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Kumiko Shimizu: What is Utopia?

review - At the Scarlett Maguire Gallery, 104 Cromer Street, London WC1, until 26 March

The Scarlett Maguire Gallery is situated in what its owner Jo Gavin calls a 'hidden artistic community', writes Austin Williams. Hidden, indeed. I regularly walk along an adjacent street and hadn't noticed the pull of bohemia.

It's a small gallery - a 40m 2 white-walled box with window frontage on the ground floor; sufficient to accommodate intimate exhibitions. The works of Japanese artist Kumiko Shimizu, who has lived in London for 30 years, are ideally suited to the space.

On first viewing, it appears that this is simply a collection of third-year architectural drawings complete with collage techniques, complicated perspective and unintelligible elevations. And it is true that Kumiko has studied architecture. At the Bartlett, her tutor was Colin Fournier, who says: 'She is unique in that, unlike the majority of students who come from an architectural background, she is the only student I have had, in the last five or six years, who came from a fine arts background.' Placed in this context - and in the proscriptive setting of a gallery - these works become art rather than technical drawings and therefore their interpretation takes on a more subtle, more emotive, less literal meaning. 'I am an artist, ' says Kumiko. 'I want to provoke debate.' Kumiko's utopian proposals take place in Death Valley, Hong Kong and Shanghai, and their innocent presentation belies a critical take on urban form as it is currently constituted. She is toying with the separation of nature and humanity. Indeed, her utopia places humans in the air so that 'nature' can continue to run amok at ground level. Using clues from nature - the proportions from wood grain, the angularity of tree trunks, the pattern of waves traced on a beach - she has tried to create architectural forms that harmonise with nature.

There is quite a lot to argue about here but, on the other hand, visiting academics might learn to assess their students' proposals on more artistic, less objective, grounds than is currently the case.

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