|| Art Review: Japanese artist's hope rubs off on viewers
By Mary Thomas, Post-Gazette Art Critic
Thursday, May 01, 2003
A venerable tree in a Japanese park could use your encouragement.
artist Keiko Miyamori, who teaches at the Pennsylvania
of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, is artist-in-residence at
the Society for Contemporary Craft this month.
(Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)
In the creative sphere, where nothing is unlikely and everything
is possible, artist Keiko Miyamori floats the notion that a
visitor to her installation, "Melody," can connect
across space, culture and species.
A stand of trees in Japan was to be thinned a few years ago
while the site was transformed into a park. Miyamori made rubbings
of the trees' bark, which she then hung in situ in a manner
suggestive of traditional Japanese paper prayer offerings.
Now a Philadelphia resident and adjunct faculty member at the
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Miyamori visited the completed
park in February, and, while happy that some of the original
trees had been spared, she noticed that the abundance of concrete
and reduction of vegetation had made the area less fertile than
it had been. She became concerned for the survival of the remaining
Miyamori took rubbings from a sprawling old tree, using Japanese
paper (washi) and charcoal that she made from tree bark, and
when she returned to the States she used some of those rubbings
to cover a piano and bench.
Now she invites visitors to the Society for Contemporary Craft,
where she is artist-in-residence this month, to play that piano
in the hope the belief that the notes will reach the tree
and provide it with strength to fight for its health. Selected
tracings arranged on a nearby wall give the tree an ethereal
Within the context of the other work in her exhibition, which
probes the gray zones between scientific fact and intuition,
there is a compelling logic to this action.
The monochromatic charcoal and white objects a baby bottle,
shoe lasts, frames, a pencil at first appear light and decorative.
But they gain weight when one realizes that they like the
piano have been meticulously coated with Miyamori's painstakingly
As such, they not only exemplify skilled craftsmanship, but
induce a quietude somewhat in the manner of the ritualistic
approach to a tea house (the tea aesthetic being one of the
underlying, if subliminal, qualities of Miyamori's work)
that blocks visual noise and encourages receptivity to the epistemological
conceits the artist sets forth.
The objects wear the washi like a second skin uncannily in
the case of a "Splintered Branch" that is metaphoric
representation of an essence that links all life forms. "What
is transferred from object to paper is the very soul of the
natural object," Miyamori says.
She asks the visitor to use imagination to access what can't
be seen and hasn't been culturally taught, to find that which
is "between surface and surface." Attuned to this
other way of sensing, "we can feel between the surfaces,"
Miyamori explains. A birdcage is roofless and empty. "We
can't see the bird but we can imagine the bird," Miyamori
says. Two clear glass goblets, their bowls nearly closed, suspended
upside-down over the piano, represent the "notes that make
a melody," unseen but imagined. Inside a clay flower pot,
the word "imagine" is gently suspended like a feather
gliding through air.
Stand" is part of the exhibit
of work by Keiko Miyamori.
(Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)
"I think people's imagination can really change the world,"
Miyamori says that for her the purpose of art is to "make
something to communicate." While she says she believes
in the "creativity of people" and "still has
hope" in mankind's ability to connect with his world, there
is a wistfulness to the exhibition that resides in a space that
hovers between invite and implore.
Melancholy and hope co-exist in "City Root," a dark
mass that rises higher than the petite artist and looms in the
back of the gallery. The focal component of an installation
last year at the Project Room, Philadelphia, Miyamori rescued
it from the grounds of a 1950s urban housing project that was
destroyed to make room for new construction. Even toppled, she
admired the tree for its "urban toughness." In a video
about the project, the artist says, "Trees are a life force,"
echoing Shinto attitudes filtered through generations of evolved
In the aftermath of the destruction, the artist points out,
is the phoenix-like rebirth of the project as a mixed-income
neighborhood, and the tree as an artwork. "Memory of City
Treasure 1, 2" comprises artifacts chunks of brick,
sprigs of metal, opalized glass Miyamori excavated from the
gnarled, clasping entanglement of roots and placed into boxes
that recall jewelry cases or mineral collections.
Miyamori asks the visitor to pause and consider elemental associations
that are as ageless as animism and as contemporary as the environmental
movement. Ultimately, what she really traffics in is collective