This is a beautiful show, based on a dialogue between three Japanese artists and their British contemporaries. Sukima is a word made up of two interrelated but perhaps quite different Japanese nouns: suki meaning ‘crevice’ or ‘gap’ and ma, which is ‘space’: not nothing, a particular space, perhaps the interval between structural parts. Schema has a number of different possible meanings. The catalogue invokes Kant’s schemata for pure conceptions of understanding and in this case the principle of taste in relation to the power of judgement – an idea that can be interestingly related to the old framework for traditional Japanese aesthetics, which survives in contemporary Japanese culture, and ideas for design and taste today. Schema could also imply the experiments in post-war art in Europe and America in which drawings, sketches or plans achieved a heightened significance and status. As Sol Le Witt famously put it in 1967: ‘When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, this means that all the plans and decisions have been made in advance and the execution thereof is a pure mechanical matter. The idea becomes a machine that creates art.’
It irritates some people to have to read some accompanying text in order to have an artwork explained but I quite enjoyed Tom Benson’s thoughts on his meticulous white monochrome (although you will need Tom to be there to thrust the text into your hand). His thoughts are illuminating: he covers the significance of the making or handmadeness at every level (including the titanium white based paint itself); a detailed description of the layering process to eventual completion; and the final placing ‘as part of the space that the viewer exists in – the actual environment’– not as a spur for dialogue ‘with’ the painting but as a kind of conduit for the viewer’s own private thoughts and concerns. I imagine owning such a painting and wonder if, away from the gallery, it would incite the restful meditation or the ‘challenge to noise’ that was its intention.
Benson’s white portrait of white faces two walls covered in rows of almost fluttering delicate Japanese paper, an installation by Atsuo Hukuda. One wall is tiled with orange-bronze lacquered sheets, the other with silvered: the chromatic relationship has dissonance, but is also somehow sweet and satisfying. The catalogue images direct me to look at the detail: the pins, gaps and paper edges, but I prefer to stand back and see its harmonious entirety. In between, and also in between two Venetian blind covered windows, Benson presents an actual portrait: a blown-up photographic fragment, a quarter of a Japanese woman’s face obscured intriguingly by four small strips of black. I can’t help but think of sex mag anonymity – the face has that shyness. The light is dim in this room and the cracks of light coming through the blinds strengthen the allusion of a Japanese interior.
Over in the stairwell leading to the basement, full of ledges, skirting board, wooden steps, a windowpane and frame Gary Woodley has supervened one of his more complex tendril-like wall drawings. This mundane space has been almost theatrically transformed. One is immediately engaged in physical activity and eye swiveling, prompted to search for connecting lines from endless viewpoints up, down and around. Gary Woodley’s ‘impingements’ are created through a process of rendering the actual architectural space into detailed 3D computer drawings, and then by imposing invented configurations, playing with volume and the shifting of existing features. Though, it seems to me, the drawing is less ‘impingement’ and more a new schema borne out of an existing or found schema… In the basement gallery space Yoko Terauchi’s drawing intervention works in a different way. If the Woodley is a Matisse sketch then the Yoko Terauchi is one of the cut-outs. Flat shapes of graphite, skirt along the skirting board. Never quite entering your path the drawing seems in places to echo the architectural perimeter of the room (or perhaps a shadow from the ceiling?) and in other places there seems be no relationship at all, creating a kind of haphazard geometry – at a glance a dark crevice, a trompe l’oeil sukima.
The relationship between the two series of small paintings by Kenneth Dingwall and Yasuko Otsuka is on first sight the most obvious – and yet how formally and materially different they are. The connection one assumes is the ‘system’, a mathematical proposition: a sequence, which either has a beginning and an end, and is a section of a complete sequence, or has an infinity of combinations. The Dingwall constructions comprise a set of rotating roughhewn De Stijl coloured wooden reliefs; the Otsuka is a linear suite of lithographs on cotton, duo-chromes in reds and blacks. There is a kind of yin and yang of object-hood in this relationship and I am brought back to, the curator, David Connearn’s press release notes: ‘perspectives have been brought into alignment by the presentation of works with similar subject matter and attributes – to focus on both the particular character of the artists’ intentions and their understanding of relationship between art-objects and “things”‘. He asks ‘questions about the status of ‘things in themselves’, and ‘the recent multi-disciplinary exposition of the object.’ My own feeling is that artworks have a thingness, or an object-hood, but are not things or objects in themselves – they are artworks and something else.
Schema – Sukima, Laurie Genillard, 26 July – 13 September