5 Mar. 2012

Blinking Figures / HOSHINO Futoshi

Born in 1970, Nakazawa Ken is a Japanese artist, who has worked on numerous paintings, sculptures, and installations since his first solo exhibition in 1992 at INAX Gallery. Besides frequent solo exhibitions, Nakazawa has also participated in a number of group shows, including “Modest Radicalism” in 1999 at Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, and international exhibitions, including Yokohama Triennale 2001. About once a year, Nakazawa exhibits his latest solo creations at Ando Gallery and every year he unfailingly works hard to give new form to his designs. At a glance, his latest masterpiece, Four Lines (2012), is defined by the construction of primary elements. Steeped in viewers’ subjective perception, the main material consists of a 3mm wide steel rod, largely painted in white.

Upon entering the square space of the gallery, you may feel a strained atmosphere caused by Nakazawa’s work—the first impression is definitely not one of modesty. It is clear that the atmosphere is influenced by a well-controlled use of colors. Firstly, the contrast between the painted white and original rust of steel gives tension to the steel object itself; secondly, the object’s colors bear another atmospheric tension with the white walls and the gray floor. The echo of colors give off a minimalistic impression; however, the tension is not caused by the chromatic repetition of monotonous steel objects, but rather from dynamics between the work and the space.

Additionally, you may have a different impression as soon as you approach the object. Due to the specific texture of steel, the object turns out to be a three-dimensional sculpture. Different from the smooth surface of timber or plastic, the painted and bare steel that Nakazawa uses has a rough surface. Four Lines stands out against the space as a material with its specific texture. Viewer’s initial impression that the work consists in minimalistic color and structure will be challenged as he/she moves closer to the object.

Roughly speaking, Nakazawa’s artwork will certainly be appreciated with such contrasting impressions. At a certain distance, Four Lines will be experienced as quasi-lines in the gallery space at first, and when you get close to it, it will simultaneously appear to be three-dimensional. It is the physical distance that lends certain attributes to the work and prevents us from asserting that it is the sculpture or the installation as in the ordinary way. We cannot firmly determine to which genre the work belongs; rather, the work seems to question the category or frame with which we appreciate it. Nakazawa gets us to reflect on the arbitrary identification of artwork we generally make, whose categories are painting, sculpture, installation, and so on.

Nakazawa creates such effects through his work with delicate compositions of simple objects. You can easily identify a unit of Four Lines. It consists of two vertical and three parallel lines that make a white frame that is 130cm high. The frames are straightly linked to each other by rusty steel to give them depth. As the title demonstrates, these thirty-nine “white frames” are created to make four different long lines in the space. According to the artist, he prepared forty frames when he planned to exhibit his work in the gallery space and decided not to use one white frame among forty. The white frames were grouped into clusters of ten, seven, ten, and twelve. Arranged as four lines, they are connected by rusty steel as frames of eight horizontal lines.

Nakazawa decided to arrange these thirty-nine frames as groups of ten, seven, ten, and twelve and abstained from using the original forty frames. It is not the arithmetic principle but the visual one that is applied to the construction of space. If observed from a distance, the object’s rusty lines are viewed as typical three-dimensional grids of the space. In other words, they appear to function as grids by the rule of perspective. Furthermore, this appearance is enforced by a huge pillar inside the gallery, which seems to be placed in the foreground of the space near its entrance. Therefore, the viewer perceives a three-dimensional visual space that is provisional and changing as the viewer changes his/her point of view. Nakazawa’s well-composed artwork is contrary to general installation works that consist of dispersed objects. Nakazawa not only gets his work indeterminate between sculpture and installation but also introduces a sort of perspective drawing in it.

Nakahara Yusuke, one of the most influential art critics in Japan, used the term “frame” when he critiqued Nakazawa’s first solo exhibition. In his article “Nakazawa Ken and the Frame,” Nakahara focuses on literal “frames” found in the Nakazawa’s work. Nakahara stated that his artistic creation should be produced through the “frame,” which reminds us of frame for practical use on the one hand and of the frame as artistic object on the other hand [*1]. Nakahara’s claim could be applied to Four Lines as well, if the “white frame” in it were regarded as one of such frames. Rather, we should focus on the viewer’s metaphorical frame of recognition that would be made unstable through experiencing Four Lines. Since it can be viewed as painting, installation, and sculpture, it demands provisional “frames of experience” due to the plural aspects of the work. It is true that frames in the literal sense have been found in Nakazawa’s works, and the term “frame” has been used by critics as a cliché for describing them. However, it should not be neglected that his latest work requires the revision of the audience’s frame of viewing.

As we have seen, Nakazawa’s Four Lines does not follow the arithmetic principle. Although the literal title of “Four lines” might evoke a sense of minimalism, one should not regard it as a successor of minimalism like D. Judd’s rectangular solids. At the same time, his work does not emphasize the materiality of object. It does not bear such fetishism as a preference for texture or presence of the matter. Four Lines is well controlled by the artist’s ratio—“reason” or “sense of proportion”— that prefers the appropriate composition to the simple repetition of objects and the proper distance to the excessive approach to objects. Nakazawa’s work has been regarded as a sort of successor of Mono-ha; however, his creation is so original that it cannot be regarded in the boundary of Minimalism nor compared to Suga Kishio, one of the famous artists of Mono-ha.

More often than not, Four Lines keeps us from appreciating stable forms in art. Instead, it demonstrates various figures, which appear or disappear depending on the viewer’s position. Nakazawa’s resistance to a given frame or figure is embodied in the shape of the steel frame. Most viewers might have the impression that a 130cm high white frame represents the human—maybe a child’s—body. Once such a personification is given, the four “lines” of steel can be seen as four “columns” of people. However, our imagination cannot complete that personification, as the lines are too abstract to be considered human figures. Our perception—that the abstract figures of steel are human bodies—is suspended, and the figures are pushed off before they are stabilized. What is interesting is the fact that simple forms of steel appear as meaningful figures, and these figures disappear when perceived as simple lines of steel. Nakazawa’s work urges us to reflect on such a function that our cognitive identification facilitates. Four Lines is the work that occurs with such an experience of blinking figures. However, it is not derived from the arithmetic principle or the presence of matter, but from the ratio of the artist, who delicately controls the “proportion” of the work with his “reason.”

[*1] Nakahara Yusuke, “Nakazawa Ken and the Frame,” INAX ART NEWS, INAX Gallery, 1992 (in Japanese).