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Sono Kuwayama
October 21, 2021 - December 5, 2021

Shifting Perceptions 

by Elle Tyra 

Phenomenological encounters with Minimalist sculpture have a way of leaving the  viewer far keener of their surroundings and the world around them than prior to arriving in their  presence. Indeed, the looming monolithic works we traditionally think of when Minimalism  comes to mind do have a presence. Beit the sublime or objecthood, if you’ve come across a  minimalist sculpture and felt small, vulnerable, awestruck, or suspected that the work was  silently resting and daring you to approach then chances are that this was the artist’s intended  effect. Chiasmus demonstrates that Sono Kuwayama is fully aware of the dialogue surrounding  physically intimidating art objects and her latest body of work turns this tradition on its head. 

Rather than working on a monumental scale, Kuwayama’s take on Minimalism employs  intimate cubes that can often fit in the palm of your hand. Some of these small untitled objects  can also be manipulated to function as paintings, or hover between painting and cube as  undefined objects. Changing the artwork from one state to the next requires the viewer to  interact with the work and carefully arrange the piece as desired. Several pieces such as  Untitled (safflower), 2021 have a warm exterior that is hand painted with the artist’s own milk  paint that she makes from scratch. The interior of Untitled (safflower) rewards viewer curiosity  by revealing seed pods when the cube is opened.  

Kuwayama’s handcrafted pieces acknowledge their own fragility in both their scale and  function. As opposed to confronting the viewer’s frailty and lack of power as Minimalist  sculpture often does, these cubes submit to being arranged according to the viewer’s whims  asserting that they be handled with care, and rousing the viewer’s awareness of their own  physical strength and agency while handling the objects. This reversal of viewer experience is  Kuwayama’s nod to phenomenological psychology as described in the writings of Maurice  Merleau-Ponty. 

In The Primacy of Perception Merleau-Ponty explains a psychological phenomenon that  naturally occurs as our eyes and mind work together to navigate our bodies through space as  we encounter objects. It is our encounter with monumental objects such as tall buildings,  ships, or large minimalist sculptures that speak to our temporality and powerlessness as  humans. It is our encounter with delicate, flaccid, non-imposing objects that engage our  agency. In contrast to encountering tons of machine torqued steel, or a ten feet of vertically  installed iron units that force us to weigh of our diminutive stature in comparison, Kuwayama’s  pieces showcase the viewer’s potential to impact the object and invite us to dispense with our  expectations of what Minimalism should be. The varying nature of Kuwayama’s artwork also  challenges the notion of painting or sculpture as fixed within one established category. These  cubes are more than meets the eye and require that we not be standoffish, but bring a  willingness to engage and explore their possibilities.  

Chiasmus addresses the legacy of the “white cube” art gallery and the exclusivity that  surrounds the art market. The esoteric nature of the art world often causes the public to stand  at a distance and approach with caution. Kuwayama wants viewers to look inside the gallery  with delight at what they may find. Our willingness to engage with the cube is a metaphor for  how we should explore an ever-changing world. The artist invites the viewer to dispense with  their notions of what artwork, a gallery, or a phenomenal experience should be. A sculpture  can become a painting that then becomes an object. We can leave an art gallery or institution  feeling energized and curious about the world beyond its walls. In ever changing environments  that defy permanence Kuwayama’s pieces reflect the reality that things are not fixed regardless  of how much we would like them to be. The only constant is change. Artwork that can invert  its relationship to itself while also inverting the viewer’s relationship to the work and their  surroundings cleverly pushes the limits of art and, I was delighted to find, also explores the  meaning of chiasmus. 

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