Jacob Hashimoto, Armada, 1999/2011, 724 boats; wood, cotton, painted metal; dimensions variable.

Jacob Hashimoto, Armada, 1999/2011, 724 boats; wood, cotton, painted metal; dimensions variable.

Jacob Hashimoto

Studio la Città

Jacob Hashimoto, Armada, 1999/2011, 724 boats; wood, cotton, painted metal; dimensions variable.

Armada, 1999/2011, is the ironic title that Jacob Hashimoto gave to his 724 sailboats in wood and canvas. Each one hangs from a thread, floating in the air as if it were in a cove ruffled by long, rhythmically rising and falling waves. The work’s title brings to mind the invincible Spanish fleet, destined to invade England in the sixteenth century but repulsed and miserably shipwrecked before it could demonstrate its puissance. Hashimoto’s ships also evoke a different illusion of power, however, the kind a child might feel as he contemplates a flotilla of toys, all the same, so numerous they seem infinite, speaking of the artist’s desire to saturate the space of his own horizon. In this work, first shown in 1999 at the Chicago Cultural Center and now remade for its exhibition in Verona, Italy, the multiplication of a single module—one of the salient traits of this Japanese-American artist’s oeuvre—becomes even more obvious than in his other works. The “kites” for which he is best known (works created on numerous superimposed levels, with the surface of each made up of hundreds of individual modules of paper mounted on delicate little frames, indeed like kites) have in themselves something of the geometrical necessity of a structure about whose purpose and meaning we remain ignorant. Armada, by contrast, does not convey any necessity other than the playful and almost obsessive desire for multiplication, a desire to enclose the infinite within a room. Here, the module he uses—a little boat, of the sort that children steer in fountains, and not a circle or diamond shape, forms that are noble because they are abstract—reveals its essence as a toy, an object obvious in its use, domestic and familiar, as opposed to an overall construction that is thought-out, organized, and obsessive almost to the point of madness, constituting a rival attraction. The result is that Hashimoto seems to be demythologizing his own work, his way of operating, as if wanting to tell us there is no arcane mystery to discover behind or within it.

A few years ago, scientists solved the mystery of the great shoals of sardines that move through the seas like immense flocks of starlings. Those fantastic migrations, whereby millions of creatures travel in unison, as in a ballet, generating shadows, accumulations, and fanciful designs in the sky and sea, turned out to be the result of millions of separate movements, in which a fish—or a bird—swerves in a way that forces those nearby to make the same motion, and so on, engendering a mysterious choral dance. Hashimoto’s Armada—and perhaps all of his work—exhibits a similar marvelous simplicity. The wonder of it lies substantially in the quantity of the modules rather than the quality of each unit. (Another, related memory: the little Japanese girl, Sadako Sasaki, contaminated by the radiation from Hiroshima, who thought she would survive if she were able to create a thousand paper cranes.) The final result of the artist’s work is not only the object that we confront but also the time employed in repeatedly making the same gesture, as in a mantra, in which the constant repetition of the same words, the same formulas, cancels out and annuls the meaning of those very words, yet lends them a greater, collective meaning that, in the end, is unique and harmonious.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.