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Akiko Sasaki at Toki Art Space

by Monty DiPietro

What we have here is a gallery space whose walls are bare -- not the typical art exhibition, but then, Akiko Sasaki is not your typical Japanese artist. The Chiba-based painter's abstract, ink on paper works are not in the Toki Art Space's exhibition area, but rather in the tiny Jingumae gallery's even-tinier office. Why? Because, Sasaki explains, that's simply the way she wants it.

Alright, so maybe the walls are not completely bare, strictly speaking. There are three projectors sitting in the darkened gallery, each throwing images of Sasaki's works onto said walls, where the projections light up in a wash of color. The whole exercise is decidedly low-tech (what with the clunking of the machines and less-than-perfect paint job in the gallery), but nonetheless surprisingly effective.

This is Sasaki's first solo show, it follows the soft-spoken artist's graduation from the prestigious Tama Art University and her subsequent participation in a number of local group exhibitions. There are some twenty works on display here, hanging in the office and projected in the exhibition space.

Sasaki says she finds her inspiration in simple things like pure form and color, and the work reflects a fascination and willingness to get playful with the basics of composition. There are electric blues and wispy greens and moody magentas here, colors that are about color. The forms they describe have in common both spatial depth and feelings of conflict, this seen as a sort of natural interplay between unnatural colors. The drawings (all numbered but titled simply 'Drawing') often evolve patterns or repetition in some way. Like Rorschach inkblots they suggest things, but the hasty slide show progression of the images ensures that, like dreams, they are gone before one can come to develop in one's mind an understanding of what these things might be.

The effect, actually kind of grows on you. By standing there in front of Sasaki's abstract slide show long enough, one might begin to imagine a narrative stringing between the seemingly unrelated images. It is a little bit of work, this new way of looking, but it is stimulating.

Sasaki has been teaching for a year and a half at an Ichihara City school for disabled children, and it is in this environment that she finds the inspiration to paint. Her school has a number of empty rooms, she says, and the clay and pottery studio has become her ad hoc atelier. Asked about the recent interest in the art of the disabled that has been evidenced on the Japanese and international art scenes, Sasaki replies that terms such as Outsider Art are, generally speaking, unnecessary.

"I can't draw a line between ability and disability, as I also have several similar disabilities. I know how children paint, they never think they are expressing themselves, it just happens naturally. That," smiles Sasaki, "is how I want to paint."

Sasaki says she wants people to see her work as a little dangerous, and to this end she has stretched more than a dozen wires from ceiling to floor between the projectors and the walls in the Toki's exhibition space, creating a three-dimensional grid that approximates the not-quite-invisible red strands of light often found guarding valuables in spy movies. The wires also serve to establish a dynamic in the space around the images that flicker and light up the gallery's walls, positioning the viewer somewhere in that integrated viewing space.

Sasaki describes the vertical wires as a sort of frame, and has mounted her slide show projections partly as commentary on the diminished attention span of today's gallery and museum visitor. "These days viewers are so impatient," she says, "they can't even stand for 10 seconds in front of a work, they need an audio guide to look at paintings. So showing pictures this way may be appropriate."

This is an impressive debut from Akiko Sasaki. The design of the exhibition is clever and imaginative, with a nice bonus being that the young painter has priced her paperback-sized drawings at the very reasonable price of 9,000 yen each. Well worth a look.

Notes: Until August 27 at the Toki Art Space (03-3479-0332)
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