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Tatsuo Kawaguchi's solo exhibition "Relation - Seed / Copper"
session: 2022.4.22fri.- 6.11sat. 13:00-19:00
*closed on Sun, Mon, Tue and public holidays.
venue:SNOW Contemporary


SNOW Contemporary is pleased to present Tatsuo Kawaguchi's solo exhibition "Relation - Seed / Copper" from Apr 22 to Jun 11, 2022.

The "Relation - Seed" series, which sealed a seed with a copper plate, was first exhibited in 1982 by building a relationship between a seed that is a life force itself with metal, which seemingly has no connection. This series is acknowledged as one of Kawaguchi’s representative works today, as art critic Yusuke Nakahara previously commented as follows; “it is no exaggeration to say that this event declares a qualitative transformation in Tatsuo Kawaguchi's work. In this sense, the year 1982, when “Relation – Seed” was created, will be an epoch for the artist” (Yusuke Nakahara “Seeds, Life Energy, and Art” / 1987, “Relation – Tatsuo Kawaguchi” catalog, Chiba City Museum of Art).

However, in this series, copper was used only for a few pieces produced in 1982 and 1985. As Kawaguchi stated in his text for this exhibition, “by covering the energy of the seed with copper, the work attempted to convey the life force and chi of the seed and released it into space.” But after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, the material was changed from conductive copper to lead, which shields against radiation. Although the "Relation-Seed" series was developed and produced in various ways after that, Kawaguchi never used copper in this series again.

This exhibition will feature 14 works, including the scarce "Relation - Seed" series made of copper, "Relation - Spirit" (1983-2021), a sculpture made of raw wood covered with copper, and a watercolor work of the same period depicting "Relation - Spirit." We sincerely look forward to welcoming all to this prime opportunity to view the origin of the series “Relation – Seed.”

”Relation – Seed”
  1987, “Relation – Tatsuo Kawaguchi” catalog, Chiba City Museum of Art
“Relation – Spirit”

