Fractured Fauna

Shotgun Review

Fractured Fauna

By Monica Westin September 24, 2014

Misako Inaoka’s menagerie of upholstered animal sculptures, exquisite quasi-taxidermy, and delicate collage works is immediately alluring. It only becomes clear after spending time with the objects that their beguiling quality critiques our own desires for a benign version of nature, made safe and decorative for our aesthetic consumption. Even when not using the direct, visual language of taxidermy, the show evokes feelings of suspended animation and unnaturalness.  

The most striking work is a set of anthropomorphic, almost life-size animal sculptures covered in upholstery, sequins, and other heavily wrought textures. Depicting wildlife such as bears and deer, the figures bow or stand in graceful gestures, and the contrast between form and texture is visually interesting enough to delay a visitor’s reaction, just long enough to be seduced by their elegant design. Only after a double take does the curve of a neck connected to a form on the ground give rise to a quiet kind of horror: the animals are horribly disfigured, leaning beautifully against the gallery floors because they lack front legs, and oversized barnacles or smooth fabric stumps appear where their heads should be. The most disturbing are sculptural hybrids, like a headless bear teetering on piano legs, and uncanny kinetic sculptures, like an automaton bird struggling endlessly in the mouth of a carved wooden cat.   

Other work meditates more subtly on culturally mediated nature. Smaller sculptures refer to objects and displays typically found in natural history exhibits: a miniature domed vitrine covering a camel made of barnacles; a set of tiny, white shamanistic figures, half-animal and half-human. In collages, Inaoka plays endlessly with scale, using a single feather to suggest an animal body, and employs organic and geometric or biomorphic shapes. On the ceiling of Johansson Projects, Inaoka designed a permanent installation of moss. Beginning to yellow and peel, it suggests the role of the art gallery as a place of false authenticity—yet another site where what at first soothes soon turns to a generative uneasiness. 

Ultimately Fractured Fauna literalizes and offers the logical conclusion, delicately packaged, to the bromides of “organic design” or “inspired by nature” and takes on the relentless way that we see and treat living things as objects for solely aesthetic experience. That the show’s objects simultaneously appeal so powerfully to a sense of beauty is Inaoka’s great achievement. 

Fractured Fauna is on view at Johansson Projects, in

Oakland

, through October 18, 2014.

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