Yuko Shiraishi - Focus

Not quite: Some works by Yuko Shiraishi

Experimental Art Foundation - Adelaide - 1997
Part of The Stretcher Case (work from painting)


Yuko Shiraishi is a Japanese artist who has trained and lives in the U.K. Her background beyond this is also one of diversity and complexity, in as much as her Canadian-born but Japan-resident mother Kazuko Shiraishi is a 'beat' poet of international reputation, translated by Ginsberg and Rexroth among others, and her father is the film director and scriptwriter Masahiro Shinoda. Not quite typical as backgrounds go. The biography is only germane in as much as it indicates the complex cultural shifts and influences that have been around her, and have helped inform her work. It is difficult to look for essentialisms in her practice; the variousness denies an easy placing, part of it is always nudging, shifting, saying no, not quite here.

The work obviously is abstract, and informed by colourfield painting and by minimalism. In this it has formal links with much work currently taking place in Australia, consider for instance that of A.D.S. Donaldson, even Nixon, and others. However, if you think of these but look at a Shiraishi there seems to me to be some considerable difference. Although reserved, and not giving up all that they have immediately, Shiraishi's work doesn't claim the muteness of irony, nor supposes the emptying of reference outside those of art historical narratives (nor indeed does it use the authorization of the links with that narrative whilst knowingly denying its ontologies. It's a tricky game). They are more protean and shifting. At the same time it's obviously of the present day, informed, bright even. Nor can we (in seeking to explain why it does not quite) allow ourselves exoticism seeking solely what we might rashly consider to be a 'Japanese aesthetic' - as if we'd really know unless we were Japanese, and then, oh dear, which one? - unless of course we are to consider say Robert Ryman as an avatar of Zen. Although of course some of all of the above may be there.

"Beauty is rearing its ugly head," John Baldesari informed his students in a recent seminar. "It is a problematic issue and a large one today," he went on to add (ARTFORUM October 1996). There's certainly beauty in Shiraishi's work. Perhaps that's uncomfortable too. Loss we can do, and a bass note of (naturally existential) melancholy. Ugly we're at home with, and at a stretch we might make elegance, but beauty might get a bit too big or at least too large to speak. Sort of difficult to describe if you know what I mean: resembling more a fact than a proposition we cannot speak for it, our assistance is not needed. We do not like our silence. Not that Shiraishi's is an easy one, a sun-set over the ocean beauty leading to an epiphanic realization of the sublime. 'I assume, naturally, that her sparse paintings are involved in a search for the sublime. "No", she insists, "they are not. Searching for the Spiritual - yes. But somehow I didn't want to go into the sublime business at the same time. I realized this sublime thing was very foreign to me. Japanese people are quite superstitious but they are quite a down to earth nation."' ("Natural Selection" by Waldemar Januszczak. Yuko Shiraishi, Cantz, 1996) So the sort of beauty that Shiraishi wishes to engender is again, no not quite that which we'd presume (and certainly shoves Newman a little to one side) as it shrugs off an eschatological robe.

It takes nerve to be an abstract painter nowadays. Those who are, certainly here, have adopted certain stratagems and positions with which to validate their practice, allowing the work to variously settle into the contours of our various assumptions: be it those of an avant-garde nostalgic romanticism, or a dogged refusal to see the 'problem' or, alternatively, ironic re-articulation. Part of the interest in Shiraishi's work (outside the works themselves) is the way that it never finds a resting place within any particular reading, but operates between and across readings, ultimately requiring that they become the place from which another story starts. In (a) culture(s), both local and global, that's becoming increasingly diverse and polyvocal, this work - not quite autonomous, not quite uniquely determined - provides another focus, another point, from which to consider the abstract.