Field of Study
Astroturf, Plywood, School Desks
Southern Exposure, San Francisco
At once nostalgic, whimsical and threatening, Toshi Onuki’s sculptures redefine our comfortable opinions about scale and perception. On display at Southern Exposure alongside paintings by David Morrow and Stas Orlovsk, the works also trigger memory, elicit forgotten feelings, and trickle our sense of delight.
The four pieces that comprise “Field f Study” are built of school desk chairs. The chairs’ desktops have been greatly exaggerated—so much that the writing surface, covered in a broad acreage of astro-turf, becomes the object of weight, while the chairs themselves pitch helplessly forward on their noses. The effect, achieved with such simple materials, is one of dream or fantasy, an “Alice in Wonderland”-like acquaintance with a formally familiar object.
Onuki’s cartoon-like desks reawaken memories of school days and a forgotten sense of helplessness, sleeplessness, or inferiority. We can imagine—many of us were—the students at the desk, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, dreaming of lush, green lawns on which to tumble. Simultaneously comical and frightening, “Field of Study” calls up the sounds, smells and textures of the classroom, but transforms them into a phantasm of tyrannical furniture.
About the only thing that can be said against the exhibit is that the timing is a little off. Onuki’s work somehow seem less compelling when viewed in April, a season when school is neither getting out nor just commencing—classroom’s tyranny being most oppressive just before or after summer. The gallery and the artist could have iced their cake by presenting the works in September, when the light is waning, and the feeling of fall is in the air.
Yet such a quibble is trivial. The installation works and works well, a complex metaphor for entrapment, escape, dreams and nightmares, all lifted from classroom, each part of a complex dialog emanating from this simple work. The schoolroom, while it must have inspired Onuki for this particular piece, evidently taught him something, too.
Text by Colin Berry