In our one-click-away Instagram age, there is so much pleasure to be had when artists and artworks demand good old-fashioned connoisseurship from viewers – when artists trade the pretensions of shock, awe and social-media likes for a quieter material presence. Koji Ryui excels in this category of engagement. Since relocating to Sydney, from his native Kyoto in 1992, Ryui has immersed himself in the study of Japanese ritual and culture, Shintoism and animism. In these belief systems, objects transcend their material properties and are alive with lifeforce and spirits. Drawing on these convictions, Ryui experiments with the poetic potential of found objects, imbuing them with distinct personalities and possibilities.
Ryui’s series A-Un (2016–17) features pairs of clay heads arranged on found chocks. Conceived as binaries, each work comprises an open-mouth figure, A, and a closed-mouth consort, Un. Some of these idol-like figures bear the dignity of Ancient Greek sculpture, while others are burdened with Quasimodolike faces torn apart and crudely remade. They are unique in finish, adornment and expression, containing allusions to art history, the Bible, Greek mythology and the workings of sculpture, sound and silence. By incorporating and combining these connotations, Ryui situates these figures halfway between the ethereal and the material: each seems to carry its own pull of curiosity and imagination, beckoning us to lean closer as it whispers its stories and secrets. As you spend more time in Ryui’s world, these satisfyingly ambiguous and open-ended associations begin to catch like tinder, sparking a rush in your imagination. This is the defining feature of Ryui’s practice. In an age of digital distractions, he reminds us of the need for a deeper and more spiritual kind of perception – one in which the imagination is an essential tool for understanding the world around us.
Koji Ryui lives and works in Sydney. His work was recently on show at the 21st Biennale of Sydney, SUPERPOSITION: Engagement and Equilibrium, curated by Mami Kataoka. He is represented by Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney
Micheal Do is a curator and writer based in Sydney. He recently curated Soft Core, a travelling exhibition for Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Sydney, and Not Niwe, Not Nieuw, Not Neu for 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney
From the Summer 2018 issue of ArtReview Asia, in association with K11 Art Foundation