Los Angeles

Shoichi Ida

Herbert Palmer Gallery

In his work Shoichi Ida conducts an ongoing meditation on the relationship between process and material. Employing time-dependent physical interactions (absorption, evaporation, staining) and materials such as cloth, earth, water, bones, and handmade paper, Ida explores notions of what constitutes surface and image in art. Are the two twin brother and sister? When does an object resting against a surface cease to be on that surface and begin to enter it? Is an image always something between the paper and the viewer? Ida often inscribes an image on the back of a semitransparent surface so that it is physically between the paper and the wall, although the viewer can still read it. For Ida, “between” is a concept that stretches, like the paper he makes: it can mean within, in front of, behind, hidden, revealed, and more.

Individual pieces have a minimal, slightly archeological look—they are decidedly mineral. Set into large shallow white boxes or mounted on white boards, they resemble giant pieces of sandpaper, or sections from a cave wall. They often have a depression or well at their centers, and seem to float about 10 inches in front of the walls they are hung on. Sometimes the depression is lightly stained with dye. The circular depressions may be ringed with twigs, and a stone or two may be placed within the circle. Some pieces have colored scarflike rectangles of gauzy fabric sticking out from behind a square of rough brown paper, or layers of gauze that back the paper square and frame it. Ida uses materials in such a way that their inherent sense of delicacy, correctness, and raw beauty is made manifest. The compositions have a rare sense of discretion and balance; they radiate a sense of dignity.

To make the paper for these pieces, Ida digs a shallow hole in the dirt, fills it with water, then stretches soft paper fiber over the hole. As the water evaporates through the fiber, some of the dirt is sucked into the paper or adheres to its surface. The husks of a few dead insects stick to some pieces, lending them a minute fossil elegance. Ida treats paper not as a beast of burden, whose sole job in life is to lug around images, but as an articulate entity in its own right. He confers a similar individuality on all the materials he uses, manipulating natural substances as though he were carrying on a dialogue with an enigmatic peer. A subtle tension arises between the artist’s restless, energetic probing of his medium’s limits and the timeless metaphysical quality the works convey. This tension—between the human urge to explore, map, and define and the mutable, unknowable aspects of natural phenomena—gives Ida’s work its power, locating it smack dab where we’re all suspended: between heaven and earth.

Amy Gerstler