The delicacy of memory, and the eternal flow of time

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Flower Field (detail), 2008, Mayumi Amada

acrylic tubing, blue LED, wire, steel rods, washers

image courtesy of the artist

For the last several months the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ galleries dedicated to modern, Minnesotan art have been filled from floor to ceiling with “Foot in the Door 4,” an open invitational for work that is no greater than a square foot in size. Since the MIA received close to 5,000 submissions, the galleries felt a bit like a rummage sale, with so many shiny objects to attract the eye.

Fast forward to the present, and those same galleries now feel light and airy by comparison. Where paintings and photographs were once squeezed in like cars on a Los Angeles freeway, now hang simple transparent bouquets in one room and precious, monochromatic fabric boxes in the next.

Welcome to the artistic visions of Mayumi Amada and Eun-Kyung Suh.

The two artists are the latest chosen for the MIA’s Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program. They each were given their own room to fill with work, and moving from one room to the next one notices how many similarities they have between them. Their work floats, there is a deep sense of life’s ephemeral nature, and both seem to take a broad view to our place in space and time. MAEP Coordinator Christopher Atkins says he’s as interested in their differences as much as their similarities.

They both create very light and delicate work, but in the case of Amada, her materials are re-purposed and recycled; egg shell cartons and pop bottles are transformed into bouquets or fields of flowers.

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Bouquets from Grandmas (detail), 2010, Mayumi Amada

plastic egg cartons, aluminum sheet

Amada’s exhibition, titled “Kuon: Eternal Flow of Time” is a meditation on impermanence. One piece, an oversized doily, is cut with the words “OUR LIFE ON EARTH: A BLIP IN ETERNITY.” As you walk into the gallery, you find yourself between two mirrors, placing you in the middle of what feels like infinite space. Atkins says Amada uses things we might typically view as trash to create works of beauty.

She’s looking at our “blip in eternity” – but I don’t think she’s cynical about it, dour or morose, it’s inevitable. Her use of materials for me show an interest in reincarnation – how things today may be transformed into something more beautiful tomorrow.

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Yellow- (detail), 2010, Eun-Kyung Suh

silk organza, thread

Eun-Kyung Suh’s exhibition, titled “The Voided” contrasts that of Amada’s with its bright, primary colors, but is equally minimal. Three walls in Suh’s gallery are covered with three series of fabric boxes, Red, Blue and Yellow, respectively. The boxes are inspired by traditional Korean wrapping cloths called bojagi, used to protect, store and carry personal posessions. By peering through windows in Suh’s bojagi, viewers can see photographs of her friends and relatives transferred on to the cloth inside.

Several of the pieces in Suh’s gallery deal with the recent death of her father, and almost seem to give physical form to fading memories. Atkins points to two pieces -”Black” and “White” – in which Suh stitched pieces of her daughter’s clothing and her father’s neckties into silk organza. There is a sense of the immense effort and time she spent hand-stitching these works together.

There’s a vulnerability in her work, putting this information out there. It’s quite personal but where some artists make it all personal, with Suh’s work there’s more to take away than just her personal narrative.

Both Suh and Amada manage to take us out of ourselves, and to consider such ideas as life and death and the passage of time. But while Amada’s perspective on our mortality is detached and relatively lighthearted, Suh’s work conveys the deep and profound loss felt by someone left behind.

“The Voided” and “Kuon: Eternal Flow of Time” are on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts through September 26.

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