by Mark Van Proyen
Can there be such a thing as Abstract-Expressionist photography? In these days of esthetic lassitude, the obvious answer is, “why not?” However, those with long memories can easily recollect a time when such a proposition would seem absurd. That was then. Now, with this array of 12 untitled works (all dated 2022) by Tokyo-based Daisuke Yokota, it seems to make perfect, post-pandemic sense. Each multi-generational piece delivers a small flood of ebullient color and frantic gestures that operate on multiple spatial registers of shape-pattern interaction, creating vertiginous, hallucinatory effects.
The works in this exhibition are designated as pigment prints, the majority output at 71 x 57 inches. That means that their final material form issues from a digital printer that uses archival mineral pigments rather than fugitive vegetable dyes. However, in the case of Yokota’s works, the term “final form” is somewhat misleading. That is because they are more about process and performance than the consolidated crystallization of an idealized configuration. In other words, their constituted character seems like an uncanny by-product of a complex performative agenda, their “final form” representing a cumulative arrangement of several discrete operations. Many processes are involved, so multi-generational mixed-media is the term of art that best describes the works on view.
Yokota’s prints invite viewers to play the role of visual archeologist by imaginatively reverse-engineering the unusual phases of their making. The base layer of these images appears to be overexposed photographic paper which is then subjected to additional manipulations and re-deployed as collage material. The next phase involves re-photographing (or scanning) the collage arrangements into high-resolution digital file formats that are then re-composited, manipulated and enhanced with image-editing software. In some cases, these manipulations change the scale and proportions of various
components, while in other instances, forms are replicated in cut-and-paste mode, sometimes creating sequences that recall the motion paintings of the Italian Futurists. In other cases, forms appear to be melting or exhibiting the effects of exposure to candy-colored strobe lights.
In appearance, Yokota’s prints are roughly analogous to billboards subjected to rain, which often removes layers to create accidental décollages. Décollage was a term famously associated with the work of the early Arte Povera artist Mimmo Rotella, who, in the late 1950s, noticed that the streets of Rome were full of colorful posters sandwiched atop one another. Sometimes, those posters advertised Neo-Realist movies, but more frequently, they promoted political causes. Like an archeologist excavating the hidden foundations of an ancient building, Rotella began tearing away at the different layers of those posters to reveal fragmentary parts of the underlying shapes, literally subtracting material in a way that reversed the additive methods of more conventional collage practices. The critical difference between Rotella’s décollages and Yokoto’s work is that the richness of Yokota’s technologically enhanced color comes into full view, which creates an energized, semi-illusionistic space that departs from the graphic flatness of Rotella’s layers.
Another point of relevant comparison is the work of the Osaka-based Gutai group, which returns us to the above-mentioned Abstract Expressionist photography question. Active throughout the 1950s and 60s, Gutai painters exaggerated the performative aspect of Abstract Expressionist gesturalism and adapted it to traditional Japanese calligraphic practices. Founded by Jiro Yoshihara and Shozo Shinamoto in 1954 (the same year that Godzilla was released!), the group published a manifesto proclaiming:
“In Gutai Art, the human spirit and matter shake hands with each other while keeping their distance… it may be that the innate beauty of matter is reemerging from behind the mask of artificial embellishment…We believe that by merging human qualities and material properties, we can concretely comprehend abstract space.”
It seems clear that Yokota’s multi-generational mixed-media works employ aspects of the Gutai esthetic while also extending it into spheres of technological simulation that could not have been imagined in the 1950s. That is why Yokota’s works are so daring and unpredictably extraordinary.
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Daisuke Yokota: “Sediments” @ Casemore Kirkeby through July 30, 2022.
About the author:
Mark Van Proyen’s visual work and written commentaries emphasize the tragic consequences of blind faith in economies of narcissistic reward. Since 2003, he has been a corresponding editor for Art in America. His recent publications include: Facing Innocence: The Art of Gottfried Helnwein (2011) and Cirian Logic and the Painting of Preconstruction (2010). To learn more about Mark Van Proyen, read Alex Mak’s interview on Broke-Ass Stuart’s website.
Paul O Johnson,(AKA O.O.Johns) says
Thank you Mark- wonderful insights to the world of “Abstract Expressionism” Nice quote from the Gutai painters regarding the human spirit and matter shaking hands!
I was making abstract photography in the ’70s, camera-less, using light and photo sensitive paper. These photo “pigment prints” are remarkable and I dare say beautiful. Abstract photography is alive and well.
Thanks for your insights,