Published in Art Asia Pacific on March 2, 2016
The Annka Kultys Gallery in London is a bold choice for the collaborative exhibition of Ittah Yoda—a young artist-duo comprising French-born Virgile Ittah and Kai Yoda of Japan, who have been working together since graduating from the city’s Royal College of Art. The gallery’s exposed brick wall and corrugated roof stands in sharp contrast to the stark whiteness of its wall and floor. The lighting is severe, wherein blue fluorescent lights add to the already bright space. The blue tones of the fluorescent lights give the room an almost otherworldly, unnatural aura. The low din of London going about its business outside can barely be heard, and the gallery’s windowpane is obscured to make the room seem mystical, almost extraterrestrial. Though the room itself is stark, almost blinding in its whiteness, the displayed works themselves offer a slightly out-of-focus, soft ethereality.
The two artists, coming from different cultural backgrounds, entwine and amalgamate their subjectivities to produce dissonant works. The discord is playfully alluded to in the title of the exhibition, denoting the incongruent nature of cultural and linguistic interpretation. It seems to be a natural course of action, to form out of subjectivities arising from different cultures and practices; but eventually they stabilize into equilibrium.
Ittah Yoda incorporate multiple mediums to address the subjectivity of human experiences. The wall pieces from the series “I Think Mango You Say Salmon” (2015–16) utilize sport mesh fabric, polyester fabric, gel transfer medium, and silicone to create delicate and ephemeral works. The pieces function in different layers, incorporating diffused nebulous forms that float in the amnion of the fabric. The artistic process is inspired by the material practice of earlier artists, like American abstract expressionist Morris Louis. Despite the multiplicity of mediums, Ittah Yoda’s works almost eschew materiality.
As airy and delicate as the works are, the frame of Easy One (2016) subverts its own fragility. A weighty powder-coated steel frame is an intriguing choice for suspending a work that almost seems to float. Fabric hangs loosely on the frame, suspended on the steel structure, appearing like amorphous silicone patches smeared on a sea of blue. The work has a detached coolness reminiscent of hospitals, with the steel frame mimicking hospital beds and the silicone patches reminiscent of agarose gel, the substratum for bacterial cultures.
From their personal narrative, Ittah Yoda imbue their works with an individual and cultural specificity, which results from a transcultural collaboration. The Franco-Japanese legacy stretches as far back as the early 17th century and continues today, as can be witnessed through this exhibition. The titles of the duo’s works make jocular references that play off both of their cultures, which give the exhibition a refreshing lightheartedness.
One such work, Toyota (2016), is a primordial, egg-like sculpture. Comparable to Constantin Brâncuși’s Newborn (1915), Ittah Yoda’s sculpture, though similar in shape to the modernist master’s work, transcends materiality—which is not unlike a lot of their other works. In contrast to the heavy, immobile characteristic of Brâncuși’s marble sculptures, Toyota is made up of polyurethane foam and silicone and seems remarkably buoyant. Titled after the Japanese automobile powerhouse, it offers a humorous juxtaposition between the brand-name title and the basic elemental form of the sculpture.
In contrast to this, the multimedia sculpture Saint Honoré (2016) is a parodic reference to a French cake that the work loosely resembles. The sculpture incorporates silicone that slumps against polyurethane foam, which is stacked atop a bedding made of polyester fabric and a slab of Carrara marble. The ridged surface of the marble represents raked gravel or sand in a Zen garden, which, in turn, is symbolic of ripples in the water. After careful consideration, the blue-gray of the Carrara marble gives way to nebulous patterns—the marble morphs into a sky, replete with patchy gray clouds. The weighty marble suddenly seems to embody both the water and the sky, and appears to float whilst still on the ground, as though to incorporate the three fundamental elements into one. In this work, Ittah Yoda creates French pastry with Zen sensibility, fusing together peculiarities within their cultures and concepts.
The Zen garden is a place for quiet contemplation, which calls to be perceived from a single viewpoint generally outside the garden itself. With Saint Honoré, this need is fulfilled by two, strategically positioned deck chairs that offer a place for such daytime reverie. In what could be considered a sterilized setting, the deckchairs provide testimony to Ittah Yoda’s insistence on viewer experience and interactivity.
Overall, the artists are able to capture dimensionality within their artworks. They play with materials to produce pieces that subvert the typical characteristic associated with the respective mediums. The duo produce “paintings” that, though wall-mounted, embrace the dimensionality of sculptures—such as those that slump in Toyota, and others that float above the viewer in another work called Marguerite (2016). Ittah Yoda’s work arises from an artistic collaboration that epitomizes the traditional Chinese philosophy of yin and yang. Their cultural dissonance and contrast results in a relationship that is both interdependent and complementary.
“I Think Mango You Say Salmon” is on view at Annka Kultys Gallery, London, until March 5, 2016.