Michael Arata’s solo show at Post in Los Angeles works to explore the idea of customized spatial units, or as Arata likes to call them, “pet spaces.” With a combination of self-made photograghs and taped-together catalogs, Arata builds off of previous work, this time including himself in his own work as a sort of prop. Instead of emhasizing the actual subjects in his images (people), he alternatively focuses on the empty spaces between their arms and legs.
His concern with the ambiguities of empty space are manifested in his handcrafted tendency to reduce specially chosen spaces, and designate them as pets, even garnishing them with fabricated eyes. While his methodology for identifying these spaces is rather simplistic, his solutions should by no means be judged as lacking sophisication. Rather, they recall previous attempts in the history of artists to overcome the distinctions of space, particularly between foreground and background; between formed space and space at large; between inside and outside; between up and down. In fact, Arata’s configurations would probably do just as well slanted on their sides, or upside down, as they do right side up. However, his studies do not focus so much on depth of space problems, or spatial positioning, as they do on the personalization of space. From his perspective, each spatial ubnit is as important as the next. In accord with these assumptions, each is correctly fixed with its own color, and its own binoculars. In this way, he makes a deliberate point of making sure we do not miss the space between someone’s legs or arms.
I find it curious that Arata, who is usually absent from his known work, this time includes himself in “the mess.” In the self-portraits he gives us a series of poses that reflect friendly discomfort. Despite the awkward positiong of his body in these photos, we are never made to feel that he has somehow lost control of his space, or the sutuation. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. No matter how disorganized or compulsively foolish he may seem, Arata comes acrossed as very polished, deliberate, and well prepared. Rather than trying to build up his public image by gaining viewership favor, his photos only mildly acknowledge their own existence. Instead he opts for his usual routine of fun and games. Whether individuals like or dislike his antics is obviously very low on his list of priorities.
How viewers respond to Arata’s visual messages usually depends on the depth of wit (or lack thereof) they see in his work. Usually, the work is daring and difficult to categorize. This particular body is no different. For critics, passing off his earlier work as too goofy or lacking in substance, this show substabtiates his almost ten year direction of screwing with rainbows, throw rugs, and pocket pets. He is systematic, aggressive, universal, and appealing to those who understand the absurdities of nature, and the complexities of a good laugh.
Ron Delegge
Skokie, Illinois