Ryoki Aoki and Zon Ito

When I first saw artworks by the Kyoto-based couple Zon Ito and Ryoko Aoki at the 2001 Yokohama Triennale, I couldn’t tell which was which or who did what. Both in their early thirties, they have located themselves somewhere to the left of the cultural sphere dominated by economic, if not industrial, models of efficiency, investing instead in labor- intensive practices such as embroidery, beading, and handcrafted books, as well as notions of modesty, frailty, and the quotidian. The combination is not unlike the cinema of Hiroyuki Oki or Apichatpong Weerasethakul, or the music of Daniel Johnston, Andrew Bird, and Momus. All are energized by a desire to slow things down in order to revitalize an aesthetic maquis, a kind of “rear-garde.” This nonmonumental, nonheroic attitude may be one of the most difficult positions for an artist to adopt today.

It was not until I saw Ito and Aoki side by

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