Venue : Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT)
Organization : Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo
Co-curator : Naoko Seki
Finding the words to describe Suga’s work is extremely challenging. This is because the meaning of his work doesn’t become apparent through words—rather, it becomes apparent through the relationship that is established when his work is presented alongside his words.
Consequently, the bulk of the vast body of text written by Suga is self-reflective, describing his thought processes, and caution must be exercised in attempting to apply his texts to interpretation of his work. There is a significant difference between his work, which is characterized by its clarity and strong presence, and the words he has written, which are more a series of subjective perspectives.
Suga’s sozaishugi (his ideas of elemental existence)1 is not simple existentialism—while his stance towards existence is straightforward, his ideas are based on an extremely sophisticated cognizance. It is a zen-like, philosophical cognizance that explores the furthermost depths of existence, transcending the physical existence of its objects.
Suga often uses materials such as wood, metals, stone, concrete, and vinyl as is, hardly adding anything to them. He simply places these materials in the given space and entangles, joins, punctures, places side by side, leans, layers, or weaves them.
This exhibition, the first in 15 years since his last major solo exhibition (at the Yokohama Museum of Art in 1999), includes recreations of many of his works produced in the 1970s. The essence to Suga’s work is the “situation” (景, kei)—something that is always different depending on the location and space. As a result, the work is totally new every time it is re-installed. It is probably more appropriate, then, to refer to the subsequent works as new versions, rather than recreations, of the original work.
Suga belongs to the Mono-ha (School of Things) art movement, which began in the late 1960s. This movement represented a departure from notions of the artist’s intention, subjective perspective, or representation, and instead aimed at allowing the material itself to speak and to highlight its existence, and was part of a new artistic direction in which there was a shift from the subject to the substance, or from the subject to the external. Arte Povera, Supports/Surfaces, and Earthworks are examples of similar movements that emerged at around the same time, in which cognizance or perception, and subjectivism were reexamined.
So why is Suga’s work from the 1970s important in 2015? There are various reasons for this. One is the increasingly multifaceted nature of, and instability in, our perception or cognizance.
Keisuke Kitano, scholar of medea theory describes the situation of visual images today as follows: Alluvions and commotions of visual images—which are being driven by “entanglements of trajectories that images circulate in, sensibilities of distance in which our grasp of stability is being lost, and those modes of images that operate to mobilize thoughts and ideas—most likely, are now starting to bring about radical changes at the very foundation of the way we are.” (English translation by Kitano)2
There is no doubt that people are reacting to the instability generated by this digital environment, and that there is a desire to return to a stable world of matter which can be physically confirmed. However, it is not that simple, one reason being that the relationship we have with the external world is significantly different to what it was in the 1970s. Our perception has become entangled and layered, while our awareness of the issue of existence and non-existence has decreased. This ambiguity that we have created makes us anxious, and yet, at the same time, we find it pleasurable. The reason why Suga is so refreshing in 2015 is because he so clearly presents the perceptual reality of existence/ non-existence and visibility/non-visibility. Moreover, it is not singularity that he pursues. Indeed, Suga employs a method in which he creates relationships and contrasts between objects that have the effect of accentuating existence. Suga began using materials and exploring the environment in which these materials existed during the 1960s. Over the decades he has observed and attempted to gain an understanding of weight, texture, and surfaces, as well as the characteristics of different materials, and his ability to perceive and understand his environment has continued to be enhanced and reach new depths. At that time, Suga leaned towards the ideas of Keiji Nishitani, the religious philosopher who attempted to overcome nihilism through Zen. He was influenced by concepts espoused by Nishitani, such as the idea that all things are interrelated, becoming simultaneously subordinate to all other things and the center for all other things (a circuminsessional relationship), and the concept of a field of emptiness as a place with the power to bring all things in the world together in relationship to each other. Suga followed this thinking back to its roots with studies of Mahayana Buddhism, and after validating the vijnana, which holds that this world is no more than a representation of the individual (an image held in the mind), he eventually attained an intuitive and direct method of cognition of things and the medium (air etc.) that surrounds them. Rather than interpreting or assigning meaning to Suga became able to grasp their existence through 164 165 direct perception. (This process of trial and error is described in Suga’s “Latent Infinity” (pp. 75-79), as well as in Naoko Seki’s “Traces of Thought: Kishio Suga’s Production Notebooks” (pp. 140-161), both of which are included in this catalogue.).
1. Naoko Seki, “Traces of Thought: Kishio Suga’s Production Notebooks,” this catalogue, p. 145
2. Keisuke Kitano, Introduction to Theories of Visual Image, Jimbun Shoin, 2009, p. 16 (English translation by Kitano)
- Taken from the catalog(Kishio Suga : Situated latency), Yuko Hasegawa "Thoughts on Kishio Suga- Introduction: Why Kishio Suga Now?"