I’m obviously someone who is obsessed and compelled by the use of “Horror Vacui.” If you aren’t familiar with obscure and pretentious art terms, the literal translation from Latin is “fear of empty space.” As applied to art, it’s used to describe hyper-busy and complex images and it’s either a criticism or a complement, depending on the time period and who’s slinging the phrase. As a modern application, Horror Vacui always translates visually into artistic compulsion, an OCD desire to avoid any empty or negative space.
By current trends in the world of design, it’s almost always used as a derogatory term applied to all things gouache, tacky and nouveau riche. Think every picture you’ve seen of rooms in the Trump Tower penthouse.
The opposite end of the design spectrum is the simple modernist use of negative space. Pure, clean, elegant- white. By design terms, the use of white empty space immediately triggers in your brain, a sense of sophistication and an assumption of value. (It must be expensive.) Think every Apple product that’s been released in the last 20 years.
Now let’s look at the disturbing and alien porcelain creations of Katsuyo Aoki. The Japanese sculpture achieves a jolting and astonishing paradox. The hyper detail is miraculous and seems almost impossibly delicate. I would be terrified to even be in the same room with one of these pieces, fearing that my lumbering bull self would almost magically be drawn into stumbling across the room towards it, like part of a subpar Marx Brothers skit.
The fragile details evoke bird tiny-boned skeleton work, sugar icing pastry bags in the hands of a temper tantrum child, candy canes that have managed to be sucked and not chewed. Aoki’s work is the smoke that comes out of Henry the XIV’s pipe after your brain has been soaked in PCP. Her sculptures evoke a sense of shifting movement, like at any moment you’ll blink and the cloud will shift and that face will disappear.
She achieves this through the negative space of white. Yes, some of her pieces have the occasional second color, but the use of white porcelain is the secret to her sauce.
Because the revelation of detail is only revealed through light and shadow, Aoki manages to create what would sound impossible. Crisp, clean, elegant- Horror Vacui. She has achieved an absence of negative space, through the use of negative space.
I want you to suck on that for a while, like it’s a sugar cube in the shape a 17th century alien skull, while I go down to the corner to see if I can score some wet.