Hammer Projects: Ryoko Aoki

Hammer Projects: Ryoko Aoki

Manifesting themselves in a variety of media, Ryoko Aoki's works are fundamentally based in drawing. Using feathery pencil strokes, stippled felt pen marks, and sure-handed contour drawings, Aoki sketches a morphing world outside of everyday reality. Entire landscapes exist at the same scale as individual details, figures morph into objects, and disparate elements exist in perfect harmony. Her animated video on view will present these drawings of fluid associations in motion. Delicate and hand-crafted, Aoki's works present a contemporary Japanese aesthetic.

Ryoko Aoki was curated by Aimee Chang, assistant curator at the Hammer Museum.


Ryoko Aoki was born in 1973 in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, and currently lives in Kyoto. She received her MA from the Kyoto University of Fine Art in 1999. Recent group exhibitions include Mirage on a Summer Day at the Gunma Museum of Art, Tatebayashi, Gunma, Japan; I Still Believe in Miracles at the Musee d'art moderne de la ville de Paris; Past in Reverse at the San Diego Museum of Art; and AniMate at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan. Aoki has also had solo exhibitions at Kodama Gallery, Osaka; Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles; and Art Tower Mito, Mito, Japan. Articles on her work have appeared in Artforum and Flash Art an in the recent book Drop Dead Cute.


By Midori Matsui

Ryoko Aoki's art is true to the basic impulse behind drawing as a means of recording the processes of perception, but it also captures the workings of the unconscious involved in dream formation. Incorporating disparate images from different sources, her drawings create a visual field in which the relations among images provide as powerful a thrill as their symbolic content. While the frequent appearance of flowers, small animals, and adolescent girls reflects an innocent longing for a pastoral world, the condensation, displacement, and other "rhetorical" paths through which images connect with one another reveal the mind as a receptacle and a mechanism for mixing external stimuli with internal fancies.

While suggesting rich dream content, Aoki's drawing nevertheless resists a reconstruction of personal history. She deliberately erases traces of subjectivity by copying from photos, advertisements, and childrens' encyclopedias and then tracing the outlines of the images she has drawn. These are arranged in a whimsical manner that resembles the process of free association. The structure and process of Aoki's drawing evoke Freud's description of a dream as a "pictorial" transference of inner thoughts that cannot be explained logically. With rational thinking temporarily suppressed, the dream puts together images in a distorted way, showing things "in outline."1 Condensation and displacement are its two major methods.2

 Hanayashiki (Flower Mansion)  Pippi's Story, 

Crappy Sight Hanayashiki

 Gluesight.  Valley, 

The Animal Land series Gluesight,  Animal Land 

 Cross Sight Puzzle Joints  Children of Veins Cross Sight Puzzle 


1. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. James Strachey, (London: Penguin, 1976), 155.

2. Ibid., 417.

3. Gilles Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical, trans. Daniel D. Smith and Michael A. Greco (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 63.

Midori Matsui is a Tokyo-based art critic who has written extensively on contemporary Japanese and American artists for exhibition catalogs and art magazines, including Parkett, Flash Art, and Artforum.


Hammer Projects are organized by James Elaine, and are made possible with support from The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Annenberg Foundation, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and members of the Hammer Circle.