Guest post from Joe Brin: On Heather Ujiie for the 2014 DesignPhiladelphia Festival

Installation photos: Hitoshi Ujiie

Heather Ujiie: Erotic Alchemy
Art Alliance, 261 S. 18th St, Philadelphia, PA
Through November 30th 2014

The Art Alliance at 18th and Rittenhouse was, formerly, a stately residence. It's contemporary gallery does not conform to the sterile, “white cube” mold of stereotypical art venues. Heather Ujiie, textile artist, designer and design educator immediately capitalized on this in a manner that befits the sophisticated, expressive nature of her innovative artwork.

In one room she has employed digital permutations of 19th century “Spode” style Toile de Jouy designs for wallpaper and porcelain plate designs. At a glance, they appear to be traditional, deep cobalt blue and white patterns your grandmother may have collected. Look again and discover they are based on erotic images from Ujiie's own hand paintings, repeatedly flipped into kaleidoscopic, mirrored designs.

A white, veined marble fireplace mantel that she appropriated into a 19st and 21th century collision seems perfectly, even humorously plausible. A glossy white female mannequin stands by to showcase Ujiie's deft fashion design capabilities. Laser cut black plastic triangles are woven into the equivalent of chain mail armor contoured to the human form. The mannequin also serves to give scale to the tall, architectural space.

A faint bird chirping draws you into the adjacent room transformed by Ujiie into a layered, immersive environment. Trust me, you have never seen an interior space appointed such as this. An Amazon forest of colorful, erotic patterns on an expansive, custom designed sofa with matching pillows is set into a menagerie of weird human/animal forms arrayed on the walls. All this reflecting Ujiie's desire to “create large-scale allegorical narratives that utilize analog and digital craft and technology...a fusion between clean elegant design, and the raw underpinnings of creative expression. I am preoccupied by the dichotomies within the human condition, characterized by growth, beauty, loss and decay.”

On one level you are entertained with rich, visual imagery, some of it based on her own interpretations of Albrecht Durer's famed “Adam and Eve” engravings (1504), some also reminiscent of Grandville's 19th century human/animal caricatures. On another level, as the hidden bird chirps more audibly, you are receiving foreboding messages about the perilous state of bio-diversity on our planet. Human figures and scrims, framed in large windows with images of the now extinct dodo bird noted in Darwin's time say that we are no more safe from extinction than they were. It's just that our hubris will not entertain the notion that we, ourselves, may turn out to be as “dumb as a dodo bird.”  Ujiie's environmental education was prompted by her own research for a sustainability course she taught at Moore College of Art & Design.

There are other virtuosic technical displays of novel media that have to be seen in person to be understood and fully appreciated. Says Ujiie, “All my textile work is a synthesis of several methods of artistry, including hand painting, drawing, stitching, and innovative large-format digital printing. I really do believe my work is a synthesis of both art and design. Those boundaries are no longer as relevant today. If you are making great design it can become an ephemeral, mysterious object, and go beyond the functional....if it is beautifully conceived, crafted and executed."

“Erotic Alchemy” may be dismissed by science but it is well suited, artistically, to engage the senses and spark your imagination. Ujiie seduces the casual visitor with vivid imagery and a majestic Tree of Life revealing unwitting truths we live by.

Joseph G. Brin is an architect, fine artist, and writer/graphic novelist based in Philadelphia, PA. He writes for Metropolis magazine and Hidden City Daily. Brin recently launched a pilot program in graphic medicine with Dr. Peter Lloyd Jones at The Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University.

Heather Ujiie is an Adjunct Professor in Fine Arts(Textiles) Fashion, Interior Design at Moore College of Art and Design.


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