New York

Isamu Wakabayashi

Akira Ikeda Gallery | New York

The language of Isamu Wakabayashi’s sculptures is a familiar one. What these works have to say, specifically, is another matter. Solid and grounded, the expressive capacity of these simple geometric forms is articulated in their elemental materials—sulfur, steel, linen, plaster, wood—wrought to produce archaeological surfaces that appear to have experienced oxidation, corrosion, and decay. Perhaps it is the preponderance of the pale yellow and dangerously toxic sulfur that accounts for the sense of danger emanating from Wakabayashi’s sculptures. Pockmarked with a gridded polka-dot pattern, or slaked with thin washes of this crystalline substance, his works suggest a curious technological fiction, as though they once performed a now obsolete function. Enhancing this vague sense of abandonment and uselessness, are points on the surfaces reminiscent of hookups or connections, as though some source of internal energy was to have been tapped from these component cells and integrated into a larger system.

This formal language alludes to mystery, to instability, and to an inability to excavate undecipherable surfaces that nevertheless appear to be coded with sufficient information to unlock their secrets: surfaces as the missing link between the present esthetic function of these objects and a dimly perceived other life—one that is no fiction at all, but rockets from cultural to geologic history, to a time when this sulfur, and wood, and linen were of the earth. Perhaps the fiction is the idea that it could be any other way. Though mined, or harvested, or processed and transformed into these material parcels now cherished in climate-controlled interiors, their chemical structure continues to change, albeit much more gradually, and the function they serve today will, in another million years have become another of their remote histories.

One could designate the value of Wakabayashi’s sculptures as their equivocation between culture and nature: an entropic state in which such categorical (and, in this case, teleological) distinctions, paralleling the nature of the materials he uses, are arbitrarily constant yet undergo constant change. Given the probability of disorder, the measure of his work has much to do with its capacity to comment on randomness. The connotation of the dust-to-dust metaphysics implicit in Wakabayashi’s sculpture is that consciousness, as the spontaneous by-product of elemental forces, is thoroughly organic, with no end, and no beginning. And yet, its every moment buzzes with the minute differences that metabolize into local meanings, stoppages that we collectively recognize as birth, growth, and decay. These sculptures may imitate the mechanisms of the cosmos, yet by their very logic they demonstrate that imitation is meaningful as an excavation that enables us to register inside/outside simultaneously, as we participate in an inherent activity which is both of great consequence and terribly insignificant.

Shall we attempt to filter the meaning of his work in terms of cultural difference, or to imagine that penetrating its silence and sealed interiors could equal unlocking the distance between East and West? Could we scrutinize its alchemical surfaces sufficiently, in anticipation that, in the residual afterglow of that process, the mysteries of another culture would be illuminated? Would that soothe the chaos of a universe filled with nothing but others into familial stasis? Any labels, such as “Japanese” or “post-Minimal” sculpture, and the question of which traditions, which influences, which philosophies, which references, both seem to settle as yet another crusty sediment upon the weathered skins of these serenely disengaged sculptures.

Jan Avgikos