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Artist of the Day | Koji Ryui


Tip of the tongue


Glass, PVA, sand, white clay, oxide, enamel, found objects (shell, fluff), light fixtures, MDF, acrylic paint 50 13/16 x 43 5/16 x 15 3/4 inches


Best known for his intricate contemporary art installations using found objects, Japanese artist Koji Ryui's practice is preoccupied with the undiscovered potential in ordinary things. His artworks recontextualise their contents, shifting the viewers' perspective of objects' formal or even sonic qualities.

In the tradition of artists such as Fischli and Weiss, and aligned with contemporaries such as Hany Armanious and Kate Newby, Ryui turns simple items such as the humble clothes-drying rack into investigations of materiality. Often these transformations occur by placing two or more everyday objects in conversation with each other, such as the tinsel and wire of Smiley face (2014), or the filler, found stool and concrete of Mother (2014). In Cloud 2 (2014), a block of dirty polystyrene balances precariously on a section of a rack. With this simple gesture, the artist takes two pieces of junk and transforms them into an exploration of weight and weightlessness.

In Jamais Vu (2018), Ryui's site-specific installation presented on Cockatoo Island for the 21st Biennale of Sydney in 2018, the artist laid out what could be a constellation of the universe made from poly-coated wire and found spherical objects. This cosmic map was suspended from the ceiling across the entire space, while beneath, found glass vessels of various shapes sat on a large, low plinth. During the exhibition, Ryui also teamed up with musician Anna John for a sound performance within his installation.

Ryui's transformation of found items is most evident in his 'Have a Nice Day' (2013-14) series. In these works, Ryui focuses on the plastic shopping bags with a smiley-face printed on them, found at many stores across the world. He distorts the bag's smile by filling it with a cylinder of clay, giving the face a new range of emotions. Often presented in pairs, these faces inspire a sense of pathos in the viewer, especially when, for example, the figures bury their faces in the sand, peer precariously over the edge of the plinth on which they're perched, or find their head stuck in a wine glass. In these gestures, the viewer is pushed to project a new humanity onto the junk that populates their lives.

In his 'A-Un' (2016–17) series of sculptures, Ryui pushes the figurative element in his artwork even further, creating small busts out of unfired and bisque-fired clay. The busts rest on gypsum cement plinths attached to the walls. The plinths have been moulded in shapes reminiscent of polystyrene packaging, referencing the readymade elements present across other facets of his practice. While sculptural busts as a traditional form are generally valued as realistic and regal, the scale, materiality and often comical expressions of these busts reshape the form with the playful approach that defines much of the artist's practice.

Ryui lives and works in Sydney.

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