The power of photography, in its infancy, was often associated with magic. To capture the likeness of animate or inanimate objects with chemicals is of course a sort of alchemy. But along with democratic availability of the technology came not only a ubiquity but also a disillusion of magic. Rinko Kawauchi is one of the rare examples of an artist who instills magic in practically everything she produces. The art on display at Rose Gallery in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station attests to the transformative eye of the artist.
Kawauchi’s magic of transformation is taking one sense and evoking the subtle workings of the other four. Of course photography and the fine arts traffics in the visual. But seldom are the other senses even referenced let alone activated. Kawauchi’s oeuvre, from its earliest examples, has had the uncanny knack of triggering taste, smell, touch and sound. Sometimes these sensory dominoes fall individually, sometimes in rapid succession. But to see her work is to make yourself vulnerable to evocation. This is true of both large and small-scale pieces.
The newest body of work on display at Rose Gallery is titled Ametsuchi (Heaven and Earth). The work consists of mostly landscapes and they are rarely populated. Several scenes depict the ritual field burning of mountain hills of Aso in Japan’s Kumamoto Prefecture. The fires in Kawauchi’s lens are not images of destruction but of rebirth and cycles of nature in action. The fire’s crackle can be heard. The warmth of the flames glows from the picture plane. The ash in the air can be smelled throughout the gallery and it’s not a leap to taste the acrid flavor in the air in the back of your tongue. An evening shot contains both the warmth of the fire line and the chill in the air as sun sets.
In another frame, this time without fire, a field of verdant glass climbs a hill and just barely suggests the perspectival elevation. While it’s a static shot the grass seems to wave and undulate in the wind. Nothing much happens in her planes of vision. Her’s is not an art of action or even narrative; it is, however, an art of observation and contemplation. In this, Kawauchi’s Fine Art might have its only kindred soul in the films of Terrence Malick whose metaphysical affection for nature confounds audiences
In the back room are excellent examples of previous bodies of work. Often smaller in scale and a great deal more diverse in subject matter, they nonetheless serve in the same hair-trigger fashion of sensory awakening. Kawauchi’s art is singular in these kinesthetic ways. The upshot is, that regardless of subject matter, her photographs remind one what it’s like to be human.
Rinko Kawauchi: Ametsuchi, through June 18th, 2013
Rose Gallery, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90404
-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, May 17th, 2013
also by Mario M. Muller
- Mid-Century Modern at LAMA Auction House, Van Nuys - February 20th, 2014
- Robert Therrien at Gagosian, Beverly Hills - January 22nd, 2014
- Art Fair Season in Los Angeles - January 15th, 2014
- Roy Dowell at Various Small Fires - October 14th, 2013
- Leon Benn at Carter & Citizen - September 13th, 2013