The sculptor and metal smith Suguru Hiraide is an artist of legendary aspect, and as a transplant from the Nagano prefecture in Japan to Wichita Falls, Texas he produces considered sculptural works that win the curiosity of the people instantly. Drawing inspiration from social and political critique and intermixing this with the influences of the material itself, he produces mechanical wonders that suggest the proliferation of a manufactured object but are purely the marriage of mature craft and artistic statement.
Blending cast aluminum with found objects, building structures with engineered and fabricated components, motors and neon one can immediately imagine that behind it all industrious workshops hum with energy. It may be a natural movement for the artist to switch from the metalworking classes alive with activity that he teaches by day to mechanical drawings and assembled components of his studio by evening. He has created a relational representation of social identity within our world by building his own models of the man-machine interface. This includes the repercussions of technology, and the human response to its effects.
During his exhibition, he could found tinkering with the mechanics of nearly anthropomorphic robots which behaved as lively business OPEN signs. A classic plumbing chain switch activated the face of them, filling the room with the hard bright light of neon. These signs of active business were mounted conceptually on a vehicle of dynamic motion, in two distinct forms. Both delivered a message about perseverance, and were triggered by human interaction through the use of motion-activated switches. One of the signs, resting on a stout constructed base, leapt into jagged motion sliding side to side, and by the inherent flexibility of its post shaking the sign violently. The piece explains the necessity of a community carrying on after an earthquake, opened for business despite the tremors. The other OPEN sign when triggered had a more steady motion but delivered its surprise in the sharp clack of ball bearings orbiting the word as a moving, industrial frame. The polished steel balls referred to earlier works by Hiraide that employed the mechanical-social phenomenon of the pachinko machine. The pachinko machine is a complicated convolution of Japanese post-war public technology, mechanical ornamentation, and the sense-disorienting complexity of a gambling parlor’s floor.
Another piece combined the signature architectural features of the Shinto and the Buddhist shrine, creating a relational wall-mounted wheel out of a duplicity in Japanese religious life. The craftsmanship is fine and approachable, buffed aluminum components elegantly fused into a futuristic zero-gravity pod of religious commentary. The working doors of the Buddhist half open to reveal a cast Kewpie doll installed as the central object. The doll with its signature pointed pinhead skull is instantly recognizable among aficionados of Japanese home cooking, as it is the mascot of the most popular mayonnaise in that country. Mayonnaise and its visual representative is a distilled and perfect symbol for the sculptor of cultural confluence between our two cultures. Mayonnaise is foreign and yet universally embraced, like the Buddhist religion, and he invites the viewer of his composite shrine to consider the subtleties of his artistic construction. The other half of the wall mounted sculpture, which one can reach out and physically turn upright, has fabricated versions of sliding screen doors – inside the Shinto shrine a single ball bearing is installed, the essential component at once an oyster pearl and a mechanically perfect sphere, and so a reflection of the elemental role of nature that is signature in Shinto. Simultaneously the elemental role of the bearing in the inner workings of industry, such as the assembly line in a mayonnaise factory, and the person working one pachinko machine among many in a city’s night life play with the symbolic inter-layering of a collective national psyche.
The July 2011 exhibition was a mixture of overt social critique, such as the Oil States series that used discarded trophy plaques bearing that inscription with precarious balancing components, large veterinarian syringes and cast pig figurines, the subtle admixture of his Shrine piece, and the community challenges described in his Open for Business signs. Among these it was his most conceptual piece that drew the most surprise when the artist explained his motivation. An acrylic machine consisting of a wall-mounted opaque cube concealing pump apparatus that pushed red fluids through clear loops of vinyl tubing in steady beats that simulated blood flowing through a robotic heart. The device conceptualized the heroic tale of one gas station attendant, and was executed shortly after the continuing impact of the sudden tsunami that led to the devastation of communities in Japan and most notably the world-alarming crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The piece, modest in its immediate aspect was built during incredible, world-instructing visual examples of bravery and community ethic, including civic response to rescuing survivors among the most dangerous, technically difficult and total of debris fields, and the historic photographs of utility executives delivering statements while shedding tears of responsibility during a press release, or bowing in apology in the humbling setting of refugee housing. Hiraide selected among these stories the tale of a gas station owner who learned during the total evacuation of his neighborhood that people were trapped and could not escape after the gasoline supplies had either been exhausted or polluted by seawater. Selflessly taking the back of the evacuation line, he inspected the storage tanks at his station and found the fuel in perfect condition. Without electricity to operate the fuel pumps, he returned home to collect an antique water-well hand pump, and for several days proceeded to hand deliver the vital gasoline needed to evacuate his neighbors.
Overall, through his own craftsmanship and the subject matter he selects, his works are a tale of human industry, and the collision of individual life and contributing forces beyond the individual. Whether it is nature, economy, or culture, he shows the public that art can produce responses to these collisions that are considered, and shows that face of creativity which draws great order, intrigue and even human nobility from what may otherwise be the overlooked and chaotic impressions of circumstance.