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March 15, 2019
Art Picks

Gyöngy Laky & Meech Miyagi

By Victoria Dalkey, Sacramento Bee Art Correspondent

Gyöngy Laky's "It's Complicated" is made of dark, spiky locust prunings and insect specimen pins
Opening the door to a show of wood sculptures by Gyöngy Laky and Meech Miyagi at b. sakata garo, my first reaction was: “Oh, Wow! How did they do that?” Laky’s screaming red “Ex Claim,” a giant exclamation point made of commercial wood, acrylic paint, G.I. Joes, and “bullets for building,” drew me in. A puzzle-like Pop Art punctuation mark assembled from myriad small pieces of wood, precise trim screws, and tiny, almost invisible, red plastic G.I. Joe toys, it called up for me associations with advertising art, architecture, blood, warfare, secret missions and “Where’s Waldo.”

In contrast, Miyagi’s mysterious “Desperate for Recognition 12,13,” is a ghostly white sculpture of skeletal, twig-like, paper-wrapped sticks held together with thin copper wire. It rises up in the center of the room like an elegant sea creature, a surreal sentinel of sorts. It made me think of fossilized sea grass, a volcanic eruption of ashy tendrils or a network of nerves inside the body.

Though these works differ in appearance and effect, they share several things in common. Formally, they display extraordinary craftsmanship, extreme refinement and amazing labor intensiveness. Thematically, they evidence a fascination with systems (language for Laky, neural networks for Miyagi), and the interplay between mind and body, intellect and imagination, the tangible and the metaphorical.

Laky’s work holds up best in the potentially chaotic gallery space, which combines white walls, red brick walls, a gothic spiral staircase in the middle of the gallery that is an artwork itself, and an intimate hallway for smaller works. Her bold approach to color, texture and symbol both in large and small works transcends any difficulties. Her sculptures range from small works, such as “It’s Complicated,” the word “EAT” made of dark, spiky locust prunings and insect specimen pins, and “Golf Tease,” the expression “OH!” spelled out with red wooden golf tees that cast long dark shadows on the white wall behind them, to “Globalization III: Red Ink.” A massive wall piece made of cut and assembled black ash branches and commercial wood that spells out “RAW” in a red river that runs through the work, it reflects Laky’s concern for the effects of global industrialization and climate change on the environment.

Laky’s brilliant use of color is most apparent in “Incident,” a massive cross with a white hot center that radiates out into shades of yellow, orange and red that suggests, perhaps, an exploding fireball or a religious revelation. Whatever the case, it is gorgeous as is, on a smaller scale, the punningly titled “We Turn,” a witty take on a U-Turn sign, in the form of an arch made of delicately tinted green apple wood with diagonal cuts painted red and held together with tiny orange screws.

Miyagi’s sculptures range from a pair of sturdy, wind-blown legs that made me think of the Greek myth of the Fall of Icarus , the son of Daedalus, who flew too close to the sun on wings his father made of feathers and wax, to spiral forms set on the floor that suggest whirlwinds or swirling spiritual emanations. Other works brought to mind The Wicker Man sculptures sacrificed by druids to ensure fertile harvests in Celtic pagan mythology, Native American blanket and basketry symbols and signs, or the “rete mirabile” (“the marvelous net”) that has an impressive record of longevity in the history of illustrations of the brain.

In a statement, Miyagi describes his sculptures as influenced by the process of aging and current studies in neurobiology that relate to the role of memory in recording and reinforcing our life experiences and how those experiences affect our present and future perceptions of memories.

Unfortunately Miyagi’s quiet, delicate, white-washed work, set on the floor and often backed by white walls, gets a little lost in the gallery in comparison to Laky’s more aggressive works. But they are very much worth spending time with and thought on. If you go

Wood Sculptures by Gyongi Laky and Meech Miyagi Where: b. sakata garo, 923 20th St. When: Through March 30. Noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Cost: Free. Info: (916) 447-4276.
Maarch 30, 2019
Art Pick of the Week

By David Roth, Square Cylinder

Meech Miyagi, "Desperate for Recognition, 12 13," 2018, paper wrapped sticks, copper wire.
Thinkers from Plato to Derrida have debated the means by which language shapes perception. Gyöngy Laky, a San Francisco artist fluent in architecture, geopolitics, design and environmental activism, has been running her own investigations into these matters since the mid-1970s. The results can be seen in wall-mounted sculptures made of tree cuttings and bits of milled wood. Arrayed in dense thickets, they form words and symbols, their angular, interlocking pieces held together by screws. Examined closely, these dimensional puzzles crack open meanings you’ll not find in a dictionary.

