Once humble items now wondrous sculptures


Koji Ryui is known for metamorphosing humble materials into texturally delicate and materially wondrous sculptures and installations. Commissioned for ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10), Citadel 2021 converts a 17 metre wide and 7 metre high gallery wall into a vertical landscape of assemblages made from household items and wood-shop detritus. The installation rewards close viewing; bringing into focus formal juxtapositions and changes in texture, light and matter.

Although Ryui incorporates a plethora of found objects in this installation, it is dominated by sand, wood, metal and glass. By covering wood and repurposed articles in sand, the artist generates the appearance of discrete forms emerging from a larger mass, like a sandcastle along the beach. Some of the materials are chosen to draw attention to the transformation of matter: sand grains fused by heat to create glass; a clear surface turned cloudy by sandblasting. Rather than ‘making’ an artwork, Ryui describes his role as teasing out the material possibilities inherent in the objects that he accumulates.

Due to the installation’s restrained palette, its texture takes on a heightened role. The distilled materials in Citadel temper the complexity of its overall configuration while providing a visceral viewing experience.

Watch | Installation time-lapse

Koji Ryui, Japan/Australia b.1976 / Citadel (installation details) 2021 / Mixed media / Commissioned for ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10) / Courtesy: The artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body, and Artspace, Sydney / © Koji Ryui / Photographs: N. Harth © QAGOMA

Clusters of objects in Citadel are balanced precariously and littered across the wall’s expanse. While abstract compositions are predominant, recognisable forms arise, including ceramic figurines, wire lampshades, scalloped dessert bowls, disposable coffee cups and champagne flutes. Ryui animates these nostalgic found objects, ensuring that this poetically opaque installation is also familiar and delightful.

Ryui questions the pretensions of rarefied museum objects by creating art from everyday items and incorporating a sense of play. Groupings of objects are shaped in his studio and then interchanged, adapted and transformed during their installation in the gallery.

Citadel sits at the threshold between multiple rooms, with visitors approaching and passing the work from various sides as they move through the gallery. This awareness of liminal space is echoed within the installation: while there are numerous sculptures of various sizes, the voids between them are as much a part of the installation as the objects themselves.

More than just evoking the idea of in-between spaces, Ryui creates a sense of nebulous time. He does this by summoning the moments at dusk and dawn when the illumination of streetlights melds with natural light. This can be seen in Citadel when light emanating from globes in the artwork intermingles with the gallery lighting and daylight streaming in from the adjacent space. The indiscernibility between the artificial and the natural could also be seen as a visual metaphor for the moment when dreams and memories become hard to distinguish from reality. In Citadel, Ryui revels in these points of indeterminacy as moments of potentiality.

Ellie Buttrose is Curator, Contemporary Australian Art, QAGOMA
This is an edited extract from the QAGOMA publication The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art available in-store and online from the QAGOMA Store.

On display in ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ at the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane from 4 December 2021 to 25 April 2022

Featured image: Koji Ryui in Brisbane installing Citadel 2021 / Photograph: N. Callistemon © QAGOMA