Aiko Miyawaki

Ueda Gallery

Born in 1929 in Tokyo, Aiko Miyawaki lives and works there quietly, discreetly, and efficaciously. Originally a painter, since 1966 she has devoted herself to sculpture, although she still draws a good deal as well. She is the wife of the architect Arata Isozaki, and her friendships with Man Ray, Richard Lindner, and currently with younger artists from many countries are not incidental. Early on, in fact, Miyawaki opened herself to the world beyond Japan; I first met her in Italy, in 1959.

Miyawaki was very ill at the time, with cancer, and although she survived the disease, her long sickness affected her way of seeing. The brevity of life was permanently impressed upon her. The ephemeral is familiar to the Japanese by nature; they are a people accustomed to earthquakes, typhoons, and other catastrophes, and their tradition of wooden architecture reveals an ingrained consciousness of the precariousness of all things. For Miyawaki, however, the ephemeral is not a cultural tic, but a truly internal experience. Georges Bataille would have written well of this; he is dead, and I will not attempt to replace him. I will only quote a phrase of his that applies perfectly to Miyawaki: “The only element which links existence to the rest is death: whoever conceives of death ceases to belong to one room, to kin, but abandons himself to the free play of the sky.” Miyawaki’s transparency of soul toward “the free play of the sky” has grown since I first met her; the single word “transparency” could be her philosophy.

The art of writing articles consists in making the reader believe that the essential has been said in the minimum of words, and one must play the game. Let’s say that I am aware in advance of the omissions (not that this helps). A while ago, Miyawaki spoke with me of the aranumono—literally, that which is not there, that which one can conceive of without perceiving. “I believe that I have always tried to see the aranumono,” Miyawaki said. “I have used different means to suggest it—paintings, reliefs, sculpture—but as long as the most important thing for most people remains the creation of form, it will be impossible to really grasp it. That is why it would be better to call what I do now an ‘intermediary’ rather than sculpture. When the eye that observes the intermediary blends with its refractory, reflective, translucent surface, suddenly something appears, and it is this something that I seek.”

Miyawaki’s most recent works, which she entitles Utsurohi, are long stainless steel cords, like exaggerated piano strings, whose ends are mounted in small cast-iron bases. Planted in different spots around a site, the works trace arabesques, ellipses, and curves in the air throughout the space. Utsurohi actually means “change” (or the process of change), but it is applied to all things—to light, to the shadows of trees on the paper partitions of Japanese houses; the writer Seigo Matsuoka, in a beautiful text on Miyawaki, remarks, “Utsurohi also means the change of seasons, the passage of the day, the flow of hours and seconds, the changing color of leaves, the irregular sound of the river, the evolution of emotions, the interweaving of dreams and reality.” Miyawaki translates it as “a moment of movement.” The flying stems of her recent sculptures are like texts written in space; the forms they draw are determined only by the positioning of their bases, and they change shape with a touch or a breath of wind. They rise from the ground freely as gestures of élan, dance, flow, and audaciousness, overcoming (I was going to say ignorant of) the pull of the earth. They suggest that one pursue new, hitherto invisible trajectories, recomposing them internally both according to one’s own position in relation to them and as one looks beyond them to the surrounding environment. The work proposes a new reading of that environment, as if Miyawaki wanted us to move differently through the real space of the world.

To draw in space is to consider space, air, the true support for our thoughts. Enough of clay, bronze, canvas; enough of everything but this leap, this direct bursting upward from the earth, which invites us to contemplate the world itself as sculpture, a painting making itself (or unmaking, or remaking), incessantly moving and changing. The proposition goes well beyond other avant-garde concepts of this half of the 20th century, particularly that of the “allover” dear to many abstract painters. Without taking too much of a risk with a transcultural comparison, Miyawaki’s extraformal approach can be compared with Kant’s Darstellung, that is, the immediate connection of intuitive and conceptual thought. Her Utsurohi are insights into this state—unexpected disturbances in our relationship with the sky.

Alain Jouffroy

Translated from the French by Hanna Hannah.