The Temperament of Matter and Seed
Tatsuo Kawaguchi


Rather than looking at the relationship between art and myself from a bird's eye view, I would like to write about my motives for approaching art through the episodes from the remnants at the bottom of my memory, which could be a mere recollection.
  Incendiary bombs hit the house where I was born in an air raid on Kobe during World War II, but fortunately, it was extinguished by a small fire and was not destroyed. My father's factory was located next to the house that survived the fire. According to my memory from when I was in elementary school, my father's factory, which was in the manufacturing business, was neatly arranged with various machines, power tools, and utensils. In addition, there were unprocessed materials such as wood, iron, copper, lead, aluminum, and brass. Even as a child, these natural materials had a strange fascination for me. I also wondered what kind of things these materials could be transformed into. Perhaps this was the beginning of my interest in unprocessed materials.
  In contrast, if you’d look at the kitchen, frying pans and kitchen knives were made from iron, chopping boards and wooden refrigerators were made from wood, pots and egg cookers were made from copper, rice scoops were made from aluminum. Moreover, if you’d look into the children's room and study area, there were lead paperweights and brass paper knives. Materials were being transformed into something practical through processing technology everywhere.
  There was an alcove in the Japanese-style guest room where hanging scrolls were always displayed. On a shelf next to the hanging scrolls were picture plates and vases, which were practical but also decorative. My father used to change the hanging scrolls, but from a particular time, as the eldest son, I had to take over the role of changing the hanging scrolls. The hanging scrolls were replaced at least four times a year, following spring, summer, fall, and winter. In spring, the hanging scrolls had to be replaced with cherry blossoms and fresh greenery, in summer with lakes and carp climbing waterfalls, autumn with autumn leaves, and in winter with snowy landscapes. I had no idea of the meaning or value of these hanging scrolls, so to reduce the number of times I had to replace them, I often chose scrolls with designs that had a vague sense of the seasons and let them stay longer. Mt. Fuji, for example, could be hung for a long time, but I was warned that there should not be snow in summer. I was impressed by the style of hanging scrolls every time I replaced them. Interestingly, the scroll had a core that could be rolled up and stored in a paulownia box when not in need, and when it was hung, the core became a weight and made the scroll become a flat surface. Moreover, it made the hanging roll be stored in a compact space.
  In the tokonoma (alcove), my mother arranged flowers according to the season. Although art was a part of daily life in this environment, the paintings on paper and silk and the flower arrangements using plants had less of a sense of materiality than those in factories and kitchens.
  However, one thing in the tokonoma seemed to release a sense of materiality. It was always placed in the same position throughout the year, regardless of the season. It was a Japanese sword. The sword was not placed horizontally on the hanger but was designed to stand vertically. The sword's surface was lacquered in vermilion with a relief of a dragon in the clouds. The sword was not worn in an obi (sash) as in the Edo period (1603-1867) but was worn around the waist with armor in the Warring States period (1467-1568). The hilt and scabbard of the sword were decorated with meaningful dragon ornaments, which looked magnificent and dignified even to a child's eye. I wanted to touch it, but my father ordered me not to handle it. The desire to pull out the sword's blade from its sheath and look at the tip of the sword was overwhelming. The sword is the ultimate form of matter in ironworking, and it must be a being that transcends materiality. The temptation to see the sword pulled out of its sheath reached a breaking point. Finally, unable to resist, I carried it out in the empty daylight, too large for a child, and cautiously pulled the sword out of its sheath. When I saw the blade of the sword, I was astonished. I had expected to see an eerily shiny sword, but what I saw was unbelievable. The sword that emerged from its sheath was a bamboo sword. The sword that I was not allowed to touch was a Takemitsu (a bamboo sword). I wanted to ask my father why it was a Takemitsu, but I could not ask him because if I did, he would know that I had broken my promise. Since I could not ask my father, I asked my mother roundabout. According to my mother, there was an ordinance to collect metals during the war, and she had no choice but to offer up the sword blade. It must have been used as a gun barrel or a part of a tank or a battleship. After that, we never talked about the sword in our house. I could never forget the shock I felt when I saw an illusion of a sword that had been transformed into bamboo while I strived to see the ultimate form of iron. After all, bamboo cannot become iron. Likewise, iron cannot become bamboo. I felt that I had learned something that I could never learn in school.

                  *

Let's return to the factory. The factory on holiday was like a child's atelier, with dreams lying around. I was not even allowed to enter the factory and was never allowed to touch the machines and power tools. It is only natural that when things are forbidden, people become interested in them. For children, the factory was transformed into a playground. While engrossed in playing, I once knocked over a box of nails. It was challenging to pick up the many nails scattered on the floor by hand. So I came up with the idea of using a sizeable U-shaped magnet to pick up the scattered nails. However, while iron nails responded to the magnet and could be easily picked up, copper nails did not react to the magnet. I then realized that iron and copper have different properties inherent in the same metal. It was a simple thing, but I felt I had made an extraordinary discovery. It was an intriguing discovery that just as humans have different qualities, metals have other attributes. Human nature and relationships may change in the environment, but the qualities of matter are universal, and I realized that the fundamental qualities of matter do not change. This fact later influenced my art.
  Iron reacts to magnets and electricity and eventually rusts red and extinguishes itself. Copper is indifferent to magnetic fields, but is an excellent conductor of heat, responds to electricity, and conducts current. It also produces a beautiful greenish-blue color. Lead is neither magnetic nor electric but is an excellent blocker of radiation and X-rays and can change its shape to liquid or solid in response to a certain amount of heat. I became interested in the overwhelming existence of matter, but more than that became infinitely interested in the qualities of each substance. This interest later became a stimulus for my creation.

