Living in a major city like Chicago, I seldom travel outside the city limits to visit an art gallery. But the recent exhibition “I saw the light was on” by Mie Kongo, was a “must do” trip. Kongo’s work is currently on view at Heuser Art Center at Bradley University, Peoria, where the sizable space with exceptional natural light provides the perfect atmosphere for the subtle and playful artworks.
Mie Kongo works predominantly in clay. She is one of the rare ceramic-based artists who successfully interprets clay into the contemporary fine arts arena. She combines ceramics with drawings to create installations that border between mathematical and playful. In her recent exhibition she carefully highlights these disparate qualities through the minimal yet complex arrangement of the gallery space. With small floor and wall objects, Kongo fills the space until it feels like it is full to bursting. Yet, it’s her ability to use the space between the objects that holds the volume. Using the light and air to turn the works on, she allows each piece the breadth in order to make a strong statement in a quiet and whimsical manner. With a clear sense of precision, Kongo loops the space together, creating an unbounded exhibition with overlaps of tension, release, balance and rhythm.
Play is a major component to the work. With a to and fro between the concept of play as a process of action and reaction, that embraces randomness and spontaneity. Together with play as a more serious activity that involves rules that hold absolutely, logical thinking and reasoning. The drawing “untitled” of a circle turning into a straight line or vice versa, is a simple and clever expression of rhythm and pattern creating movement characterized by the experience of play. Or, in the work “No destination”, which is on the borderline between the action of playful and a profoundly serious activity. The ceramic objects are randomly placed on wool felt reminiscent of a scroll unfurling. Yet each object has been carefully and intricately formed using an accurate mathematical printing process. This duality is common throughout Kongo’s works, where the atmosphere holds the freedom, intuition and spontaneity of play, but always acting under the rules, order and precision of a game.
“Meeting you unexpectedly” takes the notion of play to the circus, where the shapes and colors bring parallels to juggling toys. There is a strong urge to take the works from the wall throw them into the air to catch on a long string before throwing them spinning into the air again. In one moment the viewer is tempted into playing, while at the same time, because of its materiality and composition, is content to leave the works at peace, happily observing from a distance. This border, or no-man-land, in Kongo’s work is where the power and intrigue lie. Where in one instant the viewer is trying to figure the rule to the game while being careful not to disturb any of the artwork…