Mariko Mori: AGWA: rebirth

By Graham Mathwin

There are a series of reservations that come with AGWA’s latest attempts to bring international art to Perth. International, in this case, almost always means a certain degree of prior association and institutional standardization. Mariko Mori seems a bit too sweet to be really engaging, her work, at first, reeks of lobbies and foyers and corporate hedge fund billionaires. I might be being a bit too harsh here – I did actually like this show, and there is an interesting space, I feel, opened up in some parts of its appearance. Yet there is also a sense of limitation in all these works, they are so object-like, so standard, like a sculpture you might see (with less finesse) in a lighting gallery. They sit on the edge of the vapid, and I am alternately enthralled and disgusted by them. There is, though, their sheer honesty – a force that disarms when you hear the artist speak about her installations, and that enchants in the drawings with the ‘spiritual’ focus of the sea, featuring circles and glitter.

If we are to point to a particular comparison to highlight the weaknesses of Mori’s show, perhaps we could mention the use of dichromic glass in Mori’s work, and its appearance in Rebecca Baumann’s work at LWAG. In Mori’s we are made to look at this discrete phenomena, which rests on its merits as a reflective and refractive surface. We almost do not see Baumann’s, it is so subtly integrated into the space, and for such a ridiculous material, it has been rendered almost invisible. The surprise I received every time I forgot that Baumann’s work was there, and suddenly realised my golden reflection or a blue tinged figure was present – was something that went beyond what I expected. I spent a long time in that space, and it rose and sunk in visibility in the space in a fascinating way, preventing people seeing into the gallery, allowing a mediated view outward, and a process of revelation in their opening and closing. It is something that moves beyond just being an object, a use of material, and something truly interesting to witness in action.

In contrast to Mori’s ‘objects’, there is an incredible sense of destabilization in the ‘white hole’ (great name) that took the mid point of the exhibition. There is something really wonderful about the process of entering this bizarre alter, and then witnessing the delicate swirl of an animation on a screen in the space. It is a strange linkage of an all-encompassing spatiality and visual representation, and one that, over the multiple times I entered it, never let up its grip on me – its vague, steady dizziness, that entering into it through the spiral corridor induces. The strength of this work was an amplification of the very sensations that are present in the smaller works, an intense interest in the visual and phenomenal effect of material and space, combined with a delicate and pulsating spectacle  - a kind of de-politicised euphoria.

This de-politicisation though, leads to a somewhat negative reading. I would suggest that the ‘world peace’ that is Mori’s ridiculous aim, directly relates to the commercial appearance she seems to emulate – her sculptures appearing like car bodies, and white goods. The intensive industrial material creation that is beyond most of us does not do much to suggest an egalitarian playing field. Yet it is the very seductive appearance that gives the work its principal strength, and the institutional sanctioning of these ‘luxury’-like goods is most disagreeable. The suggestion I am attempting to make is that there is a strong link between the nature of the work, and capitalist regimes, and the nature of the world peace Mori desires. It feels like it might be a future of passive consumption of the spectacle, if Mori’s work is any indication of it. The sublimated critical discourses, silenced through a kind of pseudo-spirituality, is a worrying sign of an artwork that has no distance, but only a desire to please and impress, at the expense of being engaged in the world. The strength of the work, though, and a potential that there is, is in the meditative qualities that they exhibit. Perhaps there is need and room for a more meditative reading of this body of work?

In following on from this, I should ask what the space is that is opened by these works? I do like these objects. They tread the line between the sweet and the ugly, they dance with kitsch in the most wonderful way – not by going all out, like Koons, but massaging it into shape. There is something very particular opened in them, a kind of peace is made with the crassness of the object’s artifice in favour of an appreciation. It is the space somewhere between an acceptance of everything shiny and commercial and superficially attractive in the world, and something more poetic and tragic. Emblematic of this are the very large ‘stones’ that change colour. They seem like they could have come from a glorified garden shop, but they are a slower, more meditative iteration of the coloured flashing LEDs we see all around Perth – or at least that is how they feel. There are two readings that I thought of in looking at them – that they were either a version of the same crassness, in more refined form, or that they were refined forms that operate to make the crass, delicate, and meditative. Yet there is something to be said for my uncertainty, that Mori must have succeeded on some level to bring the superficial, often disgusting materiality of her works to a level beyond the simplistic and the crass. It took me two visits not to hate the work, and to realise that it had, like some kind of super commodity, seduced me despite my wishes. That it is not just wholly inappropriate and ridiculous, that the attractive objects, precious yet plastic jewels, could be something refined, that they blurred the edges of the disgustingly simplistic and facile appreciation of glamour, and a strange and honest meditation upon the possibility of these things to engender happiness and tranquillity, made the show worthwhile. I do feel, though, that there is perhaps a bigger opening to be made through simpler means, to prevent the very conditions of production and display that are so attractive from grating against my eyes, poisoning them with beauty.


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