Light attacks from the front. This room faces south. There are pair of spiral forms in silhouette, like the Chinese or Korean symbol of yin and yang. Looking carefully and attempting to systematically understand the spatial relationships, one sees small versions of Kyoto's Ryoanji rock garden on the left and right, arranged symmetrically around the central axis of the room formed by the cylinder as you face due south.
One garden is the same as the other but turned 180 degrees around the axis of the cylinder. The curving silhouettes seen at first turn out to be the walls and roof of the oily clay wall at Ryoanjj. If you visit the temple it is impossible to see the garden from above and the rear like the view presented here on the right. The backs of the rocks are visible here. It seems as if one could walk right up to the edge of the garden but actually it is impossible. The curved surface of the cylinder is too steep to climb. With a slope of 1/8 in the vertical direction of the cylinder, the area in which one can walk is limited. It is impossible to feel comfortable no matter what posture one takes or where one stands. Even if the position of the body's axis is maintained by the force of gravity, there is no corresponding horizontal axis in sight, and one is forced to feel insecure. There is a gap between the visual image and the image proclaimed by the senses of body. Ordinarily, the sense of sight is given priority in art museums or art exhibitions. Here things are different. There is a sense that awareness is out in front of the body or vice versa. What creates this gap or crack in one's sense of stability?
On the floor which is divided into areas of red and gray, there is a bench with a curved surface, a see-saw placed at a slant and a steel bar on which the visitor can sit or hang. On the green and gray ceiling the same objects are found in corresponding positions but magnified 1.5 times.
However, is there any meaning to the concepts of floor and ceiling in this room within the large slanting cylinder? If not for the force of gravity it would be possible to sit on the bench or see-saw or to hang from the baron the ceiling. One can sit at the "bottom" of the curved surface of the bench, the most relaxing place in the room, and look around, even though this structure slopes toward the rear and is not very comfortable. Then after a while, the thought arise that there is no particular reason for the consciousness trapped in one's body to be here.
Unfortunately, I have never seen a supernatural vision or had an out-of-body experience, but I do not see any reason that up cannot be substituted for down, right for left, or front back. Also, I tend to think that it would be fine to substitute another person for myself who is thinking the same thing I am. If everyone roughly thinks and feels about the same things, what is the meaning of consciousness or the life of the individual who is born, grows up, grows old, and dies? Fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, friends - can a community, while not an ant society, be a single organism or consciousness? Can it be a "species" spoken of by biologists? Is there a before and after in time? Does time move from past to present and future, proceeding in one direction and never turning back?
This space forces an unusual experience on the body of the visitor, creates a strange atmosphere, and makes him or her think, and not just about space. It creates a kind of awareness of a more basic ability which is announced by the body. Obtaining an anonymous point of view. "I" and the "other" are reborn within the event.
Why Ryoanjj? Arakawa/Gins are attempting to "construct nostalgia" by artificial means. This is one reason the room is entitled Heart The original plan called for another famous temple. Horyujj, to be placed upside down in vertical cylindrical structure. As the visitor descended into Horyujj, like entering the womb, he or she would emerge on the outside of the building. The plan was changed to a sloping Ryoanjj, and executed in the present form. The room and stairway, cut off from the outside, suggest a return to the womb. The dry landscape rock garden of Ryoanjj has been substituted for the old temple building of Horyujj. It is still a well-known landmark which is famously "Japanese."
Arakawa/Gins's "nostalgia for Japan" might appear to modern Japanese as kitsch and be thought quite embarrassing. Still, Arakawa/Gins have persisted in using this subject matter since it is important to them to present nostalgia directly. They are completely straightforward in showing a kitschy or facile "return to old Japan," which might indicate a failure of nerve on the part of modern, civilized people. The subject is obviously something that everyone knows about, so we need to set aside any tendency to find amusement in someone else's lack of knowledge or trying to protect our own superior position. A Zen temple garden. A dry landscape. This is an example of the view that "the best things are the ones we are most used to seeing." Things like the rocks, grass, and moss in a famous temple garden.
This room in the Nagi Museum of Contemporary Art is a "semi-permanent" experimental exhibit which is the result of many years of experimentation by these artists. Many of their other projects remain unrealized while this one is actually being built. Their research continues unabated, in paintings, architectural models, computer graphics, discussions, publishing....
The small entrance room, the stairway, and the cylindrical room present an exercise in perception and physical experience. The balance between self-consciousness and perception of one's body is broken down, the "axis" shifts, consciousness leans out, is "doubled," and "something" emerges. This "something" existed in the perceptions of the newborn child. We have forgotten it in growing up. Our roots are found in what might be described as "insecurity," "faith," or "heart." It might be called "nostalgia," a certain "atmosphere." The artists speak of artificially creating "instant nostalgia." It is artificially constructed, using something "given," breaking through the logjam of words found in modern thought. They conduct experiments which deal more with the possibilities of physical structures and the human body than of words. It is up to the viewer to determine what is made to happen or actually happens here, and what can be gained from it.
Extract from "THREE CONVERSATIONS" Koji Takahashi
(Curator, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo)
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