Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Art review: Tokihiro Sato's Respiration at Dandeli

Wrote an art review for City Weekend...

The quantum physics principle of wave-particle duality allows light to be both a wave and a particle. In the hands of photographer Tokihiro Sato, however, it is unclear whether light is either; it verges on – it is tempting to think – something else altogether, stranger and more wonderful.

In Respiration, on display at Dandeli Art Space until Nov. 13, Sato deftly manipulates light to create prints that are occult without being mystifying, ghostly though safe, dazzling yet understated.

Paradoxes abide. Light gives life in our world, Sato gives life to light in his. They are contrasted against darkness – only three of the pictures in the Dandeli exhibit were taken during daylight – and personified as swimmers, wrigglers, dervishes and winkers. In one photo, filigrees of light cling to a Caterpillar bulldozer like moss on logs. In another, they stand erect on a staircase, possibly inside a condo, hundreds of them with tiny buttonhooks for heads as if kibitzing at a cocktail party. Amid backdrops that are barren and inanimate – a bridge, a building, a concrete culvert – Sato's light is bright and expressive, slivery in an abandoned, Lucite world, alone alive and extant.

But merely saying Sato's light has spirit, or soul, or sentience, doesn't give the creative process due credit. With a large camera strapped to a tripod, the artist works by aiming a pencil torch or flashlight at the lens, set on long exposures of up to three hours. In this way, he practices photography in the most literal sense, "writing with light." The artist, wearing black and constantly in motion, never appears in the final product, so the lights seem to shimmy and float, sometimes in impressive detail – large accretive dots with light erupting off the edges as if from a corona. In some prints, Sato employs a mirror, tracing air and measuring space. It is a long, repetitive and monotonous process, requiring the patience of a former sculptor (which Sato is) to pull off.

Importantly, looking at a Sato photo and all that it depicts – empty elevator shafts, foreboding basements, mist-covered seas and ghosts (sometimes people linger a bit too long in Sato's shots and appear in the final product as diaphanous outlines) – is neither morbid nor sad. It is a credit to the artist's immaculate technical ability that you see a wraith and think you're in lovely company, capable of being uplifted into another dimension where nothing – not even light – is constant.

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