John L. Drever | Ryo Ishikawa | Shuji Okada
SHIZENGAKU is an exhibition of new work by painter Shuji Okada, installation artist Ryo Ishikawa, and sound artist John L. Drever, organised to complement a series of academic collaborations between the staff of the Fine Arts Department at Seian University, Japan and the Music Department at Goldsmiths, University of London. The exhibition will open at Goldsmiths’ St. James Hatcham Church, New Cross before travelling to the Menier Gallery, London Bridge.
These three distinct practices each explore the relationship between the natural world and the synthetic art object. For SHIZENGAKU, each artist has taken Lake Biwa, a vast body of water near Kyoto, Japan, as the starting point for the creation of new work.
Okada’s oil paintings depict the natural landscape of Japan as well as close-ups of the botanical life that fill it. Employing the grisaille technique, a method of working in which the minutely detailed painting is entirely made up of tones of grey, Okada reproduces images of tiny natural ephemera across his vast canvases. By working in a highly mechanical manner in which layers of fine brushstrokes are meticulously applied to the canvas, the artist creates an image that appears true enough to real life to be easily mistaken for a conventional monochrome photograph. In his most recent series of work he paints the withered plants and leaves that float on the surface of Lake Biwa, which is near his residence in Moriyama.
Ishikawa’s performative practice is far harder to define and changes in reaction to his current subject of interest. For this exhibition, he has drawn and frozen water from each of the 116 springs that occur in the same district as Lake Biawa. These frozen globes of water will then become the starting point for a new body of work, the exact nature of which remains unresolved and will continue to develop up to and during Ishikawa’s visit to London to oversee the exhibition’s installation.
Drever builds his sonic installations out of isolated sounds appropriated from the complex auditory environment of a given location. Each new composition begins with an extensive on-site exploratory process in which the artist takes notes and sketches of the environment through field recordings. He then brings the collected sounds together through a filtering and editing process similar to that of musique concrete, a musical form that attempts to capture the intrinsic musical qualities of everyday objects. In preparation for the exhibition, Drever travelled to the Far East to carry out extensive on-site field recordings at the lake in order to capture the complexities of its auditory environment. A cohesive sound piece will subsequently be fashioned from these samples and then projected throughout both spaces to accompany the exhibition’s physical work. It will also act as the backdrop for a new dance performance choreographed by Tony Thatcher that will be performed twice at the St. James Church venue.
The way Okada, Ishikawa, Drever retrieve material and images from the outside world and then situate them within the pristine white walls of the gallery space is analogous to the approach of the archaeologist. Each deploys a devotion to the detailed empirical investigation of their subject; their preferred optic is that of the close up; they sift through hours, days and weeks of organic material for what they are looking for; and once unearthed, these fragile discoveries are put on display and set in perpetuity. In bringing their work together, SHIZENGAKU is testament to the aesthetic depth and diversity that can be generated out of the minute study of a small and unassuming piece of Japanese countryside.
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