Saya Moriyasu: Lamplight Lavish Gathering Platform Gallery
114 Third Avenue S, 374-8977
Through May 7.

Lamplight Lavish Gathering, Saya Moriyasu's first solo exhibition at Platform Gallery, is an explosion of colorful tableaux vivants where an unusual cast of characters enact dramas in the shape of lamps. Although visually antithetical to her show last year at the Square Room (Ghost Waiters and Lady Portraits), Moriyasu's inclination toward storytelling links these two and her previous installations, Service and Crowded Craft. Her art cycles between either describing or serving a function: The Ghost Waiters Series, a cluster of pale little men, was a quiet elegy to banquet servers while all of the pieces in Lamplight are functional lamps. Moriyasu also explores the fine line between commodity and artwork--the Ghosts and Ladies appeared easily and quickly reproducible while the work in Lamplight defies reproducibility. That these are sculptural lamps is no accident--Moriyasu has simultaneously elevated a common household item to artwork and turned a work of art into a functional object. Ghost Waiters and Lady Portraits also included Bard's Ladies Lamp, which now can be read as foreshadowing her current direction.

It's evident that Moriyasu takes great joy in each phase of developing and producing a body of work. In the catalog description for Girl Reading to a Shadow, she lists materials and glazes ("Girl--lemon peel, chocolate brown, pumpkin, apricot. Shadow--iron red") and provides a description of the lamp's functionality: "Shadow is attached with Heavy Duty Welder contact adhesive. The Reader may move slightly--that's okay. She has the rod for the light inside of her." Blending fact, fiction, and functionality, this poetic description says a lot about Moriyasu's engagement with each object and her descriptions hint at a world where even Heavy Duty Welder has a bit part.

Moriyasu is a graduate of the UW's Ceramic Metal Arts program, which has turned out some of the more interesting artists working in Seattle right now. She is no doubt influenced by professors Akio Takamori and Patti Warashina. Like both of them, an identifiable figurative iconography has emerged in her work and, like Warashina, it is an iconography that dances between her Japanese heritage and American upbringing. Neither a "Japanese" nor an "American" tone predominates, though. Elements of the Japanese kawaii ("cute") aesthetic (think Superflat and Deery Lou) are evident in the wide-eyed owls that haunt the Lamplight landscape while the blond Western Cowgirl statuette is a more playful take on one of Frederic Remington's bronze, wild, yet deadly serious cowboys.

Instead of being placed on individual stands throughout the gallery, the work is clustered together and stacked on a tier of tables centered in the middle of the gallery. The effect is that of towering shelves of merchandise in a department store or of an antique store where furniture and knickknacks from different eras combine to create a visual depth and richness. Had the pieces been divvied up, the sense of Lamplight being a body of work would be quite lost. As it is, the lamps are in conversation with each other, even quite literally--Conversation Lamps, a set that features one male and one female, tilt toward each other, their body language describing a conversation.

The remaining titles are glimpses behind the scenes: Conversation in the Brown Mountain, The Old Tree Lives; The Old Man Lurks, and the very mysterious but apt Something Is Happening. Something is definitely happening--Moriyasu is making more complicated work and she has come into her own with the sculptural possibilities of clay. Even though clay is becoming less and less the material reserved for throwing pots, it's still interesting to see how it shows up in contemporary art. There's a certain amount of bravery to what Moriyasu is doing because the more complicated the piece, the more potential there is for failure. There's the chance at each step of the process that the piece will undo itself, cracks will become unfixable fissures, explosions will occur in the kiln, or the glaze will come out wrong. Add the fact that these are all functional lamps and that there are more than 30 distinct pieces, each outfitted with handmade lampshades, and it's quite impressive. And through it all, the light and joy inside Saya Moriyasu shine brightly.