Critics’ Picks

View of “Spiritual Material: A Survey of Work by Kenzi Shiokava,” 2019.

View of “Spiritual Material: A Survey of Work by Kenzi Shiokava,” 2019.

Los Angeles

Kenzi Shiokava

Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design
9045 Lincoln Boulevard
January 26–April 20, 2019

Most of Kenzi Shiokava’s sculptures consist of organic matter, like bark and dragon-tree fronds, combined with found materials, such as chicken wire or brooms. In Untitled (Urban Totem Series), 2000, an upright railroad tie narrows into two sharp prongs at the top. Of a similar shape, Untitled (Urban Totem Series), 2005, was carved from a discarded telephone pole. Each sculpture resembles a statuesque humanoid form.

“For any discarded material that has gone through the process of history and humanization [there] is the potential of presence,” Shiokava wrote for the wall text. Such histories are often violent. Here, his association with other assemblage artists from 1960s Los Angeles—Noah Purifoy, for example, who used debris from the Watts riots in his work—is most pertinent, as Shiokava’s repurposed urban materials are similarly called to represent their past uses and circulation, in addition to the people and communities involved in their transformations.

In revealing conditions otherwise concealed from the viewer, Shiokava’s sculptures have an almost spiritual function: Belief is often felt as the active presence of an essential absence. This aura can be sensed in five sculptures from his “Elegy Series,” 1994, where netted pool filters gather dead bamboo leaves beneath objects that appear to have been sourced from thrift stores, including painted ceramic flowers. The collected leaves allude to the passing of life; the artist might be the filter, gathering and reinfusing these objects with a latent purpose.