Touch at Miyako Yoshinaga 

This is a three-person online show curated by Bulgarian-born artist Yana Dimitrova. It has to do with the notions of contact, public and private, exampled in the work of Takahiro Kaneyama, Wieteke Heldens, and Ruth Borgenicht. Kaneyama offers photos of family, Heldens shows us color-filled health-plan statements, and Borgenicht presents images of sculptures she has done that often are used in collaborative events--happenings that bring a community together. The notion of touch evidencing not only physical but also psychic and esthetic connections is a notion highly worth considering our current quarantine. Additionally, on a larger level, touch is central to human experience, working as both the vehicle for physical intimacy and as the metaphor for emotional closeness. It ably underlies the implications of this very good show.

 

Kaneyama’s photos of family, in particular his schizophrenic mother, who died last January, have both a formality and a pathos that make them memorable. The artist is Japanese but studied extensively in New York City, at City College, the School for Visual Arts, and the Institute for Contemporary Photography; after living a long time in New York, he has recently returned to Tokyo. The image “My Mother and My Aunt in Hakone” (2019) shows an aged, resolute-looking woman in a wheelchair, dressed in dark clothing. Standing behind her is Kaneyama’s aunt, who gazes directly at the viewer. The image takes place on a lane surrounded by greenery with a gray house on the left. It is a formal portrait made unquestionably sad by our knowledge of the mother’s illness. In the next image, we have the mother again: “My Mother in a Hotel in Hakone” (2019). Painfully thin, with short gray hair, wearing an expression both quizzical and grim, she sits on the mat of a floor in a Japanese hotel. Both images are an attempt on Kaneyama’s part to “touch” his mother--that is, to make contact with her despite her illness. The photos are remarkably moving.

 

Heldens, who studied at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, has been living in The Hague and New York since 2019. She has used colored pencil to go over her March, April, and May 2020 health insurance bills--orange, blue, yellow for the March bill; blue, yellow, and green for the April bill; and a dark brown with hints of red for the May bill. The colors occur in short horizontal bars that build across the length of the bill, forming rows that move upward. Here Heldens talks about her decision to “touch” the health bill with art, but what could come closer to us, metaphorically speaking, than a paper statement dictating the costs of health coverage for the body. Visually, Heldens’ work is very beautiful, but this piece also implies the physical evidence of the person, making the three drawings both private, in the sense that Heldens is making work about her own condition; and public, in the sense that the bill is something we all receive and is something of an objective index of health. Heldens work, spanning both personal and freely accessible, public attitudes toward the self, thus is highly contemporary.

 

Borgenicht, educated at Rutgers and Montclair State University in New Jersey, is showing images of sculptures she has made. First of all, the touch in ceramic work is clearly evident, having as its basis the work of the hand. Also, she does a lot of social relations art involved with food, in which people re-experience eating as a communal, indeed a sacred, activity--people in touch with each other. In “Households, Gable” (2014), we see a small container made up of loops that invite us to touch it--as Borgenicht says, “My work has a haptic quality.” Another piece, called “Concrete Crockery” (2016), consists of small, white ceramic tableware contained by a concrete cylinder--the tableware reaches slightly above the top of the cylindrical opening. In this piece, the two very different materials are in permanent touch with each other, embedded as the ceramic is in the circumference of the concrete. The black and white teacups, done in 2020 in collaboration with artist Wendy Letven, are small and require touch to be used, but the sense of touch can also be explored metaphorically in the “touching” that occurs in a collaboration--as the Japanese tea ceremony might suggest.

 

These three artists are excellent in their practice of making work that touches their art and lives, as well as touching the viewer (if not physically, then emotionally). We are in a position now where contact is so distanced--look at the logistics of this show! --it is hard to return touch to the experience of the audience except in an imaginative fashion (but touch almost always exists for the artist making the image). Somehow, in each of the artists’ works in this show, we see an attempt to establish touch, no matter whether such contact is direct or remote--and thus made real by invention. Touch usually implicates intimacy, and each group of images here can be seen as unusually close in an emotional sense.  Dimitrova is to be recognized for her subtle curation here, joining the very different work of three different artists, who come from distant geographies but who work alongside each other in an unusual fashion. We may not be privy to the artists’ specific motivations, but we accept their involvement with the different kinds of touch available to people--not only for the artists, but for their audience and beyond. In this small but very good show, it becomes clear that touch remains central to our emotional, as well as our physical life.

 

- Jonathan Goodman, New York, May 29, 2020