A cartoon character emanates from the glass window of P3 Studio at the Cosmopolitan. Five colorful large-scale acrylic paintings hang inside. Upon first impression, the simple shapes seem like a display of familiar visual tropes. They could be Keith Haring’s iconic dog or Superflat, an anime-inspired art movement championed by Takashi Murakami, or even children’s book illustrations.
But what is startling here is the work’s process and backstory. When the soft-spoken Japanese artist Nao Uda was studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 2005, she had trouble communicating in spoken English. So she developed an androgynous blue creature called Nu (her initials) to be her companion and alter ego.
Nearly 10 years later, Uda’s companion is starring in the P3 Studio show titled Your Comments Are Important to Us. The process involved in this exhibition is quite remarkable: Uda invites guests to write a title or share their thoughts about this series of paintings depicting Nu in a variety of ambiguous scenarios.
Questions arise: Is it a guessing game, in which a participant would seek the “best” or “correct” title? Is it a Choose Your Own Adventure kind of thing, offering free expression and multiple interpretations? A covert personality test? No matter what, as its title implies, audience commentaries are valuable.
Take, for instance, the painting of Nu presumably meditating before a pile of pebbles in front of a bright red background. One guest—an elderly man—titled the work, “My Dream Is to Become Suddenly Rich.” Possibly Nu is portrayed as a high-roller with an instant pile of casino chips. Another guest—a lady in her 20s—described the same painting as, “Persistent, Patience, Pays Off.” The same Nu is now seen as a hardworking creature who has accumulated wealth over a lifetime.
At the end of every session, participants are photographed along with their now-titled painting of choice, becoming co-authors of sorts. Using an ink-jet printer, Uda prints two copies, one for the guest and one for the gallery.
This show also includes Uda’s sculptural rendition of Nu. Done in various small sizes, the objects are constructed using papier-mâché, paper clay and plaster gauze wrap. They resemble do-it-yourself toy merchandise.
The prevailing feel of the show is playful, thoughtful and egalitarian. The artist provided Nu, a silly-looking “not of this world” being, and viewers added their own narratives. The comments are no longer just about the character Nu, but also about viewers’ interpretation of themselves in response to their surroundings and experiences. Nu is not just an imaginary friend, but a mirror image of us all.
Your Comments Are Important to Us
Nao Uda at P3 Studio at Cosmopolitan, 6-11 p.m. Wed-Sun, through June 15, free.