‘Soft Walls’

While textiles and fiber materials are at the heart of Akiko Kotani's practice, inspiration for her latest installation first arose from noticing interlaced steel walls. These walls pushed the artist to think about the juxtaposition of the fluid appearance of the steel with the inherent strength of the material. This idea exerts a major influence on "Soft Walls," a large-scale installation consisting of two walls draped with over 150 sf of crocheted plastic bags. The artwork is on view at the Women & Their Work Art Gallery in Central Austin until August 29. 

Working with a minimalist palette — an approach used consistently throughout her long career — Kotani transformed more than 1000 45-gallon white trash bags into a structure that combines the traditional women's work of crocheting with the building of a structure. The work, which emits a haunting, shiny patina, flows down from the top of the stand-alone walls, pooling on the floor. Presented in the round as a sculpture, but perhaps also a riff on traditional, white gallery walls, the structure is angled toward the entrance of the space. And while the work is a sculpture, it also acts as an architectural wall drawing, with the pattern of the stitches creating the marks. The walls, 18 ft and 13 ft long, overlap slightly and reach close to the ceiling; they are slightly imposing, yet elegant. The cascading nature of the crochet and the softness of the material give the structure a somewhat unassuming character.

Displayed along with "Soft Walls" is a 6-ft drawing representing time that Kotani spent near the Black Sea. In her two years in Istanbul, the artist made daily sketches of the sea incorporating the obstructed view from her studio, which resulted in very abstracted drawings. A fluctuating environment, the massive body of water kept Kotani's interest, and she compiled hundreds of sketches. The Black Sea, from 2010, takes four of those sketches and transposes them via small, black bamboo threads that are stitched through paper. The work is an abstract landscape, much like "Soft Walls," and in the mark-making, space is open and abundant, while also very organic. The peaks and valleys of the Black Sea's waves exist is a similar way to the positive and negative space that the crochet creates. With both works, there is a heavy undercurrent of movement, an undulating quality to how the works are assembled that is simultaneously alerting and contemplative.

With "Soft Walls" in particular, Kotani is interested in representing the strength and softness of a mother. Playing off the structural strength that comes from the repetitive stitching, she makes a claim that mothers, like the work, exhibit both external flexibility and internal fortitude. She unapologetically honors her own mother and other women by employing this technique and making this reference. While the reference is not overt, the work is very much a monument, both architecturally and in its objecthood.     

Rachel Adams is an Austin-based curator and writer.