“Relation - Seeds, Copper” (1982-) owes much to one of copper's qualities; conservation of energy and excellent conductivity. With this understanding of copper, I decided to use it as an essential material for the work. Then, what about seeds?
  My direct encounter with seeds started when I helped in a vegetable garden to secure food at the site of burnt-out ruins after the war. I also recall I was required to keep a "morning glory growth diary" as homework during summer vacation when I was in elementary school. I planted morning glory seeds and recorded my observations.
  However, the only thing I did voluntarily was to sow mimosa (sleeping plant) seeds and continue watering them. I was so impressed by how it responded to my touch and bowed, and I became absorbed in growing it. I remember feeling as if I had become a boy who could speak with plants in sign language.
The seeds were beyond my comprehension. They seemed to be crystals of life, energy for the future, and embodiment of mystery. This realization was to understand that the seed and I were equal, without superiority or inferiority, in being a living organism. I decided to accept its presence.
  Yusuke Nakahara, in his review "Seed, Life Energy, Art" (*1), writes about my decision to use living seeds in my work and discusses the artist's thoughts, motivation, and background as follows:

It is no exaggeration to say that this event declares a qualitative transformation in Tatsuo Kawaguchi's work. In this sense, the year 1982, when “Relation - Seeds” was created, will be an epoch for the artist.

  The seeds and copper used in “Relation - Seeds, Copper,” originally existed independently of each other. It can be said, “Relation - Seeds, Copper” was established by relating these seemingly unrelated seeds and copper. By covering the energy of the seed with copper, the work attempted to convey the life force and chi of the seed and released it into space. For me, the seed had become more mysterious than anything else, a microcosmic life form that transcends comprehension.
There was a shocking accident that threatened the seeds. It was in 1986 (*2). This incident led to a change in the expression material from copper to lead. The accident caused a shift from the transmission of the seed's life force to the protection of life. I feel sorry for “Relation - Seeds, Copper,” and it is fortunate to have the opportunity to present my work four decades later.

                  *

Here, I must explain the motivation and process behind creating the work "Relation - Spirit / A Sign from a Tree That Eventually Died,” which is shown in this exhibition. This work, originally titled "Relation - Spirit" was created in 1983 and was shown in the exhibition "Could Be Sculpture" (*2) held at Kamakura Gallery (Tokyo) from June 13 to 25, 1983. The outstanding feature of this work was its use of living plants as materials. The plant was a living tree, a golden osmanthus. The sweet smell of a golden osmanthus floats through the air when it blooms, and I chose this plant as the material for this work because of its wafting, suggesting the realm of invisible relationships. I covered the living tree with a thin copper plate to prevent it from withering. The work was created to release the chi of the live plant into space by devising a way to water it while covering it with copper plates. In the exhibition space, copper pipes were inserted and the ends fixed to the ceiling to suggest where the branches would grow. However, the plant withered away, probably due to the lack of water after a long period of absence. In 2021, during the Coronavirus pandemic and 38 years after it was created, I began to hope for the revival of the dead tree. However, I knew that once a tree had died, it could never regenerate; in other words, it was impossible to revive a dead plant. I could draw a picture of the tree alive, but it was impossible to make the tree alive as an objectified work that existed as a fact. Then it occurred to me to extract the chi that a dead tree gives off, in other words, the chi that only a dead tree can give off. So I carefully wrapped a bandage around the dead tree while still clad in copper. The greenish-blue was soaked into the bandage, and the work became as if the greenish-blue was the chi of fresh green released from the dead tree, and the work was revived after it had withered. Incidentally, I was also able to exhibit one piece of "Relation - Seed, Copper" in this exhibition.
  Using relation and irrelevance as a clue, now I am beginning to think that there may be some kind of "irrelevant existence" after death, which became irrelevant due to the encounter with the relation of death to the living. It is not religious in any sense, but something that can only be imagined and created through art.
                                January 24, 2022

*1: 1987, “Relation - Tatsuo Kawaguchi” catalog, Chiba City Museum of Art Please take this opportunity to read the catalog, which will be reproduced for this solo exhibition. *2: The explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant terrified the world on April 26, 1986. *3: Five artists, Tatsuo Kawaguchi, Nobuo Sekine, Noboru Takayama, Saburo Muraoka, and Lee Ufan showcased in this exhibition. Text was written by Yusuke Nakahara. “Relation - Spirit” was then exhibited in “Contemporary Sculpture in Japan-wood” Kanagawa Kenmin Hall Gallery.

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