Hus Gallery is pleased to announce a new site-specific exhibition by Virgile Ittah and Kai Yoda. For this show, Walking on the beach imitating sand, Ittah and Yoda have transformed the gallery into an immersive and sensory environment. In their second full-scale collaboration together, the artists continue to explore notions of identity, isolation and nostalgia in relation to their shared experiences of otherness born from their respective identities as migrant nationals. Ittah was born in France and is of Jewish North African descent – both her father and grandmother were born in Morocco – while Yoda was born in Tokyo to a Japanese father and a Swedish mother. Ittah and Yoda’s parallel histories of social and geographical migration have resulted in a mutual understanding of constant flux, an awareness of partial empathy with different national and cultural identities without a positive claim to any side. In this absence, Walking on the beach imitating sand is their creation of a new homeland – one that can be packaged and transported because it is a mood and an atmosphere rather than a physical local. Together, the artists confront the impossibility of returning to a native land by creating an environment that does not require a shared language or culture: their “homeland” adapts to the individual narratives and experiences of whoever chooses to visit.
Walking on the beach imitating sand is a participatory experience; visitors are encouraged to move freely throughout the installation, walking inbetween and through the objects on display. Upon entering the gallery space, viewers are greeted by a softly ebbing wall of fluorescent lights. Muted by layers of thin gauze, the light installation echoes the ambient light of sunrise or sunset. Hiding behind a layer of fabric is Ittah’s impressive sculpture of a standing figure made of wax, pigment and marble dust. Painstakingly moulded by hand and built true to size, this figure is the physical representation of Ittah’s psychological enquiry into the consequences of a floating identity. The material choices Ittah makes and the processes she selects are critical to the intended reading of the work; the physical body is merely a medium through which to convey the subject’s emotion and state of being. In this case it is a state of temporality due to the impermanence of the setting in which the figure finds himself. Surrounded by iridescent islands built of coloured sand and silicone, the sculpture is without stable ground. Yoda’s large mobile balance-scale hangs from the ceiling, swaying and bobbing as visitors move around underneath. At the back of the room is a pair of half-figurative, half-abstract sculptures made of flourescent yellow and black wax with marble dust. It is a landscape in motion, in evolution.
Intensely informed by the outside perspective on cultural definition, Ittah’s core practice is rooted in the repeated appropriation and manipulated idolization of Greco-Roman sculpture, from the Neoclassical period to today. Her primary focus is the problematic definition of white marble as a symbol of purity indoctrinated by the ideals of Western art history. Thus, creating works that have a sense of permanence and weight to them, such as the standing figure, is tantamount to confronting these issues. Yoda approaches this issue from a more abstracted and fluid angle, focusing instead on creating sculptural works in which motion is a defining property. The suspended mobile is a perfect example of his interest in creating quietly reactive objects. Composed of two large cylindrical cones made of a fleshy coloured silicone, the objects are hung at unequal levels by a single piece of rope. This kinetic sculpture moves freely with air movement or with direct contact, a marker of the artist’s struggle to feel anchored. As with Ittah’s sculptures, Yoda’s work has the intriguing contrast between the natural material of the silicone and the mechanical quality of the rope and system of suspension. This unequal balance-scale reads as a self-portrait of the artist, a symbol of his fractured identity that evolves and changes with varying social and cultural influences.
For both Ittah and Yoda, visitor interaction is crucial. The materials used to construct the sculptural elements in the installation were carefully selected for their ability to provoke a subjective experience in the viewer. Memory and personal narratives come alive when moving through this watery, dream-like atmosphere, and are a necessary component to immersing oneself in the work. In this installation, the artists have succeeded in carving out an alternative space where a state of alterity is legitimated and celebrated.