Ritsuko Taho

FORBIDDEN BUILDING
Site specific environmental sculpture by Ritsuko Taho.
Exhibition at the Space gallery and installation at the open lot across from the Space, December, 1988.

(Originally published in The Boston Globe, December 14, 1988.)

Ritsuko Taho’s “Forbidden Building” is a poetic reordering of some of the most ordinary things in the city – a chain fence and dead leaves. It is approximately a large cube, twenty-three feet high, made of scaffolding covered with chain link fence. Each of its four sides is a double wall separated by a two-foot wide space. This space is filled with dead leaves that Ritsuko collects and calls upon neighbors to collect from yards, parks, and city streets. The installation is open to the sky but enclosed on four sides by leaf-filled walls, with a doorway and one small window framed with shiny foil. Composition and decomposition interact in “Forbidden Building.” Its structure is stable enough to climb on, but as a piece of sculpture it is constantly changing as people bring more leaves, and as wind and decay transform the shape of the walls of leaves.

In the Space gallery across the street from the installation, an exhibition of Ritsuko’s drawings and photographs of her previous projects begins with a single brown leaf, mounted on paper, framed and under glass. Presented as a work of art, the dead leaf is beautiful. From a distance, it’s a lyrical abstract shape floating on the page. Up close, its surface reveals an intricate web of color, texture and lines. Yet it’s only a leaf, a dead leaf – one of millions that people look at every day without seeing, or pile into plastic bags and throw away.

Forbidden Building” grew out of a project called “Autumn Leaves” that Ritsuko created when she was a graduate student in sculpture at Yale. She began picking fallen leaves up off the ground and putting them between the pages of her books to dry. When she filled all her books, she made more books for the leaves by sewing pages of newspaper together. She stacked the newspaper books in piles until the whole studio became “a book of leaves.”

Forbidden Building” occupies a vacant lot near the Ruggles T-station in a part of the South End where many old brick buildings are boarded up, crumbling down, or covered with scaffolding, and it is a visual commentary on the neighborhood’s experience of decay and change. Dead leaves are part of the natural cycle of the seasons, while scaffolding and fences are materials for transforming the city. Ritsuko’s installation isolates and reorders these elements of the urban landscape into a lyrical series of visual contrasts. The rigorous geometry of the structure highlights the leaves’ organic decay. The silvery shine of the fence gleams against the dull crinkly brown of the leaves. These contrasts suggest other contrasts: natural and unnatural, rich and poor, living and dead.

Forbidden Building” works on many levels. It is the first of three public art projects which the Space has organized to occupy this space in order to “improve the quality of community life through participation in the arts.” While I was looking at the installation on a bitterly cold Saturday morning, several neighborhood boys who looked about ten years old came by, bringing leaves. They told me their names were Larue, Jose and James. “We’re here to work,” they said. Their enthusiasm was visible, and their interaction adds another vital dimension to “Forbidden Building.”

Ritsuko Taho’s ever-changing installation is a spare but elegant invitation to participate in a work of art, both literally and metaphorically – by bringing more leaves, and by making a leap of imagination that transforms a heap of trash on a vacant lot into a poem in silver and brown.

by Rebecca Nemser for rebeccanemser.com

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