Annabel James - The Brooklyn-based artist has previously described her work as made in ’the simplest most modest way possible’, a discipline which comes to fruition in quiet, unassuming images stripped of nearly all subject.
In her works newly on show at G/P + g/3 gallery, single colour backgrounds blend in almost completely with the objects that populate them: a sitting girl; a bunch of balloons; the corner of a ribbon. As part of her minimalist aesthetic, Jang makes a concerted effort to remove all three-dimensional depth from the work: she begins each image with a simple drawing, the flat neutrality of which she then aims to recapture in the photograph. Her portfolio centres on an ideal of sparseness.
There is nothing particularly novel about this – it’s easy to to take a sitting girl, stick her on a studio backdrop and snap her picture. But Jang’s skill lies in the way she combines her rigorously spare method of production with a delicious visual wit. What would have been a simple portrait shot of a girl in white, for example, is dominated by the strange piece of black card she holds in front of her. We glimpse only part of her face: her expression is unreadable. She is flattened and cocooned by the dark shape, which from further away reads almost like calligraphy: its simple restraint like that of a work by Hakuin Ekaku.
And then we read the title: Onigirl. The composition of white on black, light encased by dark suddenly has a new meaning. What looked before like sombre graphic minimalism becomes a play on the word for a Japanese rice snack. It would be tempting to read into this further – the girl-as-food signalling her powerlessness, her eyes shut, as she waits to be literally consumed by whoever looks at her. But whether or not we do, Jang has deftly reversed our expectations with a joke so sharp, yet subtle as to be almost missed.
It is this playful yet intelligent approach to her work that marks out Jang as more than just another supplier of dreamy magazine material. Without her unique ideas, it would be possible to imagine her being sidelined into fairly average fashion photojournalism. But the quiet quirkiness of her compositions – like a smile playing on the corner of your mouth – gives them a strength of originality that looks set to carry her further.
Ina Jang: in a world with without words.
at G/P + g/3 gallery (Shinonome space)
TOLOT 2F, 2-19-13 Shinonome,
Koto-ku, Tokyo 135-0062, Japan
Annabel James, contemporary east Asian art critic
From London, based in Tokyo.