“Noriko Ambe, Lora Reynolds Gallery”
ART LIES Spring edition. 2010
For her ongoing Artist Books, Linear-Actions Cutting Project, Noriko Ambe selected and carved into artist monographs ranging from modern masters such as Giacometti, Lichtenstein and Twombly to contemporary art stars like Jeff Koons and John Currin. In most cases, Ambe opened the book and began carving concentric shapes into sequential pages, each successive cut edging out a millimeter at most from the preceding one. In parts, Ambe stopped cutting at certain pages, allowing brief flashes of the underlying images to show, as in her alteration of Richard Prince’s Spiritual America. The book itself opens to Prince’s photograph of a mesa at sunset, but a flash of one of his Nurse paintings peeks out amid star-shaped cutouts.
In her cutting, Ambe entered into an intense and individual engagement with images of other artists’ work. Turning each page, selecting where she would open the book, then cutting into each individual leaf and deciding what to keep and what to throw away, she must have spent hours looking at the work of these artists. Ambe’s earlier works, which use a similar process on white paper, appear more topographic than the works on display at Lora Reynolds. In the early works the cuttings become hills, valleys and canyons. In the Artist Books project a sense of erosion remains, but Ambe’s three-dimensional mark-making process, laid over the individual style of other artists, makes her hand more apparent. The Artist Books works do not appear as unified objects in the same way as Ambe’s other works, such as a series in which the layering of several sets of cuts brings out details that would not otherwise be apparent, thus becoming several things at once.
Ambe’s work is not an attempt to deface the artists whose monographs she uses—both the artist and the exhibition catalogue essayist, Lilly Wei, emphasize that Ambe’s cutting process is an attempt to set up an intimate connection between Ambe and the original artist. I don’t think it’s that simple. To be sure, Ambe clearly chose her cuts in sympathy with each artist: the shapes cut into Prince’s work, for example, are childishly rendered stars reminiscent of a gritty pop sensibility that feels appropriate. But in most cases, Ambe almost completely excised the images on the opened pages. Moreover, by framing the book at a certain point, Ambe hides much more than she reveals. Held static by glass pane and frame, viewers cannot mimic Ambe’s intricate and time-consuming process by looking at the work on the gallery wall. Intimate though Ambe’s connection to the work may be, it is an intimacy into which the viewer can’t enter. The viewer only has a sense of the pages underneath.
This totally changes the experiential act of reading a book or, rather, looking through a book of images. It’s a funny sort of transition, from work originally displayed in gallery spaces, copied and interpreted in monographs, and then re-interpreted and re-placed in the gallery. It’s interesting to consider what connections to the original artist remain. Yet, I think at this point the work is all Ambe’s.