Toyoko Katsumata has been working as an artist for 40 years, progressing steadily on the theme of the human body. As we frequently observe in work of a mature artist, almost regardless of the thematic intent of the path they choose, revelations about the personal perspectives and inner workings become infused and apparent. In the case of this artist, we have a statement of working towards pure abstraction, but the viewer may well find a great deal more to consider when they view her work. Originally starting out as a figurative sculptor, her early work involved limbs and sections of the human body significantly enlarged in metal constructions. Eventually she found that large scale sculptures were too limiting, and fully embraced the concept of confinement, working to isolate and draw attention to the body in unique ways. In 1994 she began taking close up of sections of her own body, to create large format photographs that defied positive identification as to what part of the body they belonged. The photographs serve as centerpieces to three dimensional sculptures and installations that further explore the confinement of the figure in her work.
The close up images, enlarged to produce vague fields and folds of skin, and the frequently metal structures that interact with them are all designed to draw interest and unsettle the viewers’ certainty. In this way the body is reduced to individual forms that are deconstructed. Viewing her works, it is very difficult not to make the assumption that the work suggests something of imprisonment, nullification, or the human form seen through the lens of a minimal laboratory. Despite the disorientation the pronounced and incoherent photographs of skin produce, they become something of a comfort when placed in interaction with utilitarian metal structural elements, which evoke a sensation of lonesome sparseness from the room in which they are placed. The artist also uses color explicitly to refer to focal elements relating to the body with as much detached abstraction as the structures she builds: red light referring to tissue, flesh tone painted panels referring to the color of skin, and blackened steel in stark and rectangular planes used to define, reinforce, and call attention to the confinement.
Katsumata makes it expressly clear that the work is oriented towards abstraction, containing no symbolic statement about the condition of the body or its occupant. Nevertheless it is difficult not to consider that in the process of abstracting the body, the concept of confinement has arisen spontaneously to overtake a simple naturalistic observation of the human figure. Further, the metaphors for confinement do seem to take on the darker psychological associations of the term.
One piece in her series Drift displays three simple steel tables which are lined up, calling to mind the slabs of a mortuary. One table is smeared heavily with grease, another encrusted with an earthen material from which a human face floats in a solitary manner, as though surfacing from another dimension, while the middle table is one of her photographs. Adding to the effect is a pink colored light-box mounted on a wall, in aspect entirely utilitarian. Another piece in the series presents a large photograph centered before a broad and shining black steel platform. Beside the image a stark red counter adds an industrial feeling, while the facing wall is decorated with plastic sheeting and vials of blood calling to mind a clinical, antiseptic environment. Her series The Confined Present framed the close photographic studies in an even more literal sense, with solitary videos and images behind prison bars, large black metal containers, fences and cages for ferocious creatures from a centuries-old zoo. When she encounters a space that is not suited to the preparation of metal enclosures and elements, she finds other ways to further her journey into abstraction. In an untitled installation presented at LA Artcore in 1999, the close-up image held its central position before a room filled with a grid of gallon bags containing clear water, perhaps referring to the physical presence of the body’s primary compositional element. In each bag, a flesh-colored resin casting of a human finger rests languidly, a recurring serial element in her work.
In her exhibitions with LA Artcore over the years, in 2003, 2005 and 2008, we have been able to observe the progress of this artist, and the October 2011 installation is no exception. Over time we have seen the components and the instruments of their confinement surfacing as self-portraits that reveal the artist as her full self, now in an abandoned structure or urban night scene, strongly suggesting the artist has stepped into full view of her own creative lens.
In a number of ways the current installation at LA Artcore represents a new division in her evolving work. We are presented with a table surface that at close inspection reveals a field composed of the complicated whorls of her own thumb. Mounted images reveal a portrait, albeit of the back of her own head, and a projection of her eye subtly moving while at rest completes an installation that seems to return us to a more recognizable physical place. Her resin fingers and blood vials have been placed in assemblage pieces, which viewed against her lifelong body of work seem comparatively to be at rest from their role as room-shaping elements. Throughout the artist has the energy and enthusiasm of a sculptor, as when asked why the fingerprint drawing under glass she displayed as a table was executed in red ink, she laughs with delight and announces, “Blood!”