HOME > Articles-written by Natsumi ARAKI (EN/JP)

The Device to View the World

Natsumi Araki (curator, Mori Art Museum)

The tranquil space created by Jun Azumatei was also pervaded with a sense of strong force. Sand was evenly laid inside a huge, shallow, T-shaped box, and his nine circular paintings were embedded within the sand. The randomly arranged circular paintings stood out due to the use of spotlights, creating a carefree rhythm. He also exhibited two other identically shaped paintings on the wall so that they could harmonize with the installation on the floor. In each painting, white figures emerged from within the base color of sky blue, green or beige.

Azumatei used to create paintings that possessed a photo-like gloss, using a method in which he applied layers of paint on a photo that he took himself, showing a scene such as a skyscape; he would then varnish and polish the surface with a file. This revealed a world of counteractions between the figurative and the abstract, and also between the mediums of photography and painting. In these paintings, he fixated on the “something” that resurfaced from his past experiences that had been deposited in his memory. Through the series of procedures he undertook, a unique smooth texture was manifested without any traces of brushstrokes, which also helped create more distance from the medium of painting. Nonetheless, Azumatei’s works were characterized by the fact that they unquestionably contained the element of “painting,” which was, in a way, classical in its very nature. His attempt to step out from such expressions was shown in his series Float/Circle (2006), in which he removed the framework of painting by randomly arranging small circular paintings (each eighteen centimeters in diameter) on walls. The circular shapes generated movement through their release from being tied to notions of “top” and “bottom.” In this way, he expanded the possibilities of installation that could be derived from painting. That is to say, he shifted his perspective from a focus on his experimental production processes that allowed the creation of a single painting, to one in which he could construct a space using multiple works.

However, his early works in the Float/Circle series were at the initial experimental stage. In this exhibition, he achieved his presentation of a creative landscape that was both innovative and invigorating, with a composition that daringly arranged large-scale circular paintings, each 180 centimeters in diameter (ten times larger than the earlier works in the series). His paintings were no longer just hung on walls, but also embedded in sands of the earth. This installation was able to be viewed from any angle, as a result of Azumatei’s aim to have viewers enjoy his work without limiting any directions or its frontal position. Thus, this work was released from all the restrictions involved in painting, including the form, the angle, and the exhibition method. He said that even the basic material for the work was not always a photo as it was in the past. This meant that his typical theme of a “photo,” which strongly characterized his previous works, was no longer his primary concern.

The images in Azumatei’s “horizon” paintings remind us more of water than the sky. In actuality, when one views this type of work in a squatting position, the light reflected on the smooth surface shines as if it were a pond or a puddle. On the other hand, one could say that each of his “sky” paintings is turned into a “water mirror” that reflects the sky. This type of work contains a passive element in that the image is similar to a transparent pool of water that manifests its existence through reflecting the colors on its surface. Despite the fact that these two types of paintings are quite large in scale, each one hardly claims its individuality as a “painting.” Rather, as a whole, they attract the eyes of viewers as “landscapes” that can be associated with nature.

Azumatei’s installation reminds us of a Japanese garden, in that along with the image conveyed from the sand, it allows us to recall nature even though it is an artificial object. From ancient times, a garden in Japan has functioned as a device to allow people to imagine a vast ocean or mountains, via the exquisite arrangement of water, stones, sand, and plants. The idea of a Japanese “dry landscape garden,” which derived from Zen Buddhism in the Kamakura (1192-1333) and Muromachi (1333-1573) periods, would further deepen the symbolic nature of a garden through the use of white sand instead of actual water to express a pond or ocean. It is the eyes of our inner souls that try to see nature and gaze into the universe via a landscape made out of plain stones and sand. Azumatei aimed to reveal what exists beyond his paintings through having viewers freely view his installation that was created in the image of a garden.

Azumatei wrote the following in his statement for this exhibition:

I remember that the first English textbook I was given when I entered my junior high school began with the Swahili greetings “Jambo!” and “Habari!” When I turned the page to Lesson One, I saw an unfamiliar map-like diagram that occupied the upper part of that page, but I could not immediately understand what it was. On closer look, I realized it was a reversed world map. My reason for saying that it was reversed is because the world map I had known up to that time had the North Pole at the top, the South Pole at the bottom, Japan in the central area, the Eurasian continent on the left side, the American continents on the right, and Australia slightly up in the center…At the time, I felt that the reversed map contained enigmatic and rich possibilities. I thought that we might have failed to see essential matters while living in a world that determines all directions based on gravitation. I also thought that there must be visions that only the people who have gone to the outer space know, and that there might be a world that only bats could see.

Azumatei seeks visions that we have overlooked through doubting the points of view that we have become accustomed to in our daily lives. As if to show viewers the “reversed world map,” he stirs our fixated views and ideas so that we can look at the world with a more open mind. That is why his works may at times convey a sense of incongruity, and thus why viewers may feel uncomfortable. However, this is a subject that every one of us should face in order to understand others, as well as to discover our own hidden potentials. Azumatei’s attempt to sublimate the medium of painting so that it can act as a device for us to philosophize on our own lives will no doubt continue to open up new landscapes for us to view.

Translated by Taeko Nanpei



 これまで東亭順は、自ら撮影した空などの写真に幾層も絵具で彩色し、ニスを塗ってヤスリで研磨するという方法で、写真のような光沢をもつ絵画を制作してきた。それは具象と抽象、写真と絵画のせめぎあう世界である。記録が記憶の中に沈殿し、再び浮かびあがってきた「何か」を、東亭は画面に定着させてきた。作業の工程を重ねることによって、筆跡を残さず、絵画の直裁さからは距離をもつ、つるつるした独特の物質感が表出する。それでもなお、どこか古典的でれっきとした「絵画」感をもつところが、東亭の作品の特徴でもあった。そこから一歩脱する試みとして《Float / circle》(2006年)のシリーズでは、直径18cmの小円形の絵画を複数壁に散らし、絵画というフレームを外してみせた。天地を決めない円形のもつ自由さが動きを生んだ。一枚の絵にこめてきた実験的な制作過程の視点を、複数による構成へと移し、絵画から派生したインスタレーションへの可能性を広げた。

 しかしながら《Float / circle》は、まだ初期的な実験だったといえよう。今回の展示では、直径を10倍の180cmへと変えた大型の円を大胆に配した構成で、斬新かつ清々しい風景の創造に成功した。絵画はもはや壁から離れ、地の砂に埋まる。天地と左右、正面を限定せずに見方を鑑賞者に委ねたいと考える東亭の意図に従って、展示はどこからでも見ることが可能だ。形、方向、展示方法全てが絵画の決まりごとから解放されている。基準となる素材は、写真の場合とそうでない場合があるという。東亭の作品の大きな特徴であった「写真」というテーマすら、こだわりの対象とはなっていない。