Fragment on “Phase of Nothingness—Black”

I created a set of thirty-five works under the title “Phase of Nothingness—Black” for a solo exhibition that would tour European art museums. Since it would be shipped from Japan and then tour the museums in each country, the conditions required something with volume and presence that was impressive as a sculpture, but at any rate easy to transport and install.

For this reason I thought of a set of black reinforced plastic sculptures, arranged as if they are stuck to the ground, suitable for a large space with a high ceiling and completely white walls. In order to accommodate the differences in the various exhibition spaces, it was something that could create a landscape of striking configuration. To this end, the way of thinking about Japanese stone gardens was in no small way informative.

The stone garden artisan artfully arranges irregular natural stones, constantly observing nature and drawing on his experience. In the upstream of a large mountain river there exist an infinite number of large and small rocks, nourishing the stream, with which one can make an abundantly subtle landscape. When these artisans arrange the natural stone, they are creating a garden as if naturally, feeling for the fixed “mood” of the locations for the stones. All that is necessary can be confirmed like the exhalation of cigarette smoke, flowing and connecting with the garden.

I wrestled with two tons of clay for days and days. Based on the several hundred sketches I had prepared in advance, I could contrast the clumps of natural clay with the artificial parts, covering the whole thing with liquefied plaster, which solidifies and becomes the outer mold. Once I had shaken out all the clay, cleaned it and dried it well, the external mold was complete.

Spreading mold lubricant onto the inside of the external mold, I started to apply the liquid plastic mixed with black carbon. There was gas and odors, and it was hard work—it felt as if we had become slaves. Layering up the glass fiber to a roughly 3 to 5mm coating, we removed the external plaster and the main form was complete. The plaster was removed from the black plastic mold, we polished the artificial parts with water-resistant paper and buff—and the sculpture was finished.

Removing the clay mass in its entirety and leaving just a layer of a few millimeters, we then perceived the form as just a membrane. My long familiarity with the way of thinking for membrane topology was useful here. The materiality that the solid body possesses is thin, the form of the membrane remaining neutral and indescribable. It shares its surface or something with lacquered black utensils or furniture. This set of works, with only a neutral materiality made from a black membrane, is something quite different to what I had done until then.

Mono-ha is said to be art that intrinsically problematizes the existence abundant in the sense of the material… But in this work there seems to be a great transmutation from that. At the time, in my mind, I positioned “Phase of Nothingness—Black” as a new, experimental version of another Mono-ha.

The European exhibition tour started at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. Dr. Schmidt, the curator, asserted that layout planning was entirely her prerogative and did not listen to anyone else’s opinion. Of course, I let her handle the layout of the sculptures, and it was her who set them up in a strictly European geometrical style.

Then she allowed me to arrange them as I liked. One could say that handling irregular stone and wood is something that essentially the Japanese are good at. After that I was euphoric as I arranged them, feeling the “mood” as I walked. I just moved the light, black sculptures by myself, casting a sharp black silhouette against the tall, white wall. I confirmed people’s perspectives and lines, ambulating and aspiring for a landscape that invites “meditation.”

Once in summer I stayed at a village minshuku inn where islands intermingled with the sea. You could get a view of the sea and islands from the second-floor window, and even in small intervals between doing something I would always gaze out eagerly at the sea. At dusk, I would sit on the sand to watch the setting of the sun, and relish the drama of the red sun melting into the horizon. With the islands on the sea surface, the scenery was divided up horizontally—truly wondrous.

I realized that however irregular the islands were, they would always be completely divided horizontally by the sea, creating bountiful nature. The form of the islands reflected in the sea was always changing according to the weather and the time, the landscape becoming complete by its horizontal segmentation.

What if the floor of the exhibition room was the sea and was thought of as a completely horizontal surface?

By thinking of it this way, the sculptures, spread out like islands, also become a vivid image of bountiful nature. That this depth of my psyche was the incentive for making “Phase of Nothingness—Black” was an absolute, hidden fact.

Dissecting various sculptural forms horizontally, creating form as membrane and a neutral “landscape” as abstraction—this is the fundamental theme of “Phase of Nothingness—Black.”

Nobuo Sekine

March 25, 2013, Tokyo