Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin
Through December 31, 2009
by Katie Anania
Noriko Ambe, Sculpture: Richard Serra, 2009
see image gallery for full caption
Noriko Ambe’s new work is creepy. “Creepy” here doesn’t mean unbearable, terrifying, or foul. Her process of cutting, with surgical precision, concentric holes into artists’ books has, in fact, a mesmerizing charm. The whole show is a project resulting from a conversation between Ambe and New York collector Glenn Fuhrmann. In the past, Ambe has worked with white paper, applying similar cutting processes to stacks of paper until they resemble stark-white Grand Canyons or ghostly geodes. Fuhrman and Ambe have extended her Cutting Book Series to include the books of poppy behemoths (Murakami, Koons) and high modernist titans (Giacometti, Twombly) alike. Formally, the books’ illustrated pages provide more tonal and pictorial variation to Ambe’s forms. At the same time, Ambe’s incisions physically alter these books, books that enshrine the output of other artists; she literally messes with our shared narratives about them. Her sculpted pages repeat what we know about each artist’s reputation and announce her feelings, her thoughts, her connections and private communions with each artist, designing these things onto the objects.
One reaches in vain for a verb to describe what she’s doing. In His heart, his life: Andy Warhol (2009), for instance, she uses round and fluid cuts to gradually slice through the book and reveal portions of Warhol’s own face. She articulates through subtraction a series of layered concave depressions in the material, thus dissecting the artist’s persona and then situating it within amorphous holes. Some viewers might want to assign an agent to the empty spaces: acid perhaps, or some disease that eats away at a book’s tender flesh. Those viewers then become creeps, taking Ambe’s subtle animism to its most logical and absurd conclusion.
Each swath of pages is both a unit and a mass of layers. Each book is both an archive of the canon and a fully violable personal mark-making space. Occasionally, Ambe’s feelings about a particular artist’s book seem transparent and uninteresting. Sculpture: Richard Serra (2009) is like this; she slices Serra’s book Sculpture: Forty Years into three equal parts, extending each part further out from its dust jacket to create a terse lack of equilibrium common to the sculptor. But maybe this move is a productive one: the beauty of her practice abutting our cultic feelings about fame, artists and artists’ objects. Amorphous holes mapped onto spectacular illustrations. So this work is also creepy in that we can follow Ambe’s mark as it creeps, pathogen-like, across her medium, and are left with an object so brilliant that it appears to have been punished with beauty.
Katie Anania is an art critic and doctoral student in Art History.