Like the phonetic wordplay William T. Wiley uses to upend conventional “wizdumb,” Laky’s sculptures employ a similarly disruptive and sometimes punning strategy, visible in the interplay between the objects and their titles (e.g. Lie Ability, Golf Tease). Where Wiley’s mash-ups require viewers to sound-out words and phrases to make sense of them, Laky’s works Midnight in the 6th, 2018, apple wood, acrylic, screws, plastic animals require us to view them from multiple triangulating perspectives. It’s a classic postmodern strategy. Laky’s use of it holds out a tantalizing prospect: that natural forms are somehow analogous to those humans use to communicate.

Her practice is grounded in experience and research. She fled Budapest with her family in 1949 when she was five, arriving in the U.S. fluent in German and Hungarian. English she mastered by the time she entered grade school; French she picked in high school. After earning undergrad and graduate degrees from UC Berkeley, she founded and ran Fiberworks Center for Textile Arts in Berkeley from 1972 to 1977, and for 27 years beginning in 1978 she taught art and design at UC Davis before retiring as a full professor in 2005. During that time she traveled and worked in more than 40 countries, acquiring an understanding of half a dozen other languages, along with a keen appreciation of vernacular crafts (fencing, baskets and trellises), echoes of which can be seen in the artist’s outdoor installations and vessels.

While you may sense affinities between Laky’s art and the output of, say, Barbara Kruger, Patrick Dougherty, Giuseppe Penone and various other environmentally oriented land artists, her fusion of semiotics and craft is unique in its criticality. It addresses war, economic inequality, consumerism, healthcare and global warming, as well as issues relating to linguistics and phenomenology. Her part of the exhibition, which includes collaborations with several students (Shai Porath, Franziska Kolling, Brianne Evans, Kris Johnson) from Chico State, breaks no new ground. Nor does it need to. Laky’s approach remains evergreen: pliant enough to address the outrages de jour, accessible enough to reach everyone from the art-curious to the cognoscenti. Two pieces that stand out are Ex Claim and Midnight in the 6th. The first is shaped like a We Turn, 2019, apple wood, acrylic paint, trim screws giant exclamation point; the second is a question mark. Both, painted red, are about three feet tall. At a distance they give off the appearance of well-ordered avalanches. But if you look closely, which you must do to understand these pieces, you’ll see objects hidden in the crevasses: small plastic soldiers in Ex Claim, toy animals in Midnight after the 6th. The first is, obviously, a comment on war. The second is a veiled reference to The Sixth Extinction: an Unnatural History Elizabeth Kolbert’s groundbreaking history of the Anthropocene. Both works, I think, point to the human proclivity for denying what we can’t readily see or sense, a key component of our inability to meaningfully address climate change. (For more on that subject and how it’s connected to mass migration and armed conflict see the work of photojournalist Nicole Sobecki.) We Turn, a downward-facing arrow made of chartreuse-painted lengths of wood, looks like something Claes Oldenburg might have made. It resembles a mound of stacked asparagus spears. Its message, however, is not the stuff of feel-good Pop. It’s a trend line headed south.

Laky also throws in a few glib one-liners. A sculpture made of thorny branches spells out the word “Eat.” Another fashioned from the same material forms an untouchable grab bar. For me, the most compelling piece in this exhibition is a collection of severed branches called Climate Fugue 21. Spread across a wall they look like bleached bones mimicking sign language. That these cryptic shapes carry no discernable message does nothing to diminish the urge to find one. (Hard-wired pattern-matching instincts embedded in the human brain see to that.)

Meech Miyagi, a Sacramento artist whose work is paired with Laky’s, also employs organic matter. He uses it to probe potential links between things found in nature and the electrochemical algorithms governing human consciousness. This he does with freestanding, floor-mounted sculptures made of slender branches bent into wispy tendrils, which he wraps in white paper and lashes together with copper wire. They stand upright, three to five feet tall.

Miyagi, when asked about his work, speaks volubly about neuroscience, intimating that his sculptures are visualizations of mental processes, i.e. his own. While that may be difficult to grasp, you needn’t do so to fall under the spell of these objects. Tensions between nature’s Meech Miyagi, Desperate for Recognition, 12 13, 2018, paper wrapped sticks, copper wire handiwork and that of the artist, give the pieces a crackling near-electrical intensity, the shapes of which resemble those coming off a Tesla coil. All of which is mildly unsettling and a bit otherworldly: a perfect counterweight to the issue-oriented eco-art of Gyöngy Laky. # # # Gyöngy Laky and Meech Miyagi @ b. sakata garo through March 30, 2019.