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The Box

Naotaka Hiro at The Box

Photo: Naotaka Hiro. Two Worlds. 2024 Installation Image. The Box LA. Photo Fredrik Nilsen Studio.

In our latest exhibition with Naotaka Hiro, he explores some roots of his process and echoes back to his early practice, starting when he was 18 and first moved to America. The title, Two Worlds explores the notion of how the works are made and their psychological underpinnings. Two Worlds, 2024, is a diptych of two extra-large wood panels (108” x 156”) and is the exhibition’s namesake. This piece will be installed in its own room filling the space with its dynamic mirror abstractions that marry a two-step unconscious/conscious process with a side-by-side relationship.

Hiro’s early practice focused on filmmaking and performance. The challenge to communicate in English as a second language meant he tended to make one-man productions where he acted and directed simultaneously. This was the beginning of the “two worlds.” He was constantly shifting back and forth between acting and directing and then filming and post-production. The carry-over of these two sides is also part of his two and three-dimensional works. This quote of the artist explains this more fully:

I believe that my art practice, whether it be drawing or painting, has two steps. The first step is more subjective, intuitive, and organic, while the second step is more objective and alert. I repeat these steps several times, and almost two personas continuously agree and conflict with each other during the entire painting process.

Since working with Hiro in 2008, The Box has seen impressive growth within the deep processing of his practice. This exhibition brings this full circle with earlier ideas coming through into new works. We will be exhibiting two new sculptural works both based on a silicon face mold from an earlier video work, The Pit (Dancer with Golden Lips), 2013. In this video (also on view) Hiro wears a mask backwards with his lips making a hole at the back of the head. Interested in this shape, a black hole in its unknowability and uncanny nature, the artist produced a sequence of movements of his lips as a type of dance exploring a curiosity about parts of our physical and psychological bodies that are never seen or understood. These two new sculptures based upon this original mask in the video, Caving (Bronze) and Two Mouths (Stainless Steel), made each in 2013-2024, bring two worlds into conversation with the left and right sides of the face appearing as if they belong to two different cosmos, like two personalities coexisting within one body.

The new twenty-five-foot-long canvas painting, titled The Swimmer, is the longest in the series of canvas works that Hiro has made. These unstretched canvas works are made in such a way that his body is physically wrapped and integrated with the canvas, ropes, dyes, paints and oil sticks. Here again, the artist explains his process:

Moving across the 25-foot length from one end to the other with spray and oil sticks felt like swimming in the ocean, being buffeted by waves, or crawling up and down mountains and valleys. The experience of going up and down on the folded canvas, spraying dyes, and stroking with oil sticks was like tackling a challenging landscape. The dots and lines on the painting signify the marks left by the struggle with the material and size of the canvas. Ultimately, I felt like making a raft on the ocean to rescue myself. Without them, I would have drowned.

The wood-paneled works and the twenty-five-foot-long canvas painting all present the viewer with striking colorful, textured works that are records of endurance and explosive presence. Upon viewing, one senses a power and energy in them. It is rooted in this exploration of these two worlds. When juxtaposed, it becomes clear that one is not isolated from the other. Rather, we are in a constant state of exploration and creation with the work.

Photo: Naotaka Hiro. Two Worlds. 2024 Installation Image. The Box LA. Photo Fredrik Nilsen Studio.