Sanya Kantarovsky’s “After birth,” the inaugural outing at Taka Ishii’s new Kyoto gallery, offers a disquieting staging of an exhibition in a traditional Japanese townhouse. It is now nearly de rigueur for artists visiting the city to show their work in these rustic buildings, called machiya. And why not? Full of rich wood and intricate arrangements of screen doors and straw-mat floors, the structures seem primed for art objects. All too often, though, the resulting installations adopt an overly reverential attitude toward the architecture in a desperate effort to harmonize with it. Not so with Kantarovsky. If the artist is known for pressing his subjects’ bodies into uncomfortable positions, here, his canvases themselves push against the given geometries of their 150-year-old dwelling.
Inside, the dim lighting (when there is any at all) emphasizes the work’s spectral qualities. Badgirl, 2023, a painting of a crouching dog, stands upright on the floor in a thoroughly darkened corner, from which the emaciated animal seems to cast a wary gaze at the viewer. Outside, on the walkway, a simple flower arrangement rests casually in Boy with Hole, 2023, a squat vase whose surface Kantarovsky has embellished with the distended head of a child. The door to a courtyard urinal is left conspicuously open, revealing Nuppeppō, 2023, a small work depicting a human face emerging from a puddle or cloud. Through these gestures, “After birth” does not genuflect before the machiya so much as haunt it.
— Daniel Abbe