Yuki Kimura Explores Space and Time in Latest Exhibit

For Japanese artist Yuki Kimura, artistic production, installation, and display are merely steps or stages of a more comprehensive exploration of some of the so-called “big questions.” Above all else, she is a conceptual artist who employs a range of media and materials to parse the questions, if not provide the answers. Thus, it should come as no surprise to a viewer of her work that interpretation is slippery at best. Seductively, she interjects clues with which one might begin the process of decoding a given artwork, yet much uncertainty remains.

This was the case with her exhibition, Time Paradox, at Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris. There exists no buffer zone between the entrance to the main gallery and the street. Perhaps this is the first paradox. It’s a spatial leap between the cobblestones of Old Paris and the hypermodern ambience of the artwork. It resembles an elegantly diminishing curve of lunar orbs immersed in blood red light. Is it corporeal or otherworldly, this light?

Who is Yuki Kimura?

Yuki is best known for her photographs. She lives and works in Kyoto and has displayed her work internationally for nearly 30 years. However, with greater frequency in the past decade, she has incorporated found-objects to augment her exploration of notions of time and space, particularly in the context of philosophy (rather than, say, physics). She asks urgently through her art, “Why is it that I am alive here and now?” writes 18thstreetart.org. Yuki’s preoccupation with time and its complexity is the bright star by which she navigates. Because of the complexity of the concepts that typically inform her art regardless of medium, meaning can often seem quite elusive. This is especially true, however, of the conceptual installation pieces. “She places both her subjects,” 18thstreetart.org continues, “in the midst of the wide network of historical, social and biological forces that form and inform us.” 

Representing the fleetingness of life – the “vanitas”theme – is nothing new for Yuki, of course, but she does so with deep intelligence and humor so that it’s possible to forgive her if an artwork tantalizes but never fully reveals its nature to you.

Classified as a multimedia artist, Yuki doesn’t merely move between media and materials, testing the limits of a given medium. Rather, she roots out contradictions and misconceptions about a given medium. For example, with photography, she became increasingly more aware of the medium’s inherent limitations, especially with regard to the alleged “uniqueness of photography and the authority of the decisive moment.” With a work titled Passing Backgrounds from 1999, for instance, she positioned “nearly identical photographs” side by side. “Subtle differences in two photographs of the same boat,” she elaborated, “reveal the passage of time.”

Yuki’s career to date

Not only did Passing Backgrounds emphasize subtly the way in which the presumed documentary reliability of a photograph convinces us to accept an image as whole and accurate without scrutinizing details, but it also allowed the artist to “experiment with the temporality and spatiality that emerged between the two images.” 

Going further, Yuki produced Katsura (2012) for the 30th São Paulo Biennial. The work explores the role of the viewer as a “necessary intermediary” in the interrelations between individual photographic works installed in a single gallery space. She experimented with display strategies that have been adopted somewhat by default–for instance, the horizontal frieze or the symmetrical collage–to ascertain the ways in which viewers construct narratives based on display, juxtapositions, and so forth.

With Katsura, she used photographs taken by her grandfather of the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto, suspending them “within minimal metal frames,” which she “variedly arranged through the installation in correspondence to the positions of and directions in which they were photographed.” In this way, the two-dimensional photographs take on, at least conceptually, an illusionistic three-dimensionality corresponding to the villa itself. 

Multiple, distinct temporal moments and physical loci are represented in Katsura: the 17th century when the villa was constructed, the 1950s when her grandfather photographed it, and the present moment when a given viewer looks at the photos, and the vantage point from which they do so. Yuki contends that this manipulated process plus the viewer’s engagement converts “the medium of photography into a physical experience.”

In this regard, there is a fascinating continuity between even disparate-seeming media like photography and sculpture, for instance. Artworks like Katsura, Passing Backgrounds, and Time Paradox are all the results of Yuki’s efforts to, as she puts it, “manipulate dimensionality.”

A close-up of Yuki Kimura's Time Paradox featuring three transparent plastic soy sauce boats at the Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris, France. 
Click image to enlarge.

All about Yuki Kimura’s Time Paradox

Time Paradox may be her most sophisticated work yet with respect to her explorations of time and space. As Galerie Chantal Crousel explains, “Time Paradox is a common theme in science fiction, often used to explore the complexities and consequences of time travel. It challenges our understanding of time, causality, and the creation of [the] universe.” In philosophy, the concept explores contradictions in our conception of the passage of time, of present and past. Rather than seeing time and causality as linear, the concept of Time Paradox reinterprets them as multi-dimensional and complex.  

