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Akiko Kotani: Soft Walls

The two works in this exhibit by Akiko Kotani show two sides of repetitive work and of madness

Reviewed by Seth Orion Schwaiger, Fri., Aug. 15, 2014

Exhibitionism

'Akiko Kotani: Soft Walls'

Women & Their Work, 1710 Lavaca
www.womenandtheirwork.org
Through Aug. 29

Soft Walls, an installation of two large blockish walls placed at obtuse angles, dominates this exhibit by Akiko Kotani and divides the Women & Their Work gallery into unequal halves. But the work has a more interesting quality than its architectural eccentricities; thick, crocheted white plastic covers the walls and slumps onto the floor, rendering the intimidating structures soft, inviting, almost sumptuous. Completing it took Kotani years of mind-numbing handwork sitting in her basement, and those hours, in combination with the technique and material (miles of white trash bags), clearly reference the often unthanked labor of the home, a theme reinforced by the name of the gallery in which it resides.

The invocation of yester-century's women's work, superimposed on padded walls, dredges up a long history of insanity projected onto females: from the antiquated hysteria, from the Greek word for uterus, to the recent "bitches be crazy," and, above all, gaslighting. The term, taken from the 1938 play Gas Light, entered the lexicon as shorthand for a pattern of sociopathic mental abuse in which the abuser gradually convinces the abused that she is insane. What's interesting is that the supposition that someone is insane, applied with enough consistent pressure, can actually cause insanity. Gaslighting traditionally refers to individual players acting on individual victims, but Kotani's walls reference a broader cultural gaslighting in which the expectation that women do "women's work" and that work's mindless repetitiveness is enough to drive any sane person into a padded room.

Kotani takes the ephemeral labor of the home (the dishes, the laundry, the cleaning) and compiles it into a visible whole, an environment in which similar labor can be viewed all at once instead of in the fleeting moments that we would normally recognize such tasks. Rendering it in an architectural form simultaneously acknowledges the necessity of such work (that it's as vital to a home as walls themselves) and its enormity, especially when it's unfairly expected of an individual.

Soft Walls is balanced by The Black Sea, an intricate, dot-matrixlike drawing that shows the more meditative side of repetitive work. Abstracted from the view out a miniature window in her cell-like temporary studio in Turkey, the drawing dissolves into barely representational forms, a series of dots and dashes that might be waves, perhaps a flock of birds, maybe continents on a map. The drawing strikingly conveys a sense of exactitude and data while remaining indecipherable.

Together, the works show two sides of madness. On the one hand, the walls present the artificial insanity produced by a broad cultural subjugation that underpins an outdated domestic functionality; on the other, the drawings represent the self-determined semi-voluntary madness of obsession, the madness of genius, a holy madness, or the madness of artists.

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