Exhibition

Andreas Gursky Exhibition in Osaka

The first day in Osaka I went to the National Museum of Art, Osaka to catch an Andreas Gursky exhibition, a German photographer known for his hyper-realistic photographs. His work is usually large scale, capturing large areas and scenes with minute detail. It was a rare opportunity to see such a huge amount (51 photographs from 1980 to 2012!) of one artist’s career, and particuarily exciting since Gursky himself was part of the selection process.

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National Museum of Art, Osaka

The exhibition pamphlet

The exhibition pamphlet

Throughout the exhibition, there are a few ideas from Gursky’s work that seem to stick out: consumerism, crowded and empty spaces, reality; and visual characteristics like saturated colours, minute details, as well as unique composition.

Gurksy focuses a lot on “modern” life, creating images of large housing complexes, office buildings, and many images of various stock exchanges around the world. One of his earlier images Tokyo, Stock Exchange, 1990, captures a frenzied environment. I liked looking at all the different people in the scene- some moving so fast they are complete blurs of white, others still and quiet. It’s a photograph that makes you think about photography as a mechanism- and how this environment is transformed into a still image.

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Tokyo, Stock Exchange, 1990

With the development of digital processing, Gursky began creating images that used a wider field of view and with minute detail. Hong Kong, Shanghai Bank, 1994 shows an office building from a high angle, giving a glimpse into the actions of those inside while still keeping them separated.

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Hong Kong, Shanghai Bank, 1994

What I find interesting about Gurksy’s work is the composition of his images. It seems he uses photography to create images- not photography to capture an image that exists. In this sense he acknowledges that there really is no reality in the visual world- only what we see and perceive.

In Frankfurt, 2007, the scene is one that we can accept as real- technically everything looks correct, yet the glossiness of the surfaces and the stillness of the environment makes this look entirely false. It’s almost too perfect.

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Frankfurt, 2007

One of my most fascinating photographs was the photograph taken of Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm, 1950. This was a) the only image of another artist’s work and b) the only image of grainy quality- practically pixelated. My mind just churned trying to process the image of a painting I have seen in person in a grainy photograph surrounded by the hyper-realistic images.

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Untitled VI, 1997

Then, some of his works are truly visually stunning leaving me in awe, like this image of a massive water tank in Gifu Prefecture.

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Kamiokande, 2007

When I was leaving there were books on sale with images of every photograph featured in the exhibition. Flipping through, I noticed that while the photographs were beautiful on paper, there was something very important about seeing them in person. Their full size lets you see tiny details, and their large size swallows you up letting you get lost on the photograph.

The exhibition ends on May 11. National Museum of Art, Osaka: website

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Koji Kakinuma at Kanazawa21

Last weekend I was feeling a little restless and needing inspiration, prompting a day trip to Ishikawa Prefecture. I was lucky enough to catch Tokyo-based Koji Kakinuma‘s exhibition “Exploring Calligraphy” at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa. 

I say “lucky”, because this exhibition left me in awe. I hope to share why I found this exhibition so fascinating!

Kakinuma brings to Shodo a contemporary vision grounded in tradition. He probes the principle of calligraphy in an endeavor to see calligraphy as a contemporary art form. “Inhale, exhale—use the brush freely!” is the figure of calligraphy he aspires to.

– An excerpt from Kanazawa21

So let’s start at the beginning.

The writing system in Japan uses Kanji, characters used to symbolize or represent words and ideas. In order for Kanji to be functional it has to have rules and remain consistent. The size, shape, spacing, and stroke-order really matter.  It matters even more in Shodo, which is the artistic writing of Kanji (or Japanese calligraphy). There is great emphasis not only on the appearance, but on materials and the physical movement of the writer. Kakinuma’s background is in Shodo, and his work plays with the restrictions that surround the practice.

Kakinuma’s exhibition fills 7 rooms, throughout which he manipulates and distorts these Japanese characters and all the rules they entail. He often alters his arm movements which creates lines that are loose and distorted. In the image below you can see an example of varying strokes.

Koji Kakinuma, “Four Seasons in Manyo’s Ancient World”, 2005

Sometimes these characters become spontaneous and difficult to read. In this form they begin to look less like their practical selves and become more abstract.  This work was not included in the exhibition, but it is an excellent example.

Koji Kakinuma, “Wind/Forest/Fire/Mountain”, 2007

In the above image, you might have noticed a small red mark on the left. All of Kakinuma’s works are finished with his Hanko, a personal stamp used in Japan equal to the functon of signatures (I myself have one for bill payments and signing contracts!). The Hanko, with it’s defined image, looks static next to the Kakinuma’s fluid characters.

The exhibition included one work in English: The phrase “You bring the light in” repeated over and over again in loose writing.

Koji Kakinuma, “You Bring Light In”, 2013

The longer I stared, the more the images in front of me looked less like letters and words and more like orderless markings. It was definitely helpful for me to have one work in my own language. It helped me understand the feeling of something visually familiar being distorted.

Kakinuma’s  produces “big scale” works which are several meters in width and height. Big pools of ink collect together to form areas of progressively deepening shades, as well as ink bleeding into the paper. Droplets and drippings scattered around the overall clean strokes. The Hanko marking that I mentioned before was also present on the larger works, in an accordingly larger size.

Koji Kakinuma, “One”, 2011

During the few Shodo lessons I’ve taken the instructor explains: back straight, relax, move your arm not your wrist, feel the brush, breathe. The brush will move as you move. Kakinuma takes the physicality of Shodo to another level with hisIn a seated area outside of an exhibition room, visitors to the museum are able to watch a video of Kakinuma’s process.  Along with a bucket of ink, he uses a brush almost the same height as him (cue images of the “Borrowers”). His entire body’s strength is needed to move it across the paper on the floor. His feet, back, arms work together to produce the right strokes. 

This isn’t the same video shown at the museum, but it’s also really cool to watch.

These oversized characters speak to the inexhaustible power of Kanji as symbols. This character, 山, is tiny on paper, but represents the gargantuan presence of a mountain, and brings to mind images of Japan’s endless mountain ranges, of their sublime power, of the feeling of spirituality that can come from being in the presence of these untouchable ancient entities.

The way these large works are presented can be very powerful, for instance in an enormous room with a ceiling as high as a gym’s and blindingly white walls. Hanging on opposite eachother, a few meters from the top of the ceiling are “Go Go”, 2013, and “Pheonix”, 2013, each spanning over 77 squared metres. The sheer size, space, and visual impact of this presentation left me in awe. It’s the same feeling I get when I stand in a towering Cathedral or look across the mountains: Completely overwhelmed and yet reassured by the beauty of these environments. A beauty that feels innately familiar yet out of grasp.

Needless to say I really enjoyed the exhibition and I’m glad I was introduced to Kakinuma’s work at this time. Had I visited after only a month or so living in Japan, my response would have been different because I would have had no familiarity to Kanji. In the last 6 months, Kanji has become a confusing part of my daily life. Seeing it distorted and manipulated by Kakinuma was captivating and oddly cathartic.

Links:  Artist WebsiteKanazawa21 Website