Kio Griffith’s in(poetry)2dexed
through January 28
LA Artcore, Los Angeles
“These works are a type of antithesis, to contemplate on when the battery runs out of our handheld gadgets” ~ Kio Griffith, 2018
By Larry Gipe
When Kio Griffith’s father passed away ten years ago, there wasn’t much left behind but a box of diaries. He was, in Griffith’s words, “modest beyond necessary”. Perhaps his father compensated with exaggerated humility because of the anomalous life he led; he was a tall, blond Caucasian teaching literature at a University in Japan, and every day he must have felt like a towering white sore thumb (at the end of his career, he was the only foreign professor emeritus in his institution.) At any rate, his diaries – which begin over 60 years ago when he disembarked in Japan – reflect a man grappling with his chosen second language and the complexities of assimilating into another culture. The diaries don’t appear in Kio Griffith’s “in(poetry)2dexed” at L.A. Artcore as a literal element. But, they ended up reinforcing the artist’s fascination and respect for his father – a person that wrote poetry and made art all his life, but never revealed it to anyone. As a self-deprecating Buddhist, he saw any manner of personal advertisement as aggrandizement – not incidentally, he criticized his son Kio’s desire to exhibit his artwork as “showing off”.
For Griffith, the diaries were a time capsule – it prompted him to reconsider the past vis-à-vis the present, and create an exhibition organized loosely around the idea of language, communication, and how differently our current society receives information and culture. The suddenly archaic notion of a physical newspaper, the dog-eared paperbacks of classic literature, the box sets of vinyl records that used to proudly take up shelf room – all of these obsolete items that were essential for generations before our own are the “stuff” of Griffith’s art. He transforms these familiar vehicles of dissemination into small structures that read as “sculpture” but continue to maintain their integrity as the original object – one never loses sight of what they “used to be”. In Organ Music, the cardboard panels of classical music records are re-imagined as a kind of favela, a crude lean-to that connotes class inequities and refugee life. It dialogues with another work that references Dickens, one of the many small threads that winds through this exhibition like a visual free verse.
Last summer, Griffith had a show in Japan, and the first room of L.A. Artcore is a re-creation of this installation. This includes Disgruntled Zola, a bouquet of book spines (or a “spine collective” as the artist refers to them) from Japanese versions of the French realist. The shape of the spines, with the vertical line of text, reminded Griffith of tanzaku. These are small strips of rice paper that are created for the ancient Tanabata festival (a ritual that persists today – one writes a wish on a tanzaku and hangs it on a bamboo pole that metaphorically bridges the Earth and the Heavens.) Although most of the spines were sourced from a crumbling box of Zola editions, and make the obvious connections back to his father’s occupation, there are other titles thrown in like a 1978 guide to “the personal computer changing your life”. In the end, Disgruntled Zola encapsulates a lot of the show: it seems random and determined simultaneously, producing a impression of flux and temporality. Rather than communicating a message per se, the thematic conflations in “in(poetry)2dexed” are as scrambled as the title, and comment poignantly on the proliferation of media and the challenges our culture faces in order to communicate.
Griffith’s video coda to the exhibition, Algorithm Counter, tackles this idea head-on. Inspired by odometers, or the charmingly analog counter of a tape deck, the artist replaces the numbers on the tumblers with letters. The video captures the device rolling through series of three letter combinations that reference IM chat language (LOL, etc.) Algorithm Counter functions as a sort of random generator for the texting era, an infinitely spinning poem that abstractly describes a world in free fall between a fear of disconnection, and a contrasting sensation of overwhelming frivolousness.