Kota Ezawa: The Curse of Dimensionality at Haines Gallery

[uds-billboard name=”ezawa”]Kota Ezawa’s seductive works uncannily draw his viewers into already familiar images, making the work about the act of looking, rather than just recognition. For The Curse of Dimensionality, Ezawa presents “light emitting” and “light absorbing” works in the form of Duratrans transparencies, a three-channel video, stereographs, color paper cutouts, and a pop-up book. Through these media and materials Ezawa considers the image in terms of dimensionality, as object and through the stereographic 3-D effect. Moreover, with a twofold process of representation (drawings and cut-out images based on existing photographs or films), Ezawa addresses the process of image production and our collective knowledge of mass media images.

Sourced from films, journalism, history, and art history, Ezawa’s simplification of  shape, value, and color move his imagery away from photographic renderings towards abstraction. Ezawa contrasts widely circulated mass media photographs, like those from the O.J. Simpson trial, to more obscure ones, like Bernd and Hilla Becher’s water towers. His stylized approach neutralizes the celebrity of the images themselves and the individuals being represented. Minus the verisimilitude of photographic detail and rendering, Ezawa’s works begin to separate the source images—of Zeng in front of the Hollywood sign or of Yosemite National Park—from their original narratives and contexts. Contrastingly, his work that references more obscure imagery primarily operates as a generalized narrative, while his titles return the imagery back to its original source.  For example, in his work Das Boot, without knowledge of the title or film, the image exists solely as a depiction of a ship. While playing with viewers’ knowledge of visually imagery, Ezawa also informs his viewers through titles to play with the way context constructs meaning.

Beyond a game of identification or misidentification, Ezawa is invested in the history and process of popular and fine art imagery to reflect the breadth of our visual lexicon. Ezawa’s exhibition provides a brief history of seminal artists—Ansel Adams, Edward Ruscha, the Bechers and William Eggelston – and images of historic or social relevance–images from Apollo 11, Woodstock, cable car stereographs, etc.—to reference the way pioneering photographers both contribute to our cultural narrative and have developed the photographic medium.

As a compliment to his investigation in the history of lens-based media, Ezawa has createed four stereoscopic viewers and accompanying cards. While stereoscopy (a popular novelty during the Victorian period) is now obsolete, recently 3-D films have made a resurgence, as the industry develops new growth markets and attempts to lure patrons back to theaters. Given that stereoscopy is now a medium of curiosity or play, to Ezawa’s credit, he has not fallen into its nostalgia. Rather than using prefabricated plastic or antique metal viewers, Ezawa has constructed plywood viewers with an artisan toy-like quality that design-minded parents might purchase for their children. While referencing the form of Victorian stereoscopy, his the aesthetically modern viewers compliment his high contrast illustration-like imagery, to move the work away from the antiquarian.

Rather redundantly, Ezawa includes some research and fabrication materials (e.g., books, paint, and paper) in his exhibition that do not operate as fully realized artworks–and which are incidentally excluded from the exhibition check list. Somewhat heavy handedly, Ezawa displays a copy of Conversations with Susan Sontag that informs the theoretical framework in his work. In addition, Ezawa presents UFO: Richard Brunswick Photo Collection on a display shelf.  While the UFO book, with its day-glow orange sticker announcing “300 Photos” is humorous and relates to the UFO imagery in the exhibition, it seems like a tangent to include the book itself.  In addition, Ezawa unnecessarily addresses his process and materials by including strips of colored paper along the floor and a small stack of used enamel paint cans.

While informed by complex issues of lens-based media and image production, Ezawa largely leaves the theory behind to create experiences that allow viewers to encounter the work on many levels. Moreover, Ezawa’s show nicely displays his range of interests and strategies that, while based on popular and art historical images, move beyond being a mere summary of our visual landscape.


Kota Ezawa: The Curse of Dimensionality is on view at Haines Gallery, San Francisco, January 5-February 18, 2012.

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