AArtist-run spaces and programs are the backbone of Nashville’s visual arts scene, and it’s no surprise that one of the highlights of this sizzling winter arts season can be found in a garden shed. in South Nashville. Mika Agari is from Nashville and graduated from Watkins in 2016. I bend a branch brings Agari home from his recent residency at Cook in Chattanooga. The exhibition at artist David Onri Anderson’s backyard gallery, Electric Shed, features Agari’s new creations for the first time.
While living here, Agari earned a reputation as one of the city’s most unique emerging local designers. She crafted a pair of thought-provoking shows in Nashville just before leaving for her current home base in New York. Agari has created a moving party from a sculpture installation in his Nissan Sentra (Auto showroom2017) using everyday items like felt, rice, Kroger stickers, and dead bugs. In another exhibit, she embedded digital tablets in black sand in Anderson’s former curatorial space, Bijan Ferdowsi – viewers lay on a mattress and watched Agari’s performance on video (Rubbing fruit2017).
Agari is in her element responding to spespecific sites, mixing materials and found objects in unexpected combinations. The artist’s installations can sometimes feel charged like ritual spaces, or imbued with sexual energy, wacky charm and sultry celebrations – often all at the same time. In this spirit, I bend a branch is unmistakably Agari-an. The show consists of several installations of small objects, a few works hanging from the ceiling, and even a painted ceramic butterfly attached to an electrical outlet as a fancy night light. Visitors to Anderson’s clean and well-lit shed can pick up Agari’s small hand-drawn gallery catalog — a stack of folded paper guides sit on a small shelf just inside the entrance. One side of the single sheet of plain old printer paper features the artist’s illustrations of the exhibited works along with their poetic titles: ‘Little Chance’, ‘Fragments of a Moon Puzzle’, ‘Pure Suns’. The reverse of the catalog looks and reads like a fractured poem, but it is actually separate lists of the materials that make up each of the constructions on display.
“Pure Suns” is a hanging assemblage of salt-dried egg yolks in a ceramic basket suspended from the ceiling of the shed by a length of mohair thread. A spotlight affixed directly above the basket shines through the yellows, giving them a solar eclipse effect when the artwork is viewed directly below. Salted egg yolks are a Japanese delicacy, and wasabi peas and ginkgo nuts make appearances in other works. Agari has spent her life around food — her family has owned and operated the excellent Sonobana restaurant and grocery store in West Nashville since the 1980s. The dried yolks are umami bombs that you can grate like parmesan cheese. The flavor and texture transformations are dramatic, and this work is a good overarching metaphor for an exhibition that recreates familiar objects and materials by simply recontextualizing them in surprising combinations.
Another salty work is “Fragments of a Moon Puzzle”, which features a hand symbol drawn in salt – since opening on January 8, it has developed a ghostly halo as the drawing has gradually sucked all the moisture out of it. hangar. The salt drawing is centered on a round piece of clear glass which is balanced on a selection of colored ‘bouncing balls’, giving the glass and the unfixed salt drawing an uncomfortable precariousness. Pieces of the titular moon puzzle and colored polished stones drawn from a fancy pencil decorate the design and the surface of the glass.
“Fragments of a Moon Puzzle” offers viewers a complicated combination of pieces to contemplate, but other works in the series are absolutely minimalist. “A Bit of Scotch Tape” is a unique piece of the eponymous adhesive material installed from ceiling to floor in a corner of the gallery. According to Agari’s list of materials, the tape is enhanced with “leftover gift wrap” and “fingerprints.” “Little Chance” is my favorite title in the series. This job consists of a single black die that Agari received as a gift. ‘Small Blue Dots’ is another sensually formal work consisting of a small, beautiful brass bucket suspended from a red elastic cord – the bucket is filled with intensely royal blue tiny beads with a chewy turquoise gumball nestled in the centre.
I bend a branch is both familiar and strange, deeply personal and universally accessible. Agari’s creative gifts are not particularly concerned with meticulous craftsmanship or the making of idealized images and forms. His particular – and often particular – talents are perceptive and conceptual. Agari discovers beauty in the mundane and finds art in the ordinary. And a display like I bend a branch doesn’t just promise new things to watch. It offers new eyes to see with.