Garden of Life: Eight Contemporary Artists Venture into Nature
Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, Tokyo
October 17, 2020 – January 12, 2021
We have long adapted to the unrelenting environment on our ever-changing planet, evolving from a single lifeform that emerged eons ago to eventually acquire extraordinary knowledge. Nonetheless, enveloped by virtual reality in our daily lives, we are prone to forget that we ourselves are also a part of nature. Today, as the coronavirus compels us to chart a new relationship with nature, art can serve as a means for us to rediscover the senses we instinctively possess. Perhaps this is because art, unconstrained by narrow meaning or purpose, can awaken us to how we are part of the larger fabric of life. The Former Prince Asaka Residence and its verdant gardens form a backdrop for works from eight contemporary Japanese artists, brought together in this exhibition that reconsiders the relationship between people and nature. This selection of distinctive works, including paintings, sculptures, film, and installations, subtly reveals worlds that exist beyond the reach of everyday consciousness. In the oasis of this residence surrounded by gardens, nature dormant inside of us might suddenly be revived.
Aoki began working with glass during her first year of university, and has continued to produce art that explores our relation to an invisible world beyond glass. After graduation, she studied abroad and received her master’s degree from the Royal College of Art on a program of Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs. Back home, she was included in the 11th Exhibition of the Taro Okamoto Award for Contemporary Art in 2008. Aoki uses the “there-but-not-there” qualities of glass to illuminate the cycle of life as an invisible world. Her motifs of microscopic bacteria, cells and viruses are sustained by invisible things, and reflect the nature of life as an ever-changing phenomenon. Aoki’s works, including a new installation piece, are exhibited in the Former Prince Asaka Residence and Gallery 2 of the Annex.
Asai is known for his Masking Plant series of plants drawn with permanent markers on masking tape, his enormous Earth Painting series made from soil and water collected at local sites, and his Sprouted Plants series, in which he cuts out the shapes of animals and plants from the white lines of road markings and burns them onto the road surface. In recent years, he has also produced oil paintings as well as works using deer’s blood as paint. Asai’s art is composed of three distinct forms of nature (materials, motifs, and environment). His production process combines approaches to each of these in the course of creating a work. This exhibition features artworks that reflect the progression of Asai’s interest from nature to “the wild”.
Following a gap of several years after studying oil painting at university, Kato began producing art again while working on construction sites. He garnered attention for his oil paintings of embryo-like humanoid figures, and in 2004 also began to produce humanoid sculptures. His international career has included participation in the 2007 Venice Biennale. Kato, who considers painting his primary mode of expression, argues that from the moment paintings are placed within a wider context, they assume an “unnatural” character as a result of being cut off from the world by a rectangular frame, in contrast to the “natural” presence of sculptures that function as a sort of figure. The human form offers a way for Kato to move between these two modes of expression. This exhibition features artworks that use a diverse range of materials extending beyond painting and sculpture.
Kou’s artwork features motifs of scenery drawn from memories formed during her fieldwork in the mountains and sea. In 2013, she was selected for the VOCA Exhibition at the Ueno Royal Art Museum and received attention for her contribution to the Setouchi Triennale, The Secret of Hanasuwajima. After relocating to Shodoshima, her motifs began to reflect the plants, stones, and other natural materials on the island. She changed her name from Yoshida to Kou in 2016. Kou’s works, which appear to express the sublime, are a sort of toolbox for the artist to (vicariously) experience the grandness of nature like a protagonist or player in a role-playing game. They likewise arouse the viewer to play. That is evident in Cosmic Cactus, an imitation of a desert plant that could be described as a panorama in solid form, and can also be foreseen in her early video work SHAKKI – black and white on the lake. Works that evoke a panoramic sense of nature are displayed alongside these two pieces.
While moving his studio between Kunitachi, Ghent, and Tomonoura, Kobayashi has developed a technique of assembling and pulling apart frames and canvases while simultaneously painting. Through his work, he has grappled with existential questions regarding the relationship between image, place, and light. In 1997, he was invited by Jan Hoet to take up residence in Ghent, Belgium’s third largest city, where he created his signature “paintings on the floor”. Around this time, Kobayashi began thinking about the environment-the totality of relationships between all things that he describes as “of this planet” – as a family of pictures that connect to one another. In addition to a floor painting, this exhibition includes installations that make use of the light that filters into the museum.
Sasaki’s prints, oil paintings, and drawings are inspired by scenery, traditional patterns and stories from various regions. She has completed multiple overseas residencies, including in Australia under the sponsorship of the Pola Art Foundation in 2010. Among her most recognizable works are the wall drawings that she created with sugar-based royal icing at the 2016 Aichi Triennale. Because these wall drawings are destroyed after the end of an exhibition, they remain only in the memories of the visitors. They embody the comfort of “being forgotten” while also remaining. This exhibition focuses primarily on works that Sasaki created on-site with materials and motifs connected to the museum.
Early in his career, Shimura created numerous works that were public, site-specific installations featuring video projected onto familiar places and objects instead of white screens, thereby intervening in the character of the space and the nature of interaction among the people gathered there. Since the 2015 video work Japanese Cattle, he has also produced comparatively straightforward documentary films based on his fieldwork. While these methods appear dissimilar, they share a common structure of taking a story (history) that is in the process of being forgotten amid a particular system or customs, and layering it like a mirage though video projection into a space or as montages of multiple shots. This exhibition features a video projection in the gallery, as well as a documentary film focused on the relationship between sheep and people, and other works inspired by the museum space.
Following his debut with oversized copperplate etchings, Yamaguchi became deeply interested in nuclear power while in the United States between 1992 and 1993, and began his Nuclear Power Plant series after going to Germany in 1995. In 1997, he started to create his Colony series of self-supported paintings as well as his Cassette Plants series of flowers and seeds set in natural resin. He has continued to record news about the 2011 nuclear disaster in his daily journal After the Quake: Notes since three days after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Alongside this work, Yamaguchi has also written numerous philosophical texts influenced by the theories of Goethe, Benjamin, and Shigeo Miki. This exhibition features cassette plants that use both real and imitation flowers to strike a contrast between the natural and artificial, as well as paintings that connect them through analogy.