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Written by Satoshi KOGANEZAWA   
Published: April 21 2009

fig. 1 from the exhibition "TOTAL" at Elmo Lewis Gallery, Photo:Takashi Kanno

fig. 2 from the exhibition "TOTAL" at Elmo Lewis Gallery, Photo:Takashi Kanno, copyright © Kensuke Sasaki 2009 Courtesy of TARO NASU

fig. 3 from the exhibition "TOTAL" at Elmo Lewis Gallery, Photo:Takashi Kanno

fig. 4 from the exhibition "TOTAL" at Elmo Lewis Gallery, Photo:Takashi Kanno

fig.5 from the exhibition "TOTAL" at Elmo Lewis Gallery, Photo:Takashi Kanno, copyright © Kensuke Sasaki 2009 Courtesy of TARO NASU

    The ceiling, which has beams to which a few fluorescent lamps are attached, the white-painted wall, and the trench shaped floor like a phonograph record case, which has been revealed by removing the tiles originally laid on the floor… these are the characteristics of this exhibition space which is said to have originally been used as a chemical factory. Windows are installed in as much space as possible of the two wall surfaces, facing one another. “TOTAL” is a kind of project exhibition, which is also organized as a presentation party of Elmo Lewis Inc, a company which has started to import and sell planters made by VesseL USA Inc (in the US, such planters with their matted texture have been common in modern spaces since the 1950s, but are rare in Japan). Works created by Makoto Azuma using planters and paintings by Kensuke Sasaki are displayed together in this exhibition space [fig. 1] [fig. 2].

    The most remarkable works are those featuring bare-rooted plants created by Azuma. The main works created by him are made using cut flowers and this is the first time he has presented such works in an exhibition space like this. It is a bold move for Azuma to combine materials in planters whose colors are limited to black and white because vividness has been an important element of many of his previous works.

    For example, let me introduce “Moss and Cactus” [fig. 3]. We need to water moss periodically. Cactus does not need such watering and it can survive even in dry regions, such as deserts. So, these two plants will probably never live together in nature. Also, it is inevitable that we face difficulties when looking after two plants having such an opposite relationship with water. These difficulties could make it difficult for the two plants to live and could shorten their survival time.

    Nevertheless, this work, consisting of three visually-conflicting materials – moist and soft moss with a vivid-green color, cactus giving us a hard image of spines covering a round shape, and a skull of a small animal arranged on the cactus - arouses our new creative imagination. Among his works displayed in this exhibition space, Azuma includes not only the concept of combining different types of plants but also the arrangement of materials such as a stuffed tarantula and iguana, a fossil ammonite and skulls of small animals into some works. This reminds us of the words of Le Comte de Lautreamont, a French poet enthusiastically welcomed by Surrealist authors - “Encounter between a sewing machine on an operating table and a mush”. If there is unpredictability and rare beauty created by the combination of conflicting materials, we may say that his concept reflects Surrealism. I do not believe his aim is to emphasize living plants by juxtaposing the two contrasting things - living plants and dead animals. Why? Because the living and the dead will never conflict with each other about the functional beauty of living things, including plants, created in nature. There is also the beauty of things we feel are so beautiful as to stop the clock. Also, some works were created from Azuma’s sense of humor. For example in [fig. 4], an iguana is arranged as if it is warming itself on a long and thin planter in which moss is planted.

     Paintings by Sasaki, most of which are portraits of women, are displayed on the wall surfaces and posts at equal spaces as if they are looking down on Azuma’s works using potted plants of various sizes. Most of the women drawn in Sasaki’s paintings wear classic clothes, which evokes the beautiful lives of people who might have lived in countries other than Japan in past times. As opposed to Azuma’s works made using planters, whose colors are limited to black and white and which use plants that mostly have greenish colors and which may create a rough impression for us, we feel that Sasaki’s paintings give both an effective impact and a kind of warm impression in this space [fig. 5]. On the day I visited the exhibition, the temperature was relatively high for the beginning of April, the bright sunshine was filling the exhibition space which was located on the third floor of the building, and a pleasant breeze was blowing. As Sasaki’s paintings created an exotic impression and Azuma’s works were made using many plants from foreign countries such as Brazil, the exhibition space gave me a stateless impression and the illusion that I was in some foreign, hot and dry place. I’ve heard that some plants used in the works grew rapidly during this short exhibition term due to the temperature rising rapidly.

     Overall, it’s truly regretful that this exhibition was hardly advertised at all to the general public as it was aimed at only a select group of people, focusing on the presentation of the planters. Lastly, I’d like to quote the exhibition pamphlet regarding the origin of the title of this exhibition, “TOTAL”. By reading the following section, we can clearly understand the ideals of the exhibition, the works displayed, and the aim of selling the works.

“The aim of design is to create a function. And there are functional forms of beauty, which is a characteristic of design. You find the most beautiful aspect of a planter when it contains plants. You appreciate the beauty of art works not only by collecting them but also when they are displayed. Art works constitute a beautiful space by being coordinated totally and by complementing each other within the space. Coordinating the space itself in cooperation with two specialists in each field - one in the field of art and the other in the field of plants - is also an important feature of this exhibition.”

    In this exhibition, all of the above aims are accomplished equally and at a high level. That is one of the reasons I am satisfied with the exhibition.
(Translated by Nozomi Nakayama)

Related Exhibition

03/Apr/2009 - 09/Apr/2009
Venue: ELMO LEWIS Gallery

Last Updated on November 01 2015

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