Sachiko Kazama, KUROBE GOLD, 2019, woodcut, 51 1⁄8 × 36".

Sachiko Kazama, KUROBE GOLD, 2019, woodcut, 51 1⁄8 × 36".

Sachiko Kazama

Mujin-to Production

Sachiko Kazama has long been committed to challenging the limitations of the woodcut medium. Her works bespeak a spectacular scope of vision: Small vignettes filled with minute details supplement dynamic central compositions on themes ranging from world war and natural disasters to Japanese politics and the Olympics. Full of vividly contrasting black and white, and sometimes extending up to twenty-one feet in length, her woodcuts are impactful, conveying an atmosphere of power and heroism.

In Kazama’s recent exhibition “Cement Cemetery” these traits remained intact, yet the constituent works were more abstracted in form and subdued in feeling. Thematically, the show dealt with the construction of the Kurobe Dam, a massive project on the Kurobe River, about 130 miles northwest of Tokyo, and evokes the manipulation of nature into a man-made order. In the most lyrical piece on view, KUROBE GOLD, 2019, thick bands of rich, dense black framed the composition’s picturesque vertical core, an elaborate bird’s-eye view of the winding Kurobe Gorge (the image is taken from an old promotional postcard from the Nippon Electric Power Co.). The work’s title—which nods to Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold (1869), an epic of power and greed—appears in elegant Art Deco lettering. Set against the intense matte-black band of ink, the carefully laid out typography reveals the creaminess of the paper’s color.

Some works from this year conjured the material used as the base binder in concrete: cement. This is made from calcinated limestone, a sedimentary rock formed over millions of years from skeletal fragments of coral and other marine organisms. Kazama views the mining of limestone, full of life fragments, and the harsh labor performed by the miners to be forms of exploitation. Cement Cemetery, 2020, was a set of nine sumi-ink-stick frottages on paper, arrayed in a triangle on the wall and echoing the shape of Mount Buko, a major limestone mining site from the Taisho era (1912–26). The images capture the gradual collapse of the natural slope of the mountain, as the artist first carves an image of a peak, then adds a kind of terraced stairway to it: perhaps a structure the miners use to facilitate their comings and goings from the site they are exploiting. She stops at each stage to trace on paper the status quo. Finally, ghostly skyscrapers rise in the distance, suggesting the excavated limestone’s ultimate destination. If the carving away of the plate symbolizes the destruction of Mount Buko, the act of frottage—rubbing, capturing, and preserving without extensively damaging to the plate—models an alternative to industrial exploitation.

The installation CEMENT MORI, 2020, consisted of five woodcuts hanging from the ceiling; in front of them, the woodblock matrix used for the prints’ production sat atop a mound of cement. Each print, roughly the size of a casket, bears the image of a miner suited up with his tools—like a revenant from an earlier phase of industrialization. In her vigilant problematizing of overwhelming issues in capitalism, nationalism, or sustainability, Kazama draws references from a rich pool of art, narrative, history, and design, composing them with immaculate technique and classic sensitivity. As urgent and universal as her subjects may be, she allows the viewers to savor the image first.