How does this play out in Yuki’s installation, Time Paradox, though? The title refers both to the concept and to the name of a restaurant that was open in Kyoto in the 1980s. The gallery explains that the restaurant had “a pink neon sign” that read “Time Paradox” in Japanese, “and it illuminated the dining room with a red light.” The concept of the restaurant was rather esoteric: It served food from around the world such as tostadas, sauerkraut, and escargot. 

The 72 metal serving trays in the installation also have global origins. The artist sourced them “in different parts of the world,” informs Galerie Chantal Crousel, “to find the largest diversity of size.” However, I suspect that the more compelling reason for doing so was to, once, again, play with concepts of spatiality, this time on a planetary scale. The trays range in size from 4cm (1.57”) to 145cm (57.08”). They are arranged in a curving line from largest to smallest, stretching across the gallery floor. 

Viewed together, the disks resemble a diagram of the lunar cycle. The illusion that they diminish in the distance calls to mind the mathematical systems invented by Renaissance artists. Those systems simulate three dimensionality on two dimensional surfaces–wood panels and walls and so forth. Together, time and space unfold while bathed in red light.

Yuki Kimura's piece Untitled hangs from the ceiling at the Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris, France.
Click image to enlarge.

The experience at Galerie Chantal Crousel

As a viewer, there is no obvious way to engage with the room-sized installation, Time Paradox. So as not to disturb the order of things, at best, you skirt the perimeter of the loop of trays. 

Escaping into an adjacent gallery, one encounters another installation possibly connected to the first. However, the relationship between the two isn’t at all clear. The second gallery displays several objects on a solid-colored, black rug. Haphazardly deposited on the black background are nesting metal bowls and shiny metal measuring spoons on rings. Are these object interrelated or random? Are they here by chance? Or, are they important talismans or tools for decoding this inexplicable arrangement? Completing this odd still-life assortment are, according to the gallery, “three transparent plastic boats for serving sushi.” In this installation, rather than sushi, the boats “carry e-paper screens of different scales” while “images of oxidized coins are flickering and looping inside each boat.” 

I’m lost at this point in my visit. It’s red in this room as well. While I think I may understand the connection to the restaurant, I can’t be certain but I want to make sense of it all. As with the human impulse to search for patterns in random sequences, perhaps this moment of non-discovery is simply another means by which Yuki, via what Linda Mai Green referred to in Art in America as “metaphysical wanderings,” challenges notions of connectedness and causality.

About Yuki Kimura’s Untitled piece, hanging from the ceiling

In the final gallery, a long, narrow space stretched between the reception area, a private office, and the exit to a courtyard and subsequent galleries, another installation piece tantalizes. Quite literally dangling in front of one’s eyes from the ceiling, Untitled (2023) consists of three abalone shells suspended from chains produced by connecting S-shaped carabiners; it may or may not connect to the nautical theme of the sushi boats. The concept of suspended animation seems to be at the heart of this enigmatic installation.

Ultimately, there is consistently something quite intangible and elusive about Yuki’s sculpture. I find it far more interesting and virtually limitless in comparison to her conceptual ponderings through photography (except when such pieces transcend two dimensions).

Her work can be seen at Galerie Chantal Crousel until July 25, 2024. She’s represented by Taka Ishii Gallery in Kyoto.

© Debra Thimmesch (6/28/2024) FF2 Media

A close-up of an abalone shell from Yuki Kimura's Untitled at the Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris, France.


Visit Yuki Kimura’s exhibit at the Galerie Chantal Crousel.

FF2 Media’s Debra Thimmesch has been traveling France. Visit her author page to read her latest blogs from her trip.

Want to read more about other sculpture artists? Read our exhibit reviews for Yayoi Kusama, Sarah Lucas, Kenzie Sitterud, or Nicole Eisenman.


Featured photo: Yuki Kimura’s Time Paradox at the Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris, France. The exhibit is located right as viewers enter the museum.

First middle photo: A close-up of Yuki Kimura’s Time Paradox featuring three transparent plastic soy sauce boats at the Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris, France. 

Second middle photo: Yuki Kimura’s piece Untitled hangs from the ceiling at the Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris, France.

Bottom photo: A close-up of an abalone shell from Yuki Kimura’s Untitled at the Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris, France.

All photos taken for FF2 Media on 6/16/24 are provided by Debra Thimmesch.

Tags: 18th Street Arts Center, Debra Thimmesch, France, Galerie Chantal Crousel, Japanese Artists, Paris, Taka Ishii Gallery, Time Paradox, Yuki Kimura

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Debra Thimmesch is an art historian and critic, activist, independent researcher and scholar, writer, editor, and visual artist. She mentors graduate students in art history and is attuned to current endeavors to radically rethink, decolonize, and reframe the study and pedagogy of art history. Her work has appeared in Art Papers, The Brooklyn Rail, and Blind Field Journal.
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