Takamasa Kuniyasu

Even more startling than the scale of Takamasa Kuniyasu’s installation—one of the major works scattered across Melbourne as part of the Australian Sculpture Triennial—is the physical threat that it poses to his viewers. Comprised of 70,000 hand made ceramic bricks—the artist’s signature since 1984—and a skeletal armature of pine logs, Shape of the Earth, 1990, was disconcertingly and perhaps inadvertently situated on the anxious middle-ground between sculpture and installation. A superficial resemblance to creeping freeze-framed mountainsides emphasized the difference between its threatening phenomenology and the artist’s invocation of nature.

Painstakingly assembled by Kuniyasu and a team of art students, the piece apparently changed shape during construction. The subsidiary ridge of bricks and logs all but engulfed a welded steel sculpture and halted like a science-fiction monster, just behind Rodin’s Balzac. Shape of the Earth looks as much like gargantuan cell-diagram as landfill, suggesting models of natural growth and chaos. In addition to its morphological or structural significance, this sculpture aimed to address the body in a phenomenological way; thus Kuniyasu intentionally allows us no space for detached contemplation and prevents one from seeing the work as a formal construction. Installed in a courtyard punctuated by recessed doors and large windows, the piece was never visible in its entirety except at overwhelming close-up.

This large and impressive object is in fact not an object at all, but a device that reminds us of the instability of our representations of nature. Like other Japanese art that centers itself around the idea of self-discovery in contemplation, the claim of this work is that an artist’s regard for the natural world should command our attention by virtue of its moral authority,not rhetoric or sentiment. Though Kuniyasu has often asserted his identification with this traditional Japanese esthetic and he recently remarked “I will forget about and free myself from my ego,” nature, at least in the West, remains as much traumatic shape as healing presence. I think that Shape of the Earth was best approached at night or in gloom, when its martial character sidelined the nominal spiritual claims of the artist. Marching across the courtyard, it seemed to overwhelm and alienate the fellow sculptures glimpsed through lit windows, just as it does its audience.

Charles Green