Tomohiro Kano and Yoshiaki Kojiro, (joint exhibition untitled)
Gallery Tokyo + Beijing Tokyo Art Projects; 21 January to 18 February
Totemic structures sit evenly spaced on the white-tiled floor of a nondescript space on the seventh-floor of an office building in Ginza. Some twenty-four pieces, most of them on flat and polished steel plates, are weighted to the ground like cenotaphs and yet all too obviously floating in the sky if it weren’t for the structural reality of this thin tall building elevating its contents above the street. For these are works of gritty, earthy substance and origin, so texturally and soulfully of the ground. And yet, so magical in character as to be otherworldly, to feel as if they are piercing their way through dimensional barriers to exist on this plane of reality, dragging with them the protons, electrons and molecular residues of their universal travels, slightly corrupted and entropic, but forceful and vibratory.
The first reading of the works is collective, then individual and then universal. Spaced as they are across the gallery they appear to be structural in nature, like the footings of an ancient roman bathhouse. Architecturally suggestive, the grouping of the vertical forms in this way is regimented and supportive. They hold the air in the room above them, as if the empty space is the form and the artworks are plinths. The works read like building blocks and the actual material appearance of their surface and content seems to be steel, concrete, crystals and glass.
It is at this point that the singular identities of each piece begin to assert their individuality. Variations in texture reveal themselves, subtle colour-changes become more apparent and the hefty weight of form starts to lighten in shifting glints of transparency. Suddenly the forms conjure the decaying remains and remnants of building materials. They evoke fossilised cities, charred beams, oxidised metals, powdered salts and fractalised lichen growth. It’s like million year-old cultural debris subsumed by the loving-arc of natural degradation. Nothing lasts, not even steel. Elements collate and abate. Organic matter grows out of rock and becomes rock again.
Most powerfully and provocatively, these works feel like jewels. They are similar in character to mineral examples one finds in science and natural history museums. But they temper that purely natural context with layers and interminglings of cultural qualities. At the most obvious level this is with the use of steel I-beams as a material, or fragmentary ceramics, that conjure architectural and social structures. At the less obvious level, this is imbued through formal acuity and compositional dexterity. There is a feeling that the hand of nature and the hand of humanity is at play here and there is a sort of delicate dance that threatens to collapse into warring factions at any wrong-footed manoeuvre by either party.
The show reads easily as a cohesive whole, which is a testament to the curation, but it is most certainly a show of two artists. Combining these approaches and styles brings a complexity to the exhibition and works to isolate particularities in each artist’s practice. It is worth mentioning at this point that these works are glass works and these artists are glass artists. It is worth dwelling on for a moment because the works are so completely delightful as artworks that their medium specificity is of little importance but also, paradoxically, significantly noteworthy because glass artists so rarely exceed a narrow and patronising pigeon-holing afforded their medium. Both artists have worked for many years, perfecting and refining their practice, and this is clear in the delivery of these works. Kano is inventive with his technique, blending blowing and casting into the production of his pieces, and integrating materials like brick, iron, sand and soil in a way that partners control with chaos. Kojiro has a background in architectural studies and a masters in science. They are both intensely engaged with their chosen material and they work like researchers in the excavation of its inner potentialities.
Having said all that, due to the language barrier I have to overcome in Tokyo, I wasn’t even aware that glass was the principal material in this show, nor did I know the artists’ backgrounds. The artwork itself defies narrow categorisations based on such things. These are artworks of the sort of power that changes your heart-rate in the room; that makes you want to break gallery etiquette and pick them up, to hold them in your hand in order to overcome the discrepancy of their visuality and their gravitational pull. I could have sat in this room, cross-legged on the floor, and stared at the sculptures for hours. I would have desperately loved to see them in the changing light of day, for they would no doubt sing with the sunlight cast upon them. Floating 40 metres in the air above Tokyo, in battalion formation like a sentinel force overseeing a portal between temporal space, I’m going to sleep well knowing such beauty is being crafted in our world by the choreographed forces of human beings and nature.