TOSHIHIRO SAKUMA"colony"(Sep., 1999), Perceiving the Instance When Accumulated Time Sparks, exhibition catalogue/Rika Yamashita (Art Writer)|
If "soul food¦" were to be translated into Japanese, it would be something like "tamashii no tabemono (spiritual food)." This is similar to the mental images we have of our palate in our childhood, which has been imprinted in the depths of our memories. Though we used to like a certain taste when we were small, we tend to completely forget it when we become adults. But, at times, like an accident, I bump into this taste and remember that "this is my 'soul food'." To be honest, I have a wild fancy that Toshihiro Sakuma's installations are like my "soul food."
You might be saying, "why do I have to read about food at the beginning of an art exhibition catalog?" If so, I must apologize. I thought about writing a more important-looking, dignified essay, but I came to the conclusion that I can only weave words from my own points of view. If I do not first establish a foothold, I cannot face up to the artist, Toshihiro Sakuma. So, please bear with my wild fancies for a while longer.
Now, how do Sakuma's works, which have been purified to their limits, including the materials and techniques he utilizes, connect with the taste of foods that are stuck in the depths of my memory? I would prefer to just say that it is my "intuition," but I will try to put my feelings into words.
I think that Sakuma's works, which all rely heavily on time, are created from two opposing concepts of time. One is [the accumulation of time]. For instance, for his New York's solo exhibition in 1998, he utilized gauze for the first time. He told me gauze was a material he had in mind ever since he held a workshop at the Rias Ark Museum of Art in 1995. The theme of his "colony" series, which is name, came into his mind five or six years ago when he saw an enormous stone monument with the names of the war dead in Vietnam. His studio was also filled with other "things" that had not yet taken shape, but which he intuitively sensed as "possessing powers." Sakuma gazes at these various objects placed around him. He will do things like turn the pages of a telephone book day after day, while taking his time and letting each idea mature in his body.
When Sakuma actually produces his work, he also chooses techniques that allow him to [accumulate time]. The processes of writing names on wooden plates and sewing name labels are in themselves very ordinary, daily tasks, somewhat like a housewife's kitchen work. The artist's ideas manifest visual forms through the unbelievable amount of repetitious work which, alone, could be done by anyone.
Even so, I suppose it is natural for people who create works to have materials that interest them close at hand. The technique of repeating simple work is not that rare. If that is all there is to Sakuma's work, then, it would be like a tasty daily food, but not the "soul food" that I have in mind.
As a matter of fact, when the space of Sakuma's creation invites in viewers, they can feel [the accumulated time] pop and split open. A phenomenon occurs, as if [the time had sparked], similar to the feeling of bumping into the "soul food" that people had forgotten long ago.
The moment I taste my "soul food," I feel something like a flash, which vividly brings back my childhood memories. The enormous amount of time from the past to the present that had been condensed runs through my whole body. This is more like an instance of utter amazement, rather than a bodily sensation.
The viewers stepping into the space of Sakuma's "colony" will come across a phenomenon similar to the one mentioned above. The only objects visible to the eye are the four to five Chinese characters on wooden plates and pieces of folded gauze. The colors and forms are those commonly found in our daily lives. They are an accumulation of mundane "things." Nevertheless, once I realized that the Chinese characters are people's names, sparks ran through my brain. From this minimum information that they are full names, various imagined thoughts relating to these people kept racing and multiplying in my mind: the people's ages and occupations; the parents' feelings when they named their children; the relationship between the names placed side by side, or that between the same family names; the turned-over wooden plates that signify the absentees of this world: and the gauze and the smell of disinfectant that evoke feelings of sickness, death and birth. When I came to and looked over the entire work, my mind was seized by the massive amount of names that had transformed into people, and the lives that existed between life and death. The sparks I felt from this condensed time pierced through my body one after the next, and I was at a loss to give any verbal explanation. This sensation, which corresponded with a vivid bodily nature, could be related to "eating" rather than viewing an artwork.
As I have mentioned, two different concepts of time coexist in Sakuma's work. If the first, [the accumulation of time], can be compared to going up stairs one at a time, the second, the instance when [the time sparks] is like jumping from the very top of the stairs into the aggregate of people below who look only like small dots. This dualistic time that is incorporated in each space of his work is also included in the process of creating his work. Sakuma changes the flow of his work every four or five years. While he is engaged in one theme, he undergoes a thorough, introspective thought process. After he examines every possibility, and before he falls the trap of creating variations of similar works, he determinedly transforms his theme. He calls this a "jump," and explains that although the essence of his work does not change, this step is like declaring a resolution so that he can continue working on that which he lacked in his previous techniques. The dualistic time concepts that our bodies perceive from his work originate from the attitude the artist has towards his work.
Lastly, allow me to go back to the "soul food." Normally, food is taken into the body in order to live. When, then, is the "soul food" most badly needed? In my opinion, it is when we are on the verge of death. If it is eaten at the time of the end of my life, I have the feeling that I could accept the fact that life without choice is a repetition of different emotions. Sakuma's works also position life and death on the same line. His series of works, "colony," which focuses on "people," and which removed the warm and romantic aspects of light bulbs that he had utilized in his former series of works, "healing," manifests a condensed sense of death, which can never be healed. However, this feeling does not remind us of hatred or fear. As if eating the "soul food" at the end of my life, when I stand before Sakuma's work, I feel that I can begin to accept that there are matters in life that cannot be healed.
¦Originally, "soul food" is the traditional homemade food of black people in southern America.
(Translated by Taeko Nanpei)