Questions about how humans conceive of time underpinned Japanese artist Yuki Kimura’s CCA Wattis exhibition, her first solo show in the United States. The longwinded title, “Inhuman Transformation of New Year’s Decoration, Obsolete Conception or 2,” belied the sparse installation, which consisted of four artworks given ample breathing room in the large venue, a converted garage. The front space was occupied by Table Stella (2016): six tables arranged in three pairs, from large to small, whose tops each bear a constellation of vintage ashtrays and the same photographic image of a hospital room. The remaining three works were shown in the back of the venue. Table Matematica (2016) is a table whose glossy black surface supports a dizzying arrangement of Jägermeister bottles of different sizes. Mirrors (2016) is a pair of full-length mirrors that leaned against one wall, reflecting the gallery and echoing, in shape and dimension, the final work, which hung on the opposite wall: Division and Revision #2 (2016), consisting of two large-scale prints of a photograph of a three-tiered stand flaunting sundry liquor bottles.
The four artworks are somewhat mystifying. However, the repetition of formal and symbolic elements such as liquor bottles, photographic multiples, and reflective surfaces hints at a cohesive, organizing principle. An informative essay by curator Jeanne Gerrity in the accompanying booklet is interspersed with excerpts from Bergsonism (1966), Gilles Deleuze’s book on French philosopher Henri Bergson. Both Bergson and Deleuze offer radical understandings of human consciousness, time, and memory. In one passage Deleuze writes, “The past and the present do not denote two successive moments, but two elements which coexist.”
Kimura’s use of found photographs in Division and Revision #2 and Table Stella is the most accessible treatment of the notion of a coexistent past and present, and furthers her investigations into the sculptural aspects of photography. Each work takes as its starting point prints developed from the same negative. When photos are printed at large size, subtle distinctions between them become visible: they are not multiples but unique. By focusing on the materiality and uniqueness of her images, Kimura destabilizes the notion that a photograph serves to represent a subject at a single moment in the past.
Without the curatorial text, one might have had difficulty divining Kimura’s association of the twinned images with the Japanese New Year’s decoration kagami mochi. These “mirror rice cakes” consist of two stacked rice balls meant to represent the past year and the present one. As Deleuze proposed, the present does not replace the past but becomes part of it.
Kimura anchors these metaphysical wanderings with allusions to the human experience of time: the body’s inexorable decay. The hospital-room photo on the tables in Table Stella contrasts a box of pink examination gloves with the traces of someone’s attempt to decorate with tchotchkes and trinkets. With the evocation of illness, the ashtrays sitting on the tabletops become timekeeping devices of sorts, like symbols in a vanitas.
The entire exhibition, according to the curatorial text, “acts as a New Year’s decoration.” If the artworks in the show are ornaments, one need not necessarily do anything further than enjoy their aesthetics. However, the show was ultimately Janus-faced, pitting renewal, celebration, and human intervention as the flip sides of death. At the very least, it will have led viewers to contemplate the metaphors we invent to represent time.