Sensing Nature 04.08.11

icon088-review-nature-main

In Japan, it is often claimed, there is a special relationship to nature. Everything from understanding of time, approaches to cuisine, attitudes to sex and ideas of beauty have been explained in terms of the particular sensitivity to nature embedded in Japanese thought and traditions. Tokyo's Mori Art Museum takes up this theme in Sensing Nature, exploring the relationship between modern Japanese culture and this ancient sense of nature. Although the museum perches atop the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, 53 storeys above the world's largest city, the ironic potentials of the setting remain unexploited.

Despite the largeness of theme, the work of only three artists are presented: Tokujin Yoshioka, Taro Shinoda and Takashi Kuribayashi, who each get a generous portion of the museum's cavernous spaces. Yoshioka is positioned as an artist despite his reputation as an international designer. He leaves much of his canvas untouched. His major contribution is Snow, 
a transparent volume of space 15m long, 6m high and 4m deep, filled with 200kg of white downy feathers, backlit by white light. A fan creates fitful blasts of air, sending up downy drifts that whirl and settle. The effect is like a snowstorm in its serene agitation. It asks for nothing more than a contemplation of the phenomenon in itself.

Yoshioka's Waterfall and Water Block are similarly unelaborated. Both are monolithic blocks of optical glass, perfunctorily given the names table and bench. These objects are mute save for the fascination of their material properties – massive yet perfectly transparent..

The designer's approach to the revelation of nature in these works involves purification and concentration. Nature's teemingness, whether material or phenomenal, is stilled to isolated moments held in suspension. It is a sensibility that finds native resonance in the distilled creations of Zen Buddhism, as well as the works of the Mono-ha group of artists that coalesced about Lee Ufan in Japan around 1970. But Yoshioka makes no such reference, and his approach strongly contrasts with that of the other artists in this show, so much so that the difference appears less of degree than of kind. Despite protestations to the contrary, design thinking really does differ to that of art.

icon088-review-nature-small

Takashi Kuribayashi's large paper-mache forest suspended at eye level and 5m high mound of dirt allude to hidden subterranean realms beyond the surface. But being handmade and literal-minded, it feels undigested against Yoshioka's smooth blancmange.

Shinoda's work presents the strongest contrasting vision. Three large projection screens enclose a small space housing a sculptural installation. The projections provide mesmerising scenes of banal everyday landscapes – apartment blocks, urban watercourses, wastelands, interspersed by the incongruous sight of a tapir pacing in its zoo enclosure. The installation, Model of Oblivion, is an arresting tableau of blood-red liquid flowing over a craggy white landscape onto a flat white tabletop, running in spine-tingling rivulets off the edge.

Shinoda's evocation of nature is a far more complex affair than Yoshioka's. Imagery, symbolism, historical allusion, memory and bodily experience jostle and combine to conjure a world, rather than isolate a gleaming sliver of the real. Rivers allude to veins, tower blocks to tree trunks, landscapes to mortal bodies. Shinoda's view of nature is a cosmology linking inner and outer worlds, embracing both the human and the non-human.

This results in a rather messy universe, in contrast to Yoshioka's spotless one. Devoted to beauty as a type of sensation, Yoshioka's nature is purified rather than abstracted. In this can be found the hygienic impulses of so much of design's obsession with the beautiful, and Japan's obsession with the pure. Yoshioka can be seen as a most Japanese designer.

Sensing Nature is at the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, until 7 November

 

Image

Sensing Nature

 

Words

Julian Worrall

quotes story

Imagery, symbolism, historical allusion, memory and bodily experience jostle and combine to conjure a world, rather than isolate a gleaming sliver of the real. Rivers allude to veins, tower blocks to tree trunks, landscapes to mortal bodies

Shinoda-Taro Reverberation

Leave a comment

Click to show