Japanese / English
Inviting to Observe, Evoking
Senior Curator, Contemporary Art Center, Art Tower Mito
When facing works by Kanako Kitabayashi, whose main material is ceramic, I often first stare at them closely to see whether the central object is a natural stone. It is as smooth as stones on a beach that have been rounded by years of the tides’ ebb and flow, yet it has a delicate asperity. The covering surface is not of a single tone; here and there it looks yellowish or cloudy. One can associate this partial tarnishing with some effect from an external source such as heat, water, or ultraviolet rays. On the other hand, looking at this flat, rectangular shape that appears unlikely to be of natural origin, one has to estimate that this stone-like object is artificial, made by the artist. That is, the tarnishing mentioned above is, in more precise terms, nothing but a deliberate effect by the artist, produced by applying glaze on clay and then firing it. Creating objects of déjà vu that, contrary to their initial impression, do not exist in nature, Kitabayashi evokes phenomena or things that we have seen somewhere. Her works quietly trigger our memories.
The action Kitabayashi's works encourage is something that is better described as “observation” instead of “appreciation.” The Japanese expression “looking as if licking” usually describes unpleasant staring. However, the physical, tactile word “licking” seems somewhat appropriate for the action of looking at her works closely. Probably, that has something to do with the fact that looking at her works either leaves a tactile sensation even when one does not touch them or engenders the desire to touch them.
Observation proceeds. Thin wires with small balls at their tips are bowing with the balls' weight. Those balls, which also appear to be floating, sometimes swing due to human movements and wind from air conditioners—or evoke swinging and bouncing. In another work of hers, ribbon-shaped suede leather also eloquently conveys its weight through its slack. Memories of its moist texture, unique to suede, return, as many of us have previously touched suede in shoes and bags. Elements such as the swinging of bowed balls and the slack of suede suddenly make one think of a primordial force that affects everything on the earth—gravity.
Unfortunately, using the sense of touch is not welcomed during the act of art appreciation in an exhibition. However, sculptures by Kitabayashi go beyond that barrier by vividly evoking touch through only vision. Their shapes are as if they have been rounded as someone stroked them repeatedly. Something that, at one point in our lives, we have seen or have touched is unexpectedly taken from one of the many drawers in our minds and begins to take shape. That evoked landscape may differ from person to person or may be something that is shared by many. In any case, it first assumes shape and becomes complete in the viewers' minds.
Translated by Communa Inc.