Raw at the Gallery Chika

by Monty DiPietro

Dictionary definitions are seldom help much in understanding the rapidly-changing nomenclature of contemporary art. It was not long ago that many informed individuals were still unwilling to classify photography, for example, as art at all. But boundaries are collapsing under an expanding family of artforms, and along with them the distinction between what was once revered as "fine art," and its "craft" (or "commercial") cousins is becoming harder and harder to trace.

Even so, perhaps because the art of printmaking has such a long history in Japan, it is unlikely that an old ukiyo-e master would regard anything now on display in Tokyoís Gallery Chika as a "print." Most of the works in the art spaceís latest contemporary printmaking exhibition, "Raw," are, for starters, three-dimensional. But, in keeping with the spirit of the changing times, letís forgo the dictionary definition of what a print is ("Picture or design printed from block or plate"), and instead afford the term the widest possible latitude Ė such that we might look at the fake fur books, ripped up advertising flyers, and resin-encased plastic flowers that make up "Raw" for what the gallery says they are, which is prints.

The series of colorful resin-encased plastic flowers and small found objet are the work of Sung Youn Choi, one of the three thirtysomething artists participating in the show. Like the others, the Korean-based Choi has an academic background in printmaking, having taken a BFA in the discipline from the College of Fine Arts at Hong-Ik University in Seoul. Yet her work is probably the least print-like in the show. Choiís fat resin pieces are complimented by several A4-size transparent acetate envelopes which have been filled with layers of everyday objects and then sewn shut, as if they had been lovingly captured there. Suspended on the wall, Choiís works posses a timelessness informed by both nostalgia and melancholy.

Soyoung Kang, also from Korea, has contributed a series of fake-fur prints and a translucent, gray-toned silkscreen on linen-like fringed plastic, "White Lace." But Kangís most poignant pieces have to be her two wonderfully smarmy hardcover books, both perched self-importantly atop pretentious black plinths and under a text instructing visitors to wear the pair of provided white gloves before handling the volumes, which, upon perusal, turn out to be made up of page after page of fake fur or linen. Kangís sense of humor plays well on what she terms "the forged culture of consumption," and grows out of her three years of work with a Seoul fashion design company.

The exhibition is balanced nicely by the somber-looking black boxes of Australian Christian Capurro. Lift the lid on one of the artistís 11 35x40cm constructions, which rather resemble light boxes, and under the glass below you will find a piece of construction paper onto which he has grafted often-biomorphic looking designs. "Grafted" because the artistís medium is the supermarket color supplements that are tucked into the newspapers in Australia. Using cellophane tape, Capurro lifts images, usually of meat, off the advertisements then transfers them to the postcard-sized paper he places in his boxes. Capurroís results are fascinating in their self-exposition, as is most obsessive art, and, because the artist seems to be enjoying himself, good fun as well.

This is the second Gallery Chika contemporary printmaking show to be curated by Australian Cassie Karnilowicz, a printmaker herself and assistant curator at the pleasant Shibuya art space. Aside from the ever-evolving definition of what constitutes a "print," more than a few interesting issues are addressed by the work: the role of technology and its limitations; the spatial relationship between printmaking and environment; and the question of just how personal a print can be. Lacking the "one of a kind" quality of a painting or sculpture, printmaking has had to struggle to get itself taken seriously. And yet here in "Raw" we have works that are both prints and "one of a kind."

It is rare and good when a small show in a compact gallery can advance these sort of considerations.

notes: Until Oct 9, 1999 at Gallery Chika (3449-9271)
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