Yutaka Sone, The Light Between Trees #3, 2010, crystal, 12 5/8 x 12 5/8 x 9 1/2". Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery.

Yutaka Sone, The Light Between Trees #3, 2010, crystal, 12 5/8 x 12 5/8 x 9 1/2". Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery.

Yutaka Sone


Yutaka Sone, The Light Between Trees #3, 2010, crystal, 12 5/8 x 12 5/8 x 9 1/2". Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery.

Yutaka Sone’s playful pursuit of the imaginary, the realm of fantasy, and physical affects provides a powerful alternative to the prevalent tendency of contemporary Japanese sculpture to simulate subcultural icons. Since his public emergence in 1993, Sone has placed contradiction at the core of his artistic practice, making gratuitous efforts for an apparently incidental purpose, or capturing in sculpture heightened perceptions of specific places—perceptions frequently attained through the disruption of habit by means of travel and athletics—turning the transient effects of light, speed, and movement into concrete forms.

Sone’s two recent solo exhibitions in Tokyo brought to the fore the conceptual process governing his hard-to-categorize artwork. In “Snow,” the show at Maison Hermes 8F Le Forum, Sone installed Ski Lift, 2004–2005, a marble sculpture of a forest straddled by a gigantic ski lift, and a painting of a mountain, Summer Mammoth, 2010. Also on view was a series of fifteen small pieces of crystal sculpture, “Every Snowflake Has a Different Shape,” 2005–10, which embody the constructive structures of snowflakes as seen under a microscope, surrounded by drawings on which the sculptures were based. These works were inspired by Sone’s experience of seeing a few snowflakes on his glove while skiing Mammoth Mountain in California, reminding him of the logical structure and inherent aesthetic order of nature. Yet by transposing ephemeral snowflakes into solid and translucent crystal sculptures, with shapes reminiscent of skeletal architectural structures or urban planning models that simultaneously evoke a futuristic fortress and a fairy-tale forest, Sone emphasized the links between natural phenomena and the human imagination. The marble sculpture of a ski lift shouldered up by trees, on the other hand, demonstrated the affinity of Sone’s image construction with the dream process; the landscape was transformed into an eccentric hybrid of apparently incongruous details, reassembled according to their psychological importance in Sone’s memory.

Sone’s ability to turn fleeting impressions of physical experiences into eccentric sculptures bearing witness to imagination’s distortion of natural forms was also in evidence at Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery. His exhibition there, “Perfect Moment,” assembled works documenting disruptive traces of encounters between nature and art. New marble sculptures were installed in the midst of a junglelike accumulation of evergreens assembled by a Tokyo gardener, together with other marble pieces capturing sensations of speed and movement, among them Grand Ferris Wheel, 2010, and Little Manhattan, 2010, a three-dimensional map of the borough. While the setup recalled some of Sone’s past exhibitions, the new marble sculptures simulated such effects as a burst of light sparkling through trees (The Light Between Trees #1 and #2, both 2010). A single crystal sculpture, installed behind a curtain, The Light Between Trees #3, 2010, evoked a tree stump with a ray of sunshine falling on it. A spotlight was used to dramatically divide the sculptural surface into two areas, one under normal ambient lighting, one intensely illuminated, indicating a complementary but antithetical relation between nature and art. Two video projections of early performance pieces—Birthday Party, 1997, which shows people endlessly celebrating Sone’s birthday, and Night Bus, 1995, an instruction piece in which people are sent on bus trips to various cities and asked to travel and film by night—also linked contradictory elements in the artistic perception of ordinary events, such as the emotional eternity of a momentary duration of happiness or the evocation of “elsewhere” through the efforts of others while staying home oneself. The two shows united sensations of childlike wonder with their mature conceptual transformation, in a milieu of everyday magic.

Midori Matsui