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The Weekend Australian - Review - - VISUAL ARTS - Yoshi­hiro Suda, Rose (2004), Art Gallery of NSW. Pur­chased with funds pro­vided by Ge­off and Vicki Ainsworth, 2006. Kitty Hauser

In the won­der­ful 1946 film A Mat­ter of Life and Death by Michael Pow­ell and Emeric Press­burger, a ce­les­tial court meets to de­cide whether the film’s hero Peter Carter should die (as was sup­posed to have hap­pened af­ter he jumps from his Lan­caster bomber with­out a parachute) or whether he should live.

The de­fend­ing coun­sel ar­gues that since Peter has fallen in love dur­ing the brief pe­riod fol­low­ing his near-death ex­pe­ri­ence, he has to re­main on earth; and to prove the au­then­tic­ity of that love, he pro­duces as ev­i­dence a tear from Peter’s paramour, pre­served on a rose and frozen in time. Noth­ing in this ce­les­tial at­mos- phere, in­clud­ing this rose, is sub­ject to earthly de­cay, or ruf­fled by earthly breezes.

I was re­minded of that cin­e­matic bloom, look­ing at Yoshi­hiro Suda’s as­ton­ish­ing Rose on dis­play at the Art Gallery of NSW. Based in Tokyo, Suda carves ex­quis­ite flow­ers and fo­liage out of wood and, tak­ing in­fi­nite pains, paints them with life­like colour.

The re­sult is an un­canny sim­u­lacrum that (as critic Ron­ald Jones points out) de­mands not only to be looked at but to be scru­ti­nised; it seems more real than the real it­self. The flow­ers and plants made by Suda are of­ten in­serted into over­looked or un­usual spa­ces in a gallery, so there is a dou­ble sur­prise in en­coun­ter­ing them. First you marvel that they are there at all; you did not see the tiny weeds be­hind a ra­di­a­tor or be­side a door frame. Then you can hardly be­lieve they have been care­fully fash­ioned out of painted wood and painstak­ingly in­serted into the ar­chi­tec­ture. Who would bother? And why?

There has been a new wave of this sort of high-end tra­di­tional crafts­man­ship in con­tem­po­rary art, per­haps as a re­ac­tion to the trend to­wards the de­ma­te­ri­al­i­sa­tion of new me­dia and the sort of de-skilling that has been the re­sult of the pre­dom­i­nance of con­cep­tual art, among other things. Lon­don artist Su­san Col­lis, for in­stance, works in a vein that cre­ates sim­i­lar “dou- ble take” ef­fects: paint spat­ters on a pair of over­alls turn out, on close in­spec­tion, to have been em­broi­dered on; ap­par­ently aban­doned wall plugs are made of pre­cious stones, hold­ing screws made of hall­marked gold.

Such pieces pro­vide view­ers with a gen­uine “wow fac­tor”, mo­bil­is­ing the much-ma­ligned re­sponse of “look at the work that went into that!” At its best, this sort of work does some­thing else as well, and is us­ing the viewer’s amaze­ment as an at­trac­tant, the bet­ter to smug­gle in other ideas.

In Suda’s case, there’s the in­vo­ca­tion of an art his­tor­i­cal pedi­gree ex­tolling the won­ders of na­ture, es­pe­cially in his na­tive Ja­pan; in Syd­ney, Rose has been paired with Imao Keinen’s beau­ti­ful 19th-cen­tury wood­cuts of birds and flow­ers (do­nated to AGNSW in 2002). Suda is also in­ter­ested in the Ja­panese con­cept of ma, or the in­ter­val be­tween things, and in the value of slow­ing down per­cep­tion.

But there’s some­thing weirdly cin­e­matic go­ing on, too, mak­ing it hard to know what, ex­actly, is be­ing per­ceived. While fright­en­ingly re­al­is­tic in form, Rose is im­pos­si­bly frozen in time: the stem seems to be fall­ing, as though it had been let go from a hand in a mo­ment of fright, a sin­gle petal float­ing po­et­i­cally down­wards, yet nei­ther will ever reach the ground.

Wood painted with min­eral pig­ments, 30cm x 30cm x 20cm

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