Kelly Akashi’s Heart of the Matter

Currently on display at the San Jose Museum of Art

This is “Mirror Image” (2020), a sculpture by Kelly Akashi currently on display at the San Jose Museum of Art as part of a sizable solo exhibit. The artist brings a broad array of techniques to her work, including glass-blowing, candle-making, carpentry, and bronze. If I were constructing a docent tour of the Akashi show, I might ask the visitors to locate the sonic in this piece. Is the blown bubble a signifier of human breath? Is the hand signaling something in ASL?

As it turns out, the pedestal depicts the artist’s own echocardiogram. After learning this fact, you might recognize that the woodwork does, indeed, have an unusual cadence to it — an unusual shape, at least for pedestals, which tend toward the symmetrical rather than the lopsided. And then you might notice that the pulsing, the beating, is at the same time highly familiar, since it’s something we, as humans, have in common. Once you know what the pedestal is, those two secondary bulges, which signify the apex of heart beats, take on a somewhat discomforting significance, and draw further attention to the fragility of the glass bubble below that heavy, if delicately positioned, brass hand. The paired beats form a sort of mirror image, as does the connection between the two representations of mortality. The exhibit closes on May 21, 2023.

Speaking of bronze, I guess it is currently a thing. There’s quite a bit of bronze in the Kehinde Wiley exhibit currently at the De Young Museum here in San Francisco. The Wiley exhibit is titled “An Archaeology of Silence,” a term apparently from Michel Foucault, the late French philosopher. We’re informed that Foucault “used it to describe the action of making visible a socially repressed phenomenon.” This phrase has a social and political connotation in the context of Wiley’s art. In a sort of mirror image, it might also be applied to the more personal realm of intimacy inherent in Akashi’s. (The Wiley exhibit closes on October 15, 2023.)

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