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Suzuki’s show opens spring art season

Contributing Writer

Published: Monday, January 16, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 04:01

While water usually evokes images of healing and calm, the artist Naoe Suzuki chose to twist its healing power and focus on the contamination and degradation of water in her latest exhibition, titled "Blue," which opened at the Women's Studies Research Center Jan. 12. Michele L'Heureux, curator and director of arts at the WSRC, organized the show.

Suzuki, born in Tokyo, is now a resident of the United States. She got her master's degree in fine arts at the Studio for Interrelated Media in the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Her work has been exhibited widely throughout New England and beyond, including at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Mass. She is also a senior program coordinator for the Peacebuilding and the Arts program at the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.

Suzuki's current work was inspired by her residency at the Blue Mountain Center, "where she [was] able to swim in a lake every day." Her current works were also created there. She experienced the cleansing and renewing power of the water and also began thinking a lot about the terrible condition of water throughout the world. She explores the themes of environmental degradation and the connection between nature and humanity in her works by including imagery of trash, organs, cells, bottles and antiquated machinery.

The centerpiece of the show, titled "Blue," and the other three works on paper in this exhibit called "Intueri I, II and III," were particularly related to this theme. Suzuki, with exquisite craftsmanship and fine detail, at once captures the beauty of the blue water and the harm extraneous elements do to it. The water abounds with grotesque images of eyes, monsters and organs, so detailed that they seem to jump just right out of the page and overwhelm the very water of which they are a part.

In this exhibit, Suzuki chose to work on paper rather than on canvas, a more commonly used surface, and she used ink, pen and pigment as her primary mediums. She was able to draw minute details with breathtaking clarity and beauty and, as a result, draws the viewer deep into her work. At the same time, the message that she tries to depict about the contamination of water and the consequences of our current actions comes through strongly. Each drawing of filthy water seems meticulously planned and executed.

The show's palette is also rather limited. The color blue, of course, is a predominate color in Suzuki's work, and various shades are apparent not only in the works on paper but also in the several site-specific installations that are part of the exhibit. Apart from blue, the works are composed of browns and blacks with some splashes of red. This limited palette serves to contrast the beauty and soothing nature of color with the harshness of the black and brown. It also serves to draw attention to the detail of Suzuki's work and is one of the show's strengths.

Her site-specific installations—titled "Raindrop Jewel," "Last Splash" and "Blue Falls"—are direct contrasts to her work on paper. The installations are composed of Elmer's poster tack. "Last Splash" also includes wires. These installations contrast the works on paper not only because of their ephemerality and the media used, but also because they showcase the healing power of water, as opposed to its dirtiness and misuse. "Raindrop Jewel" is a beautiful installation in the shape of a raindrop, while "Last Splash" and "Blue Falls" served to capture a moment of the flow of water: unimpeded, beautiful and clean. The cleanliness of these installations, as opposed to the detail of the works on paper, also brings to mind that water is beautiful in its simplicity.

L'Heureux has also done a superb job as a curator. The positioning of the works, which highlights "Blue" as the central and largest piece, serves to create a climactic experience for the viewer. This, in turn, enhances the beauty of the artwork and allows the viewer to be in an almost-lonely meditation on the state of the natural world.

With an exhibit so profound and of such high quality, it was difficult to decide which work moved me the most. Each work was important and essential to the exhibit and contributed to the experience of the viewer. "Blue" was by far the most impressive, not only because of the size and the scale of the work, but because it was the drawing that inspired the exhibition.

I was confused by one work in the exhibit, titled "Division Switch." This was also a site-specific installation, but it was placed on the opposite side of a wall, and therefore removed slightly from the rest of the pieces.

According to Suzuki's written statement at the gallery, "‘Division Switch' incorporates overlay maps from the US Army Air Defense School." Suzuki had these maps for about 10 years and "wanted to use them for something." The artist was inspired by the documentary Blue Gold: World Water Wars, and used these maps to "tie [the piece] in with the subject of the water." While this installation undoubtedly deals with issues of water, gender, war and national boundaries and adds an additional and different layer to the exhibition, its very difference also makes its relevance questionable.

All in all, this was a very strong exhibit. It runs through March 2 and the opening reception is on Thursday, Jan. 26 from 5 to 7:30 p.m., with an Artist's Slide Talk on Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 12:30 p.m. 

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