Hiraki Sawa Pushes the Everyday World Out

Hiraki Sawa, flown (installation view), 2022. © Hiraki Sawa. Courtesy Parafin, London. Photo: Peter Mallet.

flown at Parafin, London stages interior and domestic spaces as metaphors for imagination – and a response to a perpetuity under threat

Homes accrete memories. So the story of Hiraki Sawa’s eviction from a studio he’d long held in London’s arty but gentrifying East End makes a poignant backstory for work by an artist who has been dedicated to staging interior and domestic space as metaphors for interiority and imagination. It’s also, in this case, a literal backdrop; several years of Sawa’s intricate, surreal animations are shown on little screens, tucked onto various shelves and nooks of the three jerry-built, shed-like rooms installed in the gallery, each one full of different accumulations of junk, studio kit, books and other oddball paraphernalia.

flown (installation view), 2022. © Hiraki Sawa. Courtesy Parafin, London. Photo: Peter Mallet. 

It’s a neat gesture, since Sawa’s meticulous animations are always about pushing the everyday world out, its mundane temporality and its prosaic objects warped by Sawa’s quirky, diminutive acts of displacement and fantasy. The tiny jetliners of Sawa’s early gem Dwelling (2002) quietly take off, cruise gently through the halls and land on the cheap carpets of the modest apartment that looms around them. In Elsewhere (2003) objects grow legs and wander around – a teapot gets up off the stove, a soap strides around the edge of a sink. What raises Sawa’s little worlds to something more than whimsy is the attention to tone and atmosphere – a sense of distanced observation and perplexity that is intimately bound up with the nature of their technique. Sawa’s stop-motion photo-collages are antique forms, untouched by CGI slickness, and many are presented on little LCD screens mounted in small wooden cabinets, as if harking back to the pre-cinematic age of zoetropes and magic lanterns.

/ home (video still), 2017-21, single channel video (colour, stereo sound). Duration 9’24” © Hiraki Sawa 2022. Courtesy Parafin, London.

What this performs is moving-image time becoming a sort of material thing, something alluded to in the various images of cogs and clock mechanisms found in the more recent Platter (2018), a video diptych in which opulent interiors of an old-fashioned doll’s house are contrasted with an arid, rocky landscape through which sphere-headed quadrupeds roam. Time-becoming-stuff is spelt out in the series of drawings on black paper of metronomes behind thickets of crisscrossed lines, or of a vintage gramophone playing records, from which sound is registered as a cloud of record-like discs. Anchoring the transience of memory and place in the material of drawing and animation might be Sawa’s ongoing project; the loss of place – both studio eviction and the earlier departure of his parents from his childhood home in Japan – haunts the back-to-back projection of /home and /home (absent rooms) (both 2017–21). On one side, the jetliners have returned to an empty home. The other is a facsimile of its twin, but for the absence of the aircrafts, only faintly heard from the other projection. Sawa might have had to move on, but his self-sufficient, mechanical worlds are hymns to perpetuity.

flown at Parafin, London, through 10 September

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