Tadashi Kawamata

The Middelheim sculpture park on the outskirts of Antwerp is devoted to modern as well as contemporary work; it shares its name and the no-man’s-land that it occupies with the large modernist hospital that looms over it. Often, the invited artists delve into the depths of the park. Tadashi Kawamata, by contrast, deliberately avoided such sites in order to tackle the park’s peripheral status. He constructed a bridge above the road that separates the park's contemporary section from its modern section and a trench that plunges into the ground where the earth had been freshly turned up from a recent expansion of the park. These two structures, at once monumental and invisible, were constructed with the wooden planks that the artist usually works with—provisional structures whose material can be reused.

By broadening the summit of the bridge, Kawamata changed its function from that of a simple passageway; it became something more like an observation platform protected by high wooden planks. In the extension, in still fallow land, the trench brought the viewer’s gaze to ground level and outlined a sinuous and erratic course. While the bridge favored a static and all-encompassing point of view, the trench created movement and a fragmented perspective. The usual roles were reversed: The bridge, whose nature is to serve as a passageway, became a resting place, while the trench, which normally allows one to occupy a position of observation, became a path. Likewise, the central structure of the bridge enveloped and protected its occupants, while the trench revealed the visitor to the gaze of the hospital patients, whose windows look out over the new expansion.

With the aid of such functional reversals, the artist pursued his strategy of multiplying and decentering viewpoints and destabilizing what might otherwise seem changeless. The perspectives created from the bridge and the trench, moreover, offered no view of the collection: The sculptures scattered throughout the park remained hidden in the abundant summer foliage. By omission, Kawamata voluntarily situates himself outside the discourse of sculpture as monumental and permanent. The structures he erected at the border of the museum existed above all through the possibilities they provided to those who used them, and to those users the structures themselves practically disappeared from view. In this way, their aesthetic has more to do with pragmatism than with formal signature. Kawamata is the nomad, always passing through, who upsets the habits of the sedentary. Although each place in which he intervenes seems to have been invented just for him, this is not because he chooses the locations so carefully but because his structures have the power to draw entire territories around them, creating the impression that they have adapted to the given reality—a Machiavellian strategy thanks to which Kawamata manages to displace existing viewpoints so that his intervention can be absorbed by its site, though only for the duration of an exhibition.

Anne Pontégnie

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.