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Ruriko Murayama at Viewing Room

by Monty DiPietro

            "Mere colour, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways." So wrote Oscar Wilde in 'The Critic as Artist.' There are myriad theories on why and how different wavelengths in the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum affect us in the ways they do -- some scientific, others more fanciful. For her part, Ruriko Murayama prefers to focus on the what she calls the "experience of color."

The two large, quilt-like works in the 34 year-old Akita-based artist's new show at Viewing Room Yotsuya are a riot of color. Thousands of pieces of silk, ranging from thumbnail to a little larger than subway ticket in size, were individually dyed then painstakingly stitched together to create the room-filling pieces that hang from the gallery ceiling.

"The whole aim," says the artist, "is to express the fact that although we often tend to recognize and theorize through item and form, an absolute visual of 'color' never exists."

Murayama's largest piece is an untitled work three meters high and stretching six meters across. The medium has been transcended here -- standing before the piece one sees the patches of silk less than the colors they carry. Here the mysterious qualities of the colors develop individually and then play against one another -- although the silk used throughout the piece is of the same weight and quality, the bluish areas, for example, look soft and warm, while the strips of yellow assume a colder, thinner appearance.

Visitors can walk in behind the work and view the reverse side of the quilt, and here the obsessional aspect of Murayama's method is apparent, as seams spilling strands of thread are everywhere. This careful and repetitive approach, which pushes the limits of craftsmanship, has been used to effect by Japanese contemporary artists such as Yayoi Kusama, whose "Air Mail Stickers," in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, comprises thousands of post office air mail stickers affixed to a large canvas. The stickers were applied side by side in a grid, with minute errors in alignment cumulating to produce a chaotic look not unlike the tangled atmosphere found on the reverse side of Murayama's works.

Murayama says that there is no right or wrong way to look at her work, and assigns no relative qualitative value to either front or backside view. Actually, the little patches of dyed silk she sent out in the invitations for the current exhibition are also meant to be a part of the whole piece, and so it could be said that some of the show is sitting on top of my desk right now.

While well aware of and certainly influenced by the Impressionists' fascination with color, Murayama's approach differs, and suffers, because she does not treat color as a function of light. In the Viewing Room, there are three different sources of artificial light -- incandescent, halogen, and fluorescent. Aside from pointing the spots, the artist has not attempted to use these lights and their respective color temperatures in any specific way, and that is either an oversight or a mistake. The work would be far more effective had Murayama designed a lighting environment or lighting environments (I'm thinking a series of schemes that could change over the course of the day, backlighting, hard direct, low warm front light, and so on). Studies I was shown indicated that Murayama, who has been developing this sort of work for five years, may put more emphasis on her lighting in the future, and that would be good.

There are also a couple of smaller pieces in the exhibition, busy little objet titled "The God of Dissipation for Finery" and "Talisman," which have a certain charm, but get lost in the context of the larger works.

What works best with the principle pieces here is the evocative quality of the pure colors and the interplay between both the different sizes and the different hues of the dyed silk patches. Taken individually, close inspection reveals that while some patches may be similar in color, there are slight differences due the one-at-a-time dying process. Taken as a whole, these pieces are just what Murayama intended them to be -- a celebration of the wonder of color.

Ruriko Murayama is at Viewing Room Yotsuya (Kawashima Bldg., 3F, 1-23 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku, 03-5360-3461) until February 23 2002.

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