BY Ronald Jones in Reviews | 07 JUN 00
Featured in
Issue 53

Yoshihiro Suda

BY Ronald Jones in Reviews | 07 JUN 00

At first, Yoshihiro Suda’s wooden sculptures of plant-life are just full-on Realism. To simply look will not do. They demand scrutiny. And there is a chorography where the scrutiny of the natural world is concerned that Suda adopts for his sculptures. Approaching each object, one comes as close as possible, and as your tilting head traces a tight circle around each sculpture, you slip into a trance as if you were some future astronaut lifting a wrinkly reddish Martian rock right up to your mirrored visor, or a botanist eyeballing a species that only a moment before was totally unknown. Suda’s style prescribes the path towards discovery.

Shifting gears from perception to the history of art Suda’s sculptures of plants invite the obvious comparisons: for instance with the transient, and tantalizing freshness of Ch’ien Hsuan’s delicate flower paintings. Studying Suda’s sculpture of a flowering Magnolia blossom summoned the memory of Ch’ien Hsuan’s painting titled Flowers, which is at home in the Freer Gallery of Art, a part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. Ch’ien Hsuan, lived in the thirteenth-century, worked in the last years of the Southern Sung, and is well known for his debonair paintings of a spray or two of flowers. Suda shares a devotion to meticulous realism with Ch’ien Hsuan like few others. In a more modern sense Realism functions for him as it has for Duane Hanson’s sculpture of the working class hero, Christopher Williams’ portraits of Harvard’s glass flowers, Tony Matelli’s tiny weeds, or even John Peto’s tacked ribbons and post cards. And while it is Realism, invested in the body of Suda’s slight sculptures, which inspires our peering curiosity, in and of itself the style only ushers us to the threshold of meaning in Suda’s work.

In Suda’s art Theatricality swiftly undercuts all that Realism, and the meaning of his art nests in that foreclosure. It is the implausible presentation of these lifelike sculptures - turning modest twigs, commonplace leaves, and commendable blossoms into artificial episodes - that stir with deep significance. Take for instance his three wooden renderings of the Magnolia plants: coming to life, blossoming, and finally in death. Yes, yes, there is the changing of the seasons portrayed here as it was in pictures as rare as Ch’ien Hsuan’s or Casper David Friedrich’s, but a meditation on the delicate cycle of life underestimates Suda’s aspiration. Perhaps to the usual set of Western eyes Suda’s Asian pedigree would automatically register his subject as "contemplative," but that grinds down Suda’s ambition to some caricature and undervalues his ambition. Centered introspection is hardly Suda’s subject; it’s all about the dramatic moment. Remember this: you must squat and stoop and crawl through a tot-sized doorway in order to enter an alarmingly-green room to see the spotlighted sculpture of a magnolia branch sporting red hot buds. Here life is interrupted so that you may study the beauty of life that has been arrested by art. In a second "event" (and event is the right word here) a long and narrow hallway carries you down to see another magnolia branch, this time hosting a glorious blossom. Having a look is a solo affair; two can fit inside the hall but not comfortably. The blossom is presented before a white translucent backdrop that caps the far end of the hall. Outside the hall, and standing before the translucent wall you can see the blossom’s exotic shadows. And if you are lucky, the shadow of a gallery visitor, who has dropped by to inspect the wooden flower, will be there mingling with the blossom’s fuzzy image. There is a third sculpture of the magnolia. This one is placed behind a wall near the door of the gallery. Hurrying in and out of the gallery, when you would least expect an encounter with anything artistic, makes it likely that you would miss the carving of the dead leaf and twig. For Suda the beauty of life is framed as a spectacle, a reverie, something to regard, but death is hidden. It appears out of nowhere as death always does. Pure theatre. Perhaps Suda’s art is full-on Realism after all.

Ronald Jones is on the faculty of the Royal College of Art, London, and a regular contributor to this magazine.