Ryoko Aoki

Ryoko Aoki exemplifies the tendency among younger Japanese artists to invent an idiosyncratic visual vocabulary by transforming everyday objects and exploring the work of perception through simple childlike actions. Aoki’s main medium is drawing. She accumulates fragments of images from sources such as advertisements, children’s encyclopedias, and fabric designs, creating unique pictures in which far-fetched things are connected through the metonymical associations that condense or displace details. Her neutral lines encourage these associative links: Long trajectories trace contours and connect items from different realms of experience, while repeated, short, tremulous lines conjure up diverse images unified by the use of repeated folding patterns. In the past, Aoki has shown drawings that connect diverse phenomena through formal analogy, as when, in Crappy Sight, 2002, a rain cloud, the pond on which the rain falls, and meandering paths are shown as aspects of an underlying pattern of winding lines; in another work, rocky mountains and rippling lakes change places, and a landscape dissolves into a mental map with fingerprint-like swirls evoking braided hair (The Rope, 2002). When she integrates numerous drawings into a wall installation, Aoki creates a plane of affective influences, in which formal or gestural analogies connect the most unlikely things: In Cross-Sight Puzzle, 2005, presented that year at Hammer Projects at the UCLA Hammer Museum, flower links were combined with chains of human bones, their resemblance indicated through the curved lines that describe both.

In Aoki’s more recent drawings, such as those in the exhibition at Kodama, scattered visions were repeatedly pursued through the rearrangement of such banal motifs as cookies and flowery fabric patterns. The random blacking-in of areas between small details compounded into masses of entangled images created a flickering optical effect, indicating the dissolution of rational boundaries in a chaotic flow of thought and shifting intensities of sensations. In her exhibition in Osaka, “Under the Secret,” Aoki pursued an increased fragmentation of the image through the repeated employment of broken lines and dots that loosely form indefinite but suggestive patterns. In #14, 2007, a crumpled Kleenex is presented as the map of an island in which mountains and paths evolve out of numerous folds. In #112 and #119, both 2007, charts of embroidery patterns with gridlike frames are exploited to emphasize the whimsical flight of thought against mechanical patterns, as the grid’s lines branch out to show small dangling objects. The works are like pieces of electronic music in which the basic sound structure gradually changes as it is repeated with variations. The recurrent images of children, animals, and plants, which gave Aoki’s earlier works a sense of the pastoral, were recapitulated here, but conveyed by flat lines that emphasize their tracing from source images. Their outlines are nevertheless connected without a break, implying a growth of images from a single thought.

Aoki’s work powerfully reveals the ability of drawing to convey the process of association. While encouraging an abstract reflection on her method of image formation, her drawings capture glimpses of an internal mythology. Presenting skeletal outlines that connect children with bones, or dots evoking fractured tips of ice that constitute a cosmic vision of evolving cities, she describes a cycle of life, the perpetual process of decomposition and reconstitution. At the same time, accompanied as they are by documentation in the form of bits of random conversation found on the Internet and in other media, casually jotted on separate sheets, her drawings as a whole make up a flexible network of relations; we are invited to recognize the hidden patterns connecting things on all levels, without a governing principle.

Midori Matsui