As a sculptor, Louise Noguchi is not concerned with making objects but with the creation of spaces which, despite the ephemeral nature of her installations, will continue to exist in the memory of the viewer. She surmises, in fact, that her work merely gives form to the things that have always existed, pulling them out of the unconscious and giving them a place in the world. The spatial and temporal materiality of her sculpture in conflict with the expression of intangible and spiritual sensations, tend to limit the imagination in the way that all concrete models do. It is perhaps for this reason that she has often incorporated text and drawings in order to more completely represent her ideas.



LOUISE NOGUCHI was born in Toronto, and has been active in the Toronto art community since 1981. Her work has been included in solo and group exhibitions across Canada and internationally.




“Art can be understood but not necessarily verbalized.” – Louise Noguchi

“Art reflects [this dynamic] in its insistence on its own truth, which has its grounds in social reality and is yet its “other”. Art breaks open a dimension inaccessible to other experience, a dimension in which human beings, nature and things no longer stay under the law of the established reality principle. Subjects and objects encounter the appearance of that autonomy which is denied them in their society.”
– Herbert Marcuse, “The Aesthetic Dimension: Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics”

From the time of her professional debut, Louise Noguchi has created art works full of ambiguity. The Mirrors and Vaults continue and deepen the theme of art objects as a conscious challenge to perception and comprehension. Noguchi’s sculptures are always well crafted. She is serious about the relationship between her work and the individuals who encounter it.

That awareness excludes the possibility of careless work on the part of the artist. It also means that the viewer must actively participate in the unveiling of her art’s purpose. For Noguchi, the role that art can uniquely play is to “pull out the interior” of the individual. The person’s inner self relates differently to the “rational, everyday world” as well as to the artworks apprehended in the rational world. The art functions to raise both consciousness and to further questioning.

There are no easy answers. Noguchi’s work is not “process art” in the conventional sense. As object, it is complete. But the process of meaning is the significant factor, and it takes place in the mind of the beholder as much as the artist. There is no final resolution in the work. Resolution comes as a part of an active process for which Noguchi provides the stimulation in her art.

Noguchi characteristically works in that dimly perceived area of consciousness that lies between dream and concrete reality. With this show, she is leaving out her usual textual references. She is surprised that many budding artists cannot grasp the idea of an art that is conceptually or politically based. “Artists are talking about issues to much in their work,” she believes. They don’t see that beauty is more than superficial, and that shape and form have a larger part to play in the dissemination of meaning… “They don’t understand that the fundamental shape and form of objects somehow brings intrinsic meaning…”

Noguchi has worked through a number of metamorphoses in her sculpture. Some earlier works include written texts as part of the art itself, which informed less than it guided perception, With her Vaults and Mirrors, Noguchi has rediscovered the inherent power of the sculpture itself.

Noguchi’s works have always dealt with various aspects of consciousness. She has freely reacted to many personal sources for imager, including her own dreams. Although her works are planned, the responses to the external and internal stimulation that serve as inspiration seem entirely spontaneous. They are directly rendered, without mediation by theory. Her work is experienced viscerally. With her Vaults and Mirrors she is insisting on the viewers voluntary imaginative participation in creating the “meaning” for her work.

The Vaults and Mirrors in this exhibition can easily create a sense of unease in the viewer. They almost force a confrontation with the kind of disturbing aspects of consciousness that one would prefer to avoid. Noguchi herself describes her canvas vault construction as “dark and masculine and heavy”, and expresses ambivalence towards them. Visually, they have more in common with an army bivouac than they do with tourist tents.

The convex moon-like mirrors of 90 degrees, 180 and 360 degrees, are light, bright, and apparently playful. Taken together, the tent-like Vaults and the globe-shaped Mirrors are based on an encounter Noguchi had with a group of people who camped out seasonally. The placed mirrors of all kinds in the surrounding trees and natural areas in order to monitor the comings and goings of anybody or anything that entered their psychologically fortified environment. Photographs of the situation accompany this exhibition.

This preoccupation with reflection and, possibly, spying raised some interesting question for Noguchi and by extension the viewer of the subsequent sculpture.

Paranoia. Voyeurism. Shelters that can be traps. Open Spaces. Secret activities. Natural freedom. Destruction. Reconstruction through artificial means while the natural is still marginally available, everything but trust in others, and especially in one’s ability to cope with the unknown, the unpredictable. Or, most telling of all, the predictable, but not completely controllable reality of everyday existence and un-answerable questions. The intrinsic meaning must be elicited by voluntary participation of the viewer.

Noguchi’s creation of art is an instinctive process, and by instinct she seems here to be mirroring the questions of the age. What is safe? Is safety possible? What about privacy? And when does psychological fortification obstruct reality rather than enhance the direct involvement with environment?

Direct involvement in real-life situation tends to encourage the capacity to deal with crises as they materialize. Too close a reliance on mirrors can be disabling.

