By BANSIE VASVANI, SEPT. 2014
Duality of Existence—Post Fukushima at the Friedman Benda Gallery, New York, showcased the urgency to acknowledge human existence in the aftermath of the tsunami of 2011. Seen through the lens of Japanese aesthetics that is infused with “mono no aware” or the pathos of things, “wabi” or subdued austere beauty, and “yugen” or mysterious profundity, the works revealed the minutiae and essence of human life that takes its existence to a new level of acknowledgement.
When Chim Pom the Japanese collective corralled citizens affected by the Tsunami to regroup and renew life after the calamity in their video 100 KIAI, 2011, the work became a sensation for its rejuvenating spirit and affirmation of humanity. Similarly, acclaimed artist Takahiro Iwasaki’s Out of Disorder (Landscape), 2014, creates a sense of order from his intricately rendered cityscape on a black disheveled towel that resembles sordid earth after a disaster. Much like Chim Pom’s ideology, pathos, and strength permeate through the miniature frameworks that reference the significance of technology, but not at the cost of human life. For Iwasaki who was born and raised in Hiroshima, architectural structures are poignant symbols of civilization inscribed with memories of its instantaneous obliteration. Skylines and buildings are recurring leitmotifs in his work that establish the identity of a place and its history.
In Reflection Model, 2014, Iwasaki’s carved miniature Japanese palace is suspended from the ceiling. An inverted replica attached to the bottom of the piece is made to resemble its reflection in a body of water. By using the psychological trope of mirroring, Iwasaki not only draws the viewer’s attention to the immense beauty and fragility of the sculpture, but it also brings renewed significance to the act of looking and reflecting on the tenuousness of life.
Motohiko Odani’s mesmerizing video sculpture A Dead Man Sleeping, 2013, takes observation and thought to a different plain. Here he creates a transforming sensation through the slow moving image of an oval object that descends to the bottom of a vessel. As this seemingly weightless metal mass gradually sinks and dispels the surrounding swirls of water, it stirs a deep sense of appreciation for beauty and life, even as it references the destructive tsunami. Odani’s profound vision emerges through these binaries of destruction and rejuvenation, and life after death and enormous suffering.
For Kazuki Umezawa dazzling assemblages of real and virtual images replace austerity. Amalgamations of these two realities appear in his large-scale exuberant process of layering that represents the fast paced world of the Internet, which bombards us with information on a daily basis. Bright gaudy colors compete with a combination of anime, religious iconography, and weather reports to create a visual database that shocks viewers to come to terms with their surroundings, and pause to get a better sense of their existence.
Ultimately, it seems evident from the visual impact of the works that the artists make astute use of technology to incorporate the Buddhist view of life. For these Japanese artists, the Buddhist belief in life as a constant state of flux is reflected through their dynamic visions of hope and beauty for the future.
Bansie Vasvani is an independent art critic based in New York City. My interest is in covering non-western art and the play of identity politics. I have written for Art Asia Pacific, Modern Art Asia, The Brooklyn Rail, Daily Serving, Art India, Art New England, New York Arts Magazine, and The Culture Trip.view all articles from this author