The Logic of the Snail

Tomomi Yamakawa’s “group show” gently re-enchants natural and industrial design through small and delicate interventions.

Tomomi Yawakami, WEST CLIFF, 2021, film with sound, 5min loop, teabag and thread, cup and saucer.

A snail moves across a rock with infinite slowness; resting on its shell is the paper tag of a tea bag. From the screen on which this video plays, a thin string extends down along the floor and disappears over the edge of the landing that I am standing on. Below me, on the ground floor, is a white teacup, waiting for the snail to cross the stone so that the teabag can drop into it. Then the brewing can begin.

The snail and the bag are emblematic of Tomomi Yamakawa’s exhibition at Red Tracy, one of Copenhagen’s newest artist-run venues, housed in a former music studio in the outer Nørrebro district. Confusingly, the exhibition bears the title Tomomi’s group show, although Yamakawa is the only artist featured – unless you count the snail. It consists of a series of small and gentle gestures that point to subtle dynamics and connections between living nature and everyday design.

Currently a student at the Städelschule in Frankfurt, Yamakawa previously studied information design at the University of Kyoto. This becomes apparent when a string of dried pansies wrapped around a railing reveals a hidden LED light chain: microscopic boxes are wrapped around each and every tiny diode, blocking the light so that it can only be seen from a specific angle. Similarly, what seems to be a store-bought box of paper tissues – like the ones found in a therapist’s office – turns out to have been made by the artist; just in case you get so moved by the snail’s efforts that you shed a tear.

Tomomi Yawakami, Freethinking Pansy Face, 2021. Wire, fairy lights, folded colour printed paper, dried pansy. Installation view, Red Tracy, Copenhagen, 2021.

Tomomi’s group show is full of this kind of poetic materialism, fragile elements folding into each other to jointly create an open-ended sequence. The works revolve loosely around a theme of overcoming adversity, right from the snail’s arduous struggle and built-in hiding place to the human efforts to self-soothe, for example by drinking a cup of tea. A small painting depicting a landscape filled with plants and animals that curl up if exposed to touch – pill bugs that roll into small balls, and mimosas whose leaves fold and droop in the face of danger – connects to the setting’s architecture.

Above it all, numbers suspended on thin strings float in the air. They run from one to twenty, except for the number fourteen which is supposedly kept in the artist’s purse as an act of superstition – or an insistence on being materially connected to the exhibition. The results look a little like a starry sky or a map of space based on a slightly volatile Fluxus-like logic that is more about interacting and staying with the material than about any actual logical system.

An air of magical realism pervades the exhibition, but of the kind that does not open up on actual magical realms. Rather, it is a re-enchantment of natural and industrial design that points to a fragile and infinite poetic sense of harmony in our common will to exist. I leave thinking about what a splendid thing it is that somewhere in the world, a designer has created a container for paper tissues that makes it easier to cry.

Tomomi Yawakama, Mimosa Pudica \ Wood Louse, 2021. Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 50 x 1.5 cm