Mirrors have always been used in art and literature, partly because they reveal so much and yet give no real, definitive answers. We talk about the active mirroring process as useful in the developing ego; we talk of art mirroring life, and vice-versa; and all the time we secretly acknowledge the destructive thrall that they represent. With too much focus on the mirror, we become less, rather than more, aware of the nature of the momentary reality. We seek out reflections in store mirrors, in the reactions of others, in art and in religion. And eventually the real can be absorbed into the image perceived.

In this context, the “light, playful” mirrors become the threat, the “dark, secretive” vaults suddenly become a place of shelter and privacy. Within one of Noguchi’s canvas-covered structures is a place for inexplicable experimentation. Because the tents are of dark canvas, they also are reminiscent of army facilities, of war, of hastily erected operating theatres. They are places where life and/or death decisions and activities take place.

There is ambivalence in all of these works, and they can be understood to represent the ambivalences and fears of an age where television news chronicles dangerous situations, an television entertainment presents soap-operas and comedies that bear littler no relation to anyone’s actual life. In this era I becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction, real or imagined threat, perceived or experience luxury or deprivation, Perception is warped by the constant confrontation of false and manipulative mirrors of existence.

Where is the shelter? Where is the “real” mirror that helps us to position ourselves well, to comprehend our own place in space and time?

Noguchi’s works, and their real-world inspiration, emphasize that there is no definable, reliable shelter and there is no mirror that can be understood to revel even an entire aspect I the truth. Her works are not about distortion. They simply represent a reality that is obscure and yet uncomfortable familiar. They require the viewer’s active and serious involvement.

Within the context of a gallery space, the vault and mirrors are simply art objects. But the photographs of the reality suggest possibilities that now are increasingly remote and inaccessible in an urban environment. Within the city we are surrounded by mirrors or real and human and metaphorical identity. They confuse and misrepresent us, to the point that we are in danger of reacting to them like drugs that allow us to exist without confronting reality directly. We are distracted from acting independently or indeed simply enjoying and appreciating the real world that surrounds us.

In fact, artificial mirroring, reducing actual real-world significance, also reduces the necessity or even the possibility of acting or reacting. Mirroring helps us to avoid or even escape life and its challenges, failures and beauties. The “light and playful” mirrors become substitutes for genuine feeling as well as genuine perception.

The photographs and art objects are an uneasy juxtaposition, a “play within a play”. The individuals in the photographs try to control an in fact reject the fluidity of a natural environment. Through obsessive control they are reducing their own opportunity at the same time as they are trying to avoid their own artificially created sense of risk. In photographing them, Noguchi further reduces their freedom by exalting them into art objects. They are objectified to create raw material for even more rarified art objects that again mirror an ambiguous intellectual and material reality.

The circle is completed in the gallery space only with the energetic cooperation of the viewer. Life has been successfully, tragically avoided by the people photographed, and their drama has become raw material for [another] that mirrors its initial ambivalence. Darkness and light, mirrors and creative isolation, rotate in the psyche of the viewer.

In this show there are no answers, no final resolution. The viewer is forced to accept the discomfort and rotation, the sense of privacy protected and invaded, or the reject the whole. Noguchi’s work does not assault the viewer’s perception, it invites contemplation. According to Herbert Marcuse “…the work of art is beautiful to the degree to which it opposes its own order to that of reality—its non-repressive where even the curse is still spoken in the name of Eros.” (pg. 64)

Much of Noguchi’s earlier work is more organic than the artworks in this exhibition. It referred to body parts and organs, animals, dreamscapes that penetrated reality as art. The works sometimes dealt with images of death and dismemberment, and gained distance and cerebral validity through textual pieces that helped focus the themes she explored.

Many early works had a sensual beauty that tended to celebrate life even in the face of distortion. These more somber works, the Mirrors and Vaults, are not celebration—they question existence and rely less on appearance and representation. The vaults and Mirrors are positioned somewhere between mind and visual awareness; they function like poetry and resist easy analysis.

Writing about art is always a process of interpretation. But it is also limited by being a translation from another, perhaps deeper language of association. If this exhibition is in part intended to raise questions about the meaning of concrete reality, it is also an act of devotion. It creates in the viewer a desire to consider carefully questions of security, privacy and creativity, and the requirement to participate fully both in terms of the gallery and of the outside world.

Begin, ephebe, by perceiving the idea
Of this invention, the invented world,
The inconceivable idea of the sun.

You must become and ignorant man again.
And see the sun again with an ignorant eye
And see it clearly in the idea of it.

Never suppose an inventing mind as source
Of this idea nor for that mind compose
A voluminous master folded in his fire.

from Wallace Stevens, “Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction”

Louise Noguchi’s work has an intrinsic honesty and loyalty to form as part of its meaning. It has a subtle power that motivates the unbiased viewer to engage in its development.

Penelope Glasser is a writer/artist/film maker who lives and works in Toronto.