Mono-ha (“school of things”) is a group of contemporary Japanese artist-philosophers who manipulate things just enough to make some of their physical properties a noticeable object of contemplation. Instead of craft, they cultivate awareness, and indeed the craft on display in the Kishio Suga exhibit would barely meet the standards of a high-school shop class. It is not that the work feels intentionally loose or sloppy, but perfection was obviously not the goal, as it is so often when artists are working with unconventional or construction grade materials.
As they privilege awareness over form, the Mono-ha might well be called conceptualists. Awareness doesn’t really need art or artists to be practiced; it only requires curiosity. Children can often be found contemplating or collecting whatever seems interesting or unusual to them. But Kishio Suga does seem to be highly skilled at improvisation: If you throw him three or four materials of any kind, from jello to rebar, he could soon combine them in a surprisingly enjoyable way. In this exhibit, he never uses the same materials twice. He’s not out to produce a thrilling, shocking or life-changing experience, and there is no intensity of self-expression. He’s just balancing things, including his own cuts or marks, to create a brief, comfortable moment.
This kind of work would get lost in a cluttered domestic setting, but they are the perfect antidote to the severe Miesian environment in which the Shane Campbell Gallery is now showing them. There is no private space in the steel and glass compartments of a Mies van der Rohe building. Setting no boundary between domestic interior and street, the openness of the floor to ceiling windows make one feel uncomfortably exposed. In contrast, Suga’s pieces feel personal, whimsical, inviting and mysterious. He often works with translucent materials, which the eye strains to penetrate and resolve. Individually, each piece would be overwhelmed by the surrounding emptiness, but strung across the walls as a group, they shout “Let’s have some fun here!” With a few pieces of tape, string, and random bits of trash, you could play right along. (Chris Miller)
Through October 17 at Shane Campbell Gallery, Lincoln Park. By appointment only, and address upon request
Elliot Josephine Leila Reichert is a curator, critic and editor. She is the inaugural Curator of Contemporary Art at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University. She was formerly Curatorial Fellow at the Chicago Artists Coalition, Art Editor of Newcity and Assistant Curator at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University.