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Art Daybook: Rain inside the Asia Society’s foyer

August 2, 2018

The piece: “Ayomi Yoshida”

The artist: Ayomi Yoshida

Where: Asia Society Texas Center, 1370 Southmore, through Jan. 13

Why: Finally, someone has found a way to make the Asia Society’s grand entry foyer a destination for art.

Yoshio Taniguchi’s pristine building may be Houston’s finest architectural temple, but the long and narrow entry hall, interrupted by stairwells and doors, remains a challenge to activate as a space for installations. There’s not a white wall to be found.

Curator Bridget Bray sometimes displays large photographs against the fossilized limestone and rich cherry paneling. She recently commissioned Zheng Chongbin’s high-tech “Clusters of Memory,” a satellitelike installation of metal-framed video screens, to utilize all the air below the open, two-story ceiling.

Now, Ayomi Yoshida’s serene environment consumes the entire space, evoking a water garden in the rain to consider time, sensory memory and nature’s life cycles.

The installation is subtle, except for the scrim that bisects the air like a false ceiling; this is the screen for a video projection of a gently rippling pool. Rain falls toward the pool via another video projected on the adjacent wall, building from a sprinkle to a heavy shower before it dissipates.

Tiny flower petals (individually screen-printed on vellum and cut out) dangle from the ceiling; thousands of them appear to have fallen and landed around the pool’s edges. Adding to the full-immersion sensibility, even the stairwell’s glass-walled enclosure appears to be wet, coated with transparent, printed vinyl of condensation.

Don’t bother trying to identify the lavender-hued petals. Yoshida, who lives in Tokyo, imagined a cross between native Texas rain lilies, bluebonnets and Japan’s famous cherry blossoms. She appreciates that rain lilies and bluebonnets reseed naturally; her country’s now-ubiquitous cherry blossoms do not, because the fruit and seed have been bred out of them and have a life span of just 60 years.

That environmental message also dovetails with one about storms and floods. Like Houstonians, people in Japan understand from experience the yin-yang dynamics of rain: We need it, and nature needs it, to survive; yet, too much can be destructive.

With the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey approaching, Bray hopes Yoshida’s installation inspires conversation about “where we are in the continuum with weather,” she said.

Yoshida said she did not realize until she visited Houston for the first time, early this year, that the city was so wet. She arrived during January’s freak ice storm, amazed to see snow in Texas.

Given free reign to create an installation in Taniguchi’s spaces, she gravitated to his magical rooftop water garden, which sends up periodic sprays of “fog” outside the second story’s glass facade. She wanted to somehow bring that experience inside, she said. “But, impossible!”

During almost two weeks, about 40 university art students from Japan and Houston collaborated to help Yoshida build her piece.

She comes from a family of woodblock print artists. While her video installations move aspects of the work forward, a pair of her more tangible, monumental woodblock panels are on view near the cafe. She riffs on the Edo Period genre known as ukiyo-e, a term that translates as “floating world” but has multiple connotations.

Her big panels, each composed of a grid of smaller woodblocks, are almost abstract renderings of storm squalls above watery horizons. Stained blue and black from inks, they have a powerfully ominous presence. They are gorgeous, and terrifying.

molly.glentzer@chron.com

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