- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2003

”’Will you walk into my parlour?’ said a spider to a fly: ”Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy.’”

The spider in children’s writer Mary Howitt’s verse meant, of course, “Come into my web, so I can eat you.” Local artist Yuriko Yamaguchi likens “Web 5,” her new site-specific sculpture at the Numark Gallery, to Miss Howitt’s spider-made one — although the artist’s intentions are more benign.

“Web 5,” which Ms. Yamaguchi sees as a metaphor for the entangling web of life, is an exciting, radical departure for the well-known local artist, who shows in major galleries and museums across the United States as well as in her native Japan.

Over the past 10 years, she has obsessively produced rows of visionary, charged objects — stylized human organs, plant seeds, animal eggs, leaves from trees — to evoke life’s changes and mutabilities for her “Metamorphosis” series. With four objects in each of a series of regular horizontal or vertical rows, she aimed to make 108 units. (The number 108 is a magical one in Japan, as bells ring out 108 times at New Year’s.) She hopes to finish the project this year. In both the “Metamorphosis” and “Web” pieces, she aims to show humankind consumed with pursuing pleasure and rejecting what she believes is inevitable sorrow.

“Web 5” is wilder, less ordered than the “Metamorphosis” sculptures. It begins with a quivering network of abaca, or hemp, fiber pods and steel wires that fill an 8-foot-tall-by-7-foot-wide circular form. It then rushes in a 21-foot-long funnel back to a large hole in a free-standing gallery wall. The sculptor throws what seem to be thousands of molded fiber pods through, under and over the wire-formed “web.” Ms. Yamaguchi sees her pods, caught up by wires and suspended in air, as a spider’s prey or victims — metaphors for being caught up in the restless striving of life.

Carefully hung on thin metal wires that she configured into the funnel shape to fit the gallery’s space, the fiber pods are infused with a bursting, electric energy. They appear to grow, then transform, and finally destroy themselves. Ms. Yamaguchi’s “Web” series first took shape when she made an object resembling a seedpod for a “Metamorphosis” construction.

She was experimenting with materials — paper, fiber, plastic, wire, string and wax — other than her usual wood to make objects that appeared to come from nature. Ms. Yamaguchi made the seedpod by taking abaca fiber and molding it into little eggs. The sculptor then wrapped each in wet flax paper pulp. She next discovered that, when hung from strands of thin wire, they looked like papery pods ready to drop from dried stems of autumnal wildflowers.

She also saw that unexpected changes occurred in the pods’ texture and color. Ms. Yamaguchi says they became hard as stone in the two days it took to dry them. As the flax paper dried, color also unexpectedly changed, from an eggshell white to yellow, dark brown and black.

The artist found that the hanging pods mirrored her own feelings of involuntary floating. “The state of being suspended reminds me of how often I feel that way about myself,” she says. “I feel as though I’m always in a state of flux in our fast-paced, changing world.”

Ms. Yamaguchi extends the idea to all human beings. She believes humans, whom she views as constantly scurrying around fulfilling goals and satisfying desires, are easily immobilized in the “web of life.”

The sculptor first began suspending wire-hung pods in her 1999 “Metamorphosis” exhibit at Numark, her last previous show in Washington. In addition to mounting works on the walls, Ms. Yamaguchi had to fill a small, triangular space in one section of the gallery. She says she suspended pods from the ceiling to meet the challenge of the difficult space.

Although then awkward and unresolved in many ways, the installation set her on the path now culminating in “Web 5.” The sculptor created her early “Webs” to fit spaces as different as the small LeRoy Neiman Gallery of Columbia University in New York and the enormous Suyama Space in Seattle. Because Ms. Yamaguchi doesn’t work with a solid armature, or support, she can expand or shrink the “Webs” to fit many spaces.

To make “Web 5” more of a living organism, Ms. Yamaguchi wanted to include the sound of beating hearts. At first, she planned to insert a small computer chip sound sensor to send out simulated heartbeats from each pod. It proved too expensive. As a substitute, she prerecorded heartbeats onto a CD and played them on a subwoofer to give these sensations. The gallery is trying to get the sound system working.

Believing that light and shadow are crucial to creating changing, living structures, the artist says she illuminated “Web 5” with both spot and floodlighting. Ms. Yamaguchi planned a light within “Core,” a smaller “web” in Numark’s back gallery. She gave it a more rounded shape and hung it from the ceiling. The other, wall-hung “Webs,” with names like “Propulsion” and “Arrival,” show different stages in developing, living organisms.

The artist admits that most people crave stability and fear change, surprises and uncertainty. “Still, change may be the one constant in our lives,” she observes. “We better get used to it.”

WHAT: “Yuriko Yamaguchi: Web 5”

WHERE: Numark Gallery, 406 Seventh St. NW

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday through June 14


PHONE: 202/628-3810

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