Perrotin Tokyo present Over My Head, the first solo exhibition in Asia by Los Angeles-based artist Aryo Toh Djojo, following his solo presentation at the inaugural Tokyo Gendai art fair earlier this year.
Aryo Toh Djojo, Jan 6, 1969, 2023.
Acrylic on canvas, 30.5 x 40.6 cm | 12 x 16 inch. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin. Photo by Keizo Kioku.
This will be the first time the artist incorporates elements such as film and found photography, further exploring the notion of how we perceive truth. The show debuts a new body of paintings alluding to the artist’s continued interest in UFO sightings and the socio-political discourses that have arisen throughout history as a result. Michael Slenske wrote an essay on the occasion of this exhibition.
POINTS OF CONTACT
On June 10, 2022 at 5:10 PM, three hours before sunset on this breezy summer Friday, Aryo Toh Djojo witnessed a brilliant flash of light above the rooftop of his studio in downtown Los Angeles. The sun was high, the clouds marbling the cornflower sky, so this blip of metallic radiance was odd. Too high to be a plane, moving too fast—and skirting across too many too many different vectors—to be a weather balloon, it disappeared so fast it left Toh Djojo with only one explanation: a UFO. As a dedicated Ufologist, Toh Djojo didn’t take this sighting lightly. The only other one he witnessed occurred more than two decades ago in Glendale when he was skateboarding around a friend’s driveway. At first, this group of high schoolers thought it was a helicopter, but when this similarly metallic orb hovering over this suburban house vanished into thin air, these teenage skate punks all turned to each other…and screamed.
Toh Djojo happened to catch this more recent flashpoint on video, and it served as a wellspring for a new series of paintings that incorporate the seriality of rooflines as a vantage point for framing phenomenological events. Unless you are perched along the California coast, up in the hills, or hovering at cruising altitude over LAX, horizon lines in Los Angeles are most often interpreted (or interrupted, depending on your perspective) by the various geometries of a roof. Majestic Mansards, flat mid-century planes, Moorish revival domes and metallic modernist slopes populate the city—and have historically graced the serialized works of Catherine Opie, Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and countless other L.A. artists over the decades—but for Toh Djojo, the anonymous gable was the perfect pitch for his projective paintings comprising Over My Head, his solo debut in Tokyo.
Aryo Toh Djojo, Thoughts in Mind, 2023.
Acrylic on canvas. 61 x 91.4 cm | 24 x 36 inch. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin. Photo by Keizo Kioku
For Toh Djojo, the gable is “like a pyramid, there’s a mystery behind it, and within it,” he says, “And then there’s a mystery in the sky around it.” The artist began his investigation with a night-shadowed pyramidal roof with two illuminated windows glowing like bright eyes beneath a gradient sky invoking the Northern Lights. As with most of Toh Djojo’s loosely airbrushed paintings—whose freehanded application confers a veil that clouds any particular markers of time or place while giving off a general sense of nostalgia—this work features a green orb floating in the distance. Like an On Kawara in reverse, this painting is one of twelve 12 x 16 inch canvases created in a sequence and titled with dates in sequential months. The dates refer to historically significant UFO sightings, freighting each piece with meaning that doesn’t necessarily relate to the images. Or does it?
The first painting in the series is titled January 6, 1969, a nod to the date when Jimmy Carter and 10 members of the Leary Lions Club saw a ball of light that appeared in the sky for 15 minutes over Leary, Georgia. According to a statement by Carter, the UFO “seemed to move toward us from a distance, stopped-moved partially away-returned, then departed. Bluish at first, then reddish, luminous, not solid.” The juxtaposition of sky and blank slated house project themselves onto the historic sighting, much like Charles Gaines’s iconic Night/Crimes series create uncanny associations between L.A. murder scenes and images of the night sky. They beg existential questions: Did that happen here? or more simply Where is here? In subsequent paintings Toh Djojo pairs a mountain lion peeking over a cliff-like roofline at twilight (May 11, 1950), another depicts a house awash in flames against a midnight black sky (July 8, 1947), while yet another (October 11, 1973) reimagines a photo taken by the late L.A. multimedia artist Mike Kelley of his childhood home, which he would later replicate as to-scale moveable sculptural environment as the epic installation, Mobile Homestead. The only painting Toh Djojo rendered in black and white, the piece juxtaposes the Kelley family home, which still stands in Westland, Michigan, with the date of the so-called Pascagoula Abduction. On the evening in question Charles Hickson, 42, and Calvin Park, 19, claimed they were fishing off a pier along Mississippi’s Pascagoula River when a 10-by-40 foot ovoid UFO, making whirring sounds and emitting blue lights, paralyzed them. The two men were allegedly brought aboard the craft where three robotic creatures with crab-like claws examined them before letting them go. Though their claim was discredited by various people, the UFO in question sounds very similar to the one described as the “sport model” by renowned Ufologist Bob Lazar.
Aryo Toh Djojo, Aug 25, 1950, 2023
Acrylic on canvas, 30.5 x 40.6 cm | 12 x 16 inch, Photo: Keizo Kioku, Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin
“I think their technology has evolved along with our technology, so you don’t see too many of those these days,” says Toh Djojo, who made a luminous painting of a sportster for this exhibition. Teasing out this evolution of formal concerns, Toh Djojo is also installing two documentary items: an edited version of his video from the June 2022 sighting and a found vintage Polaroid of a house that could stand in as a potential source image. Like the haunting mise en scenes of his paintings, the lines of the roof in the Polaroid frame a (possibly fake) sport model craft floating eerily in the distance. There is truthiness in these archival materials and paintings, which feel like a New Pictures Generation for a generation raised in a social-mediated image culture. The only thing left to do with all these images Toh Djojo is sampling and editing is to contemplate the events they capture.
Take Love Above, a portrait of a woman’s head from a vintage Pirelli calendar, manipulated through an AI program by the artist, then rendered as a celestial body rising up to an infinite cosmos. She appears enraptured by a tiny green vessel in the distance, or maybe she’s enthralled with Thoughts in Mind, a painting of a window in a dark room framing a gradient sunset. Maybe it’s a voyeur’s perspective from one of these gabled houses? Or maybe it’s another vantage onto another tiny painting spelling out the words Up Dog (or “What’s up, Dog?”) in delicately airbrushed skywriting. While the ephemeral greeting in the painting is hopeful, the title, Not Much, suggests a more ambiguous reality. Unidentified vessels floating around the smoke-filled letters are framed by red circles, the type that lock an enemy craft into the sights of a fighter jet. The hazy slipstream of this mediated suburban/alien tableaux recalls a line Kelley wrote about his Mobile Homestead not long before his untimely death: “The project, in its initial conception, expressed my true feelings about the milieu in which I was raised, and my belief that one always has to hide one’s true desires and beliefs behind a facade of socially acceptable lies.”
Aryo Toh Djojo, Love Above, 2023
Acrylic on canvas, 121.9 x 152.4 cm | 48 x 60 inch, Photo: Keizo Kioku, Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin
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