Japanese contemporary poet Shuntarō Tanikawa’s poem ‘Sounds – For John Cage’ (see below) has been painted by master calligrapher Hakkō Ishitobi on one of Motoko’s ever adaptable works of art (pictured above). Responses and dualities such as these, abstracting Haikai and Western avant-garde, reflect Motoko’s unique standing on the international stage, cementing and blurring the role of artist and cultural attaché.

Jeremy Gales

Below :
Sounds – For John Cage
by Shuntarō Tanikawa