Saya Irie: Every Popular Thing is Beautiful at ICN Gallery, not far from Shoreditch High Street station, is a far more engaging show than it seems at first. A cursory glance around the small space that makes up the majority of the show offers two ordinary wall hangings and a series of white plinths. However, as ever, the genius is in the detail of this show – quite literally. Her minuscule, incredibly meticulously-crafted sculptures bring paper currency to life: they mean this show packs a punch and steals away far more time from you than you ever imagined spending there.
The International Creatives Network is well known for their showcasing of young contemporary artists from Japan and Asia in East London and this east-meets-west relationship is perfectly summarised through Irie's work. Indeed, her artist statement for the show stresses the importance of eastern cultural practice, particularly Buddhist principles, in her most recent work. The repurposing of money, shoes and even pencils in this show hints towards reincarnation and the continual sphere of life. For Irie, to see an object change through her process is to participate in the circle of existence, and recognisably Eastern principles are reimagined in beautiful objects.
The gallery press release quotes Warhol in saying: "Everything is beautiful. Pop is everything". This quotation serves to open up a discussion of the market economy that runs today's creative practices. Someone's trust in the economic investment that art offers and the interrelated issue of the monetary worth of a piece of physical, paper money asks the viewer to question the world economy from a provocative new stance. Indeed, if art is equatable with money in the mind of the viewer, this show asks us if money itself can be art.
Outside of theory, though, is where this show shines. Saya Irie's reworking of the symbolism of paper money is stirring and stunning in equal measures. Suggesting that the images we read on a bank note are pre-designed to ensure a form of trust in the value of the currency, Irie removes the iconography from the notes (using a rubber-eraser) and reforms the images again in three dimensions using the rubber filings.
A detailed practice, these works force you to appreciate the artistic integrity of the original money as well as Irie's steady hand. We therefore look at these works as representations, extensions and re-imaginations of what money is. The pieces are worth the initial cash sum they are made from, and yet through their placement as art, they are worth so much more.
A heavy reliance on economic philosophy can all sound a bit confusing or pretentious when imagining a show. However, the artistic skill that Every Popular thing is Beautiful demonstrates gives Irie's works a value that supports this philosophical depth. This is an exhibition from an intriguing international artist that should not be missed.