Kelly Akashi

Profile of 2016 Future Great artist, selected by Andrew Berardini

By Andrew Berardini

Kelly Akashi, sslml or 5 breaths piercing a wall, 2015, blown glass. Photo: Zack Balber. Courtesy the artist and Michael Jon Gallery, Miami & Detroit

Sculptures are bodies. Objects inscribed with a human stain, often shaped by hands and existing in space, their generally inanimate tangibility a thing to measure our soft tissues against, their time moving at different speeds than the squelch and splurt of our soft-tissue corpora. Sculptures are Frankenstein’s monster, Pygmalion’s dreamgirl, leftovers from one of a hundred gods who breathed life into clay to make humans. In her curved undulating glass and bronze, the fleshy fragility of her wax, both cold and candled to melt, the coiled knots like hair braids, Kelly Akashi makes bodies. These forms are not Pygmalion’s cleanest ivory but rather contain the gross magic of viscera, made of materials that attract rather than repel. Akashi’s wax candles and structures tentacle out with slippery skins and sweat when heated. Sea creatures from Rubens’s nightmares, sinister fingers from some otherworldly garden of earthly delights.

When Kelly frames her visceral objects in the display of a freestanding wall, it is only a tease of containment: the walls punched with holes look splooged with spacey paint, they rest, fallen, on pillows. When her sculptures arc and hang in rooms, they fill their containers like viscous liquid. Her series of chandeliers might, unlit, look self-contained, but when alight they leak like ruptured flesh often onto pillows placed beneath to capture the splatter and the chance beauty that comes with hot wax and gravity, or they drip into ritual patterns directly onto the floor, leftovers from some strange mass, black or otherwise. The human hand, the artist’s hand, often gets cited by writers and theorists on art, its disappearance or appearance in any given work an excuse for ideology, and in Kelly’s work her hand literally appears, cast in wax, again and again, resting on a half-globe of melted candle, suggestively fingering a glass container. So much of sculpture may be shaped by fingers, but the glass works by Kelly Akashi are shaped by breath. In Five Breaths Piercing a Wall, 2015, each marbled, candied blown glasswork, shaped by a wet gust of the artist’s breath made form, breaks the solidity of architecture. Poking out and through the wall, their slick skin invites a toke. Though static beyond breezes and drips, these objects carry the vivid physicality of their maker in a tension of sensual allure and corporeal repulsion. 

This article was first published in the January & February 2016 issue of ArtReview.