By Betsy DiJulio

Forget-Me-Not is a lovely summer show.  But it is much more than that.

Floral, beautifully hued and thoughtfully installed, the work in this exhibition appears, at first blush, to be gentle, feminine, and decorative.  And it is.  But that is only part of the story: the surface gloss that seduces like the eye candy it is.

Look a little more closely, and Japanese-born, Richmond-based Sayaka Suzuki will also seduce your heart and your mind as she grapples with memory, longing, loss, and personal/cultural identity in fresh and unexpected ways.

A professor in the Craft and Materials Studies department at VCU, Suzuki employs processes and materials like dry wall embroidery and pate de verre (a glass paste casting technique using wax models and rubber molds) to create layers of meaning.  But these techniques and tools aren’t mere means to an end; rather they engage the artist in an act of purposeful “play” through which meaning emerges.  In her words, “I allow myself this opportunity for the ideas to morph, overlap, and become more complex.”

At the most basic level, Suzuki hopes to create moments of wonder at and celebration of the cycles of life through the creation of personal artifacts.  Deeply in tune with the land—she lives on a wooded acre and a half with her urban gardener husband—Suzuki often accomplishes this by elevating and memorializing animal remnants like bones, which she considers to be overlooked symbols of  unceremonious death.

For some of these pieces, she incorporates pate de verre castings of skulls and jaw bones of small animals—seemingly delicate, yet incredibly strong symbols of unending cycles—in lovely translucent hues of white, hyacinth blue, and amber.  Appearing at first like objects of adornment attached to panels of painted wall-paperesque floral patterns, a closer look reveals the true origins of these forms.  And with that dawning realization, this body of work takes on a joyfully reverential character of considerable depth, to which titles like “Silent Eulogy,” “Comfort Snaffle,” and “Finders Keepers” hint.

Two of the most memorable pieces in the exhibition are the installations “Left and Leaving” and “A Mother’s Wish.”  In the former, floor-to-ceiling embroidery threads wrapped around small river stones arranged in a semi-circle on the floor provide the counterweights necessary to suspend a small white and amber cast glass boat form.  The poignant metaphors and associations to which the title alludes are many in this deceptively simple piece.  For its part, the cone-like configuration of embroidery threads is reminiscent of a loom, thereby underscoring the significance of craft traditions to this artist.

Nearby, resting on a simple two-tiered rectangular pedestal is a pair of traditional Japanese sandals, made by Suzuki’s mother and cast in a monochromatic palette of fresh green glass by the artist.   Appearing to emanate from the sandals and float upwards in a chevron shape, delicately pinned to the wall, are individual handmade paper flowers whose contours are embroidered in pinks and reds.  The symbolism of this maternal piece runs deep without being pinned down, as it were.

Elsewhere, two large and, otherwise, powerful wall-mounted pieces—“Rhythmic Circle” and “Burst of Existence” —would have benefited from the use of handmade flowers, whether paper or glass.  Instead, they are marred by reliance on artificial blooms that appear purchased from the local craft supply store.  Perhaps the medium is part of the message, but in an exhibition of bountiful painted, cast and embroidered floral forms, these blossoms, despite their exuberance, seem out of place.

In the former, a nearly 3-foot clear glass needle is suspended in the center of a circular wreath of (artificial) flowers. Though the meaning is indeterminate, it seems to pay homage to handmade craft traditions that are passed from one generation to the next.  In the latter, similar flowers burst irrepressibly forth from two dramatically enlarged and hand-embroidered fabric “Kill Tags,” of which deer hunters will be familiar.  Embroidered in script faithful to Suzuki’s husband’s family member’s handwriting and rich in biographical information, the tags, juxtaposed with the flowers, combine to create a meditation on life and death made more indelible by the composition’s uncanny resemblance to a diagram of the female reproductive system.

Whether intended or not in that particular case, fertility is certainly a theme woven through this varied, yet focused, show.


Through August 3

Lorrie Saunders ArtGallery

424 W. 21st Street, Norfolk, VA