In the hands of artist Yuken Teruya, old newspapers sprout tiny plants and high-end shopping bags hold the night sky. On view at Josée Bienvenu Gallery in New York, each ordinary object is transformed using only an X-Acto knife, a few folds, and an extraordinary vision for what a piece of paper can do.
Beyond the unbelievable realism, each piece feels like a complex mathematical puzzle. The tiny paper sculptures are never fully cut from their source, leaving the original object fully intact with a complex network of holes that play their own aesthetic role.
Within the nine newspapers on view, collectively titled “Minding My Own Business”, there is often a complex conversation between the image and the tiny plants growing from it. In the piece pictured above, for example, a rape victim is pictured hiding her face. The upright flowers shelter her while the white empty cutouts give her a saint-like glow.
Teruya is famous for his trees inside high-end shopping bags, and his latest is featured in the back of the gallery. As with the newspapers, the tree is cut entirely from the paper bag while remaining fully attached to it. With the bags however, the cut is made on the “top” and folded down, with the base of the trunk glued into position. As an incredible bonus, the jagged hole that remains in the top of the bag filters the light like tiny rays of sun piercing the clouds.
It’s important to understand that Teruya is copying REAL nature. The trees, for example, are not invented, but modeled after actual trees he finds outside.
Teruya goes beyond the “terrestrial” with a series of black shopping bags that hold the night sky. As with the plants, every star is hand cut and 100% accurate. Each bag directly references a precise view of the night sky seen from a different place on earth.
Teruya did not simply trace a star map flat on each surface of the bag. Not only would that probably be “too easy” for him, but would result in something that looked too much like a box with holes pocked into it. The reason is because the four outside walls of the bag are seen from an extreme angle and would therefore produce significant distortion, clearly marking the inside corners of the bag and destroying the illusion. Therefore, Teruya has ingeniously corrected for that perspective by cutting the stars on the outside walls as ovals and stretching the space between them accordingly so that when viewed or photographed from the front, everything is correctly spaced, no matter where the stars reside. In other words, he found a way to put a cylindrical sky in a square box.
Notice the titles, which identify exactly where the bags originate. As a side note, it’s interesting how many high-end fashion stores use dark bags with black interiors (nothing is painted).
The newest work in the gallery is also the most mysterious. Fifty empty brown paper bags are mounted on a wall. Rather than cutting something into existing bags, he has created most of the bags from scratch, playing with their scale (the smallest is no bigger than my pinky fingernail) and arrangement. Stepping back from the wall, the whole collection feels like the branches of a tree, or perhaps like an entire galaxy.
Though there is certainly a touch of consumerism and tragedy in the source material, Yuken’s work is primarily a study in alchemy and joy. The show is a reminder that every weed is a work of art, and every piece of paper is still very much a tree.
All images courtesy of the artist and Josée Bienvenu Gallery.