Invoking Pygmalion – Yasuaki Onishi “Reverse Volume” Installations

Reverse of Volume, 2009; 593 x 360 x 2000 cm; Glue, plastic sheet; Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan

Of the existing accounts of Yasuaki Onishi‘s portfolio, few have investigated his work beyond commending the artists’ ability to manipulate space. However, there is a strong link which runs throughout his entire body of work – namely the interaction between the ideas and implications surrounding kinetics.

Formally, Onishi’s work not only manipulates, but depends on movement in order to convey the meaning behind each piece. In the two-dimensional realm, his long-exposure photography in his Shaved & Rolled series softens otherwise violent and immediate jolts of fire.  Similarly in his sculptural installations, Onishi’s works rise and fall – respiring as if to possess their own sentience.

Yet while elements of movement are prominent throughout his portfolio, the most striking example of Onishi’s interest in motion lies in his Reverse Volume series. In relying solely on plastic sheeting, string, and black glue, the artist crafts monumental installations of imposing presence from materials which lack any substantial mass of their own. Although appearing firm, the mountainous incarnations gently bulge, crumple, and collapse in the natural drafts within the exhibition space. Thus breaking from the use of fans in his other works, the oscillation in Reverse Volume is calculated but not provoked.

Reverse of Volume, 2009; 593 x 360 x 2000 cm; Glue, plastic sheet; Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan

As a viewer, one is left to ponder Onishi’s paradox of mass and anti-mass.  How does he reconcile the tacit respiration and ghost-like drifting of his installation? What does it mean to allow the slightest breeze to coerce a formation reminiscent of looming mountainscapes? A possible reading hinges on interpreting the piece as a fundamentally kinetic presence.  Because of the choice in materials, the installation can not physically (or conceivably) remain static. Rather, it is manipulated by the surrounding atmosphere, just as a seaside cliff crumbles into the assailing waves below. In creating such formidable structures from delicate materials, the artist suggests that there is no such thing as the immovable. The precarious and impressionable existence of Onishi’s installation in the exhibition space characterizes our world as a whole. Playing on the inherently ephemeral nature of installation art, Reverse Volume symbolizes inevitable change in our environment. It reminds us that what we hold as permanent amounts to nothing more than a cursory moment between growth and siege – a humbling notion still fresh in the minds of his audience following the natural disaster last year in Fukushima Prefecture.

            If you are interested (and reasonably local), his work will open to the public on the 13th of April in the Rice University Installation Gallery in Houston and will be up until the 24th of June. Onishi will give a gallery talk at 6:00P on opening night with a volley at noon on the 14th. Admission is free so there’s no reason to miss out. Also, check out the gallery below for some high resolution images courtesy of the curator.

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4 thoughts on “Invoking Pygmalion – Yasuaki Onishi “Reverse Volume” Installations

  1. Thanks! I just returned from the opening last night and was absolutely blown away having seen the piece in person. Being able to walk underneath it at the Rice Gallery opened up a new dimension to the installation, which I didn’t expect. I highly recommend viewing it if you can!

  2. Pingback: Follow Up: Yasuaki Onishi at Rice Gallery | Procured Design

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