Takamasa Kuniyasu

Hillside Gallery

Over the past few years, Takamasa Kuniyasu’s installations have so grown in scale and complexity that they tend to take over their sites. In his latest show Kuniyasu’s bricks and logs filled almost completely the interior of the gallery space, occupied a second-floor office window, and seemed to have spilled out of that window and crawled up the outside walls and along a tree nearby.

After the initial shock one experiences when coming upon the work, one begins to ponder the painstaking meticulousness of it all. Is Kuniyasu’s work a miniature or a monument? Or is it just great matchstick art (a local inclination)? Not only did the artist fire the many thousands of small, butter-stick-size pink and beige clay bricks himself, but over a three-day period he singlehandedly, and ever so patiently, arranged them all, Lincoln-log style. The work may be poetic in an obsessive way, but is it more?

The installation is called Return to Self, and Kuniyasu describes it as a means to relinquish the ego. With this delicate work (based, surprisingly, on a high degree of improvisation), he hopes to learn something about himself, about art, and about nature. In a catalogue statement, he de- scribes his interest in traditional Japanese esthetics and his attempt to achieve the “fusion with nature [that] serves as the basis for our identity.”

And, indeed, Kuniyasu does achieve a remarkable fusion between the work, the occupied space, and the nearby tree. A small pathway runs through the gallery itself. The walls are covered with logs and bricks; on most of the floor space there are small structures, some of them quite rigid and geometric, others falling apart at their edges. The whole environment resembles a monster movie set. It is also all very much like Tokyo: chaos and order, the most enduring of partnerships.

The formal contrasts here are also compelling. The logs—rounded, stripped of bark, and about a meter long—contrast sharply with the bricks. In places where the walls are somewhat bare of brick, the logs seem to function as a frame; in the greater part of the work, they seem just to peep in and around the multitude of bricks. The truncated logs also intensify the sense of wholeness of the tree outside. Kuniyasu effectively contrasts whole and part, round and square, manufactured and natural, miniature and oversized, inside and outside, construction and ruin, self and other. There is no summing up or resolution. The artist remains with his private wishes, the viewer with his questions, and Tokyo with an impressively disturbing show.

Arturo Silva