Inside Out - Tadashi Kawamata


An Artist's Commission on the Serpentine Gallery Lawn July - September 1997 Art & Architecture Journal No48

Although Japan's incredible commercial and economic boom has penetrated the corners of our lives. We remain uninformed about its culture and its contemporary art. Following in the wake of this summer's Art and Architecture series of Japan lectures were a wave of significant artistic interventions in London with three separate displays by the artists Tatsuo Miyajima, Katsuhito Nishikawa and Tadashi Kawamata.

Miyajima's sensational re-run of his LED time counters installations emerged out of the shadows of a cavernous Hayward Gallery black-out. RIBA played host to the Hombroich exhibition. an important cultural project near Dosseldorf, which includes models of a twin-domed rotunda by the sculptor Nishikawa. Kawamata stormed London with his temporary pavilion as part of the Serpentine's Inside Out programme during the renovation of the gallery. Tadashi Kawamata rejects attempts to associate his work with his native Japan. He believes artists must resist being placed in boxes. pigeon- holing encourages marginalisation. His work straddles the boundaries between installation art and organic architecture.

Tadashi Kawamata rejects attempts to associate his work with his native Japan. He believes artists must resist being placed in boxes. pigeon-holing encourages marginalisation. His work straddles the boundaries between installation art and organic architecture. For his set-pieces he wraps derelict and neglected old buildings in timber jackets. His structures are temporary and as with scaffolding or building site fences he ritualises both erection and dismantling. Due to his mistrust of measured drawings.he assembles intricate working models. It is only photographs and these delicious tilting models resembling informal lollypop stick forts which are left to posterity. With its ephemeral nature, it was the opportunity to experience first hand this nomad artist's work which made a visit to Kensington Gardens so special.

Kawamata's temporary installation threatened to be a more ambitious achievement than the modification to the gallery underway behind the barriers. With it's irregular structure of screens loosely and informally assembled. the art of packaging the construction site has clearly gained significance. Kawamata likes to work in, amongst buildings in despair, especially those abandoned. He dresses his structures with both new and recycled timber in an apparently chaotic and haphazard fashion. He describes his work as single closed circuit and although his structures appear to be randomly assembled. Logistically they are planned, erected and dismantled with considerable efficiency. Deliberately never quite complete, his work follows a self-perpetuating principle, an incremental process where columns and elevation screens are counter-balanced with their own cross bracing and intuitive carpentry. At the Serpentine the pitch roof rafts were poised in dynamic equilibrium by flying buttresses which appeared to give the whole procedure a life of its own. Though laid to a rectangular grid base the upper decks become increasingly ramshackle, the shafts of wood scattered like branches of the trees whence they came.

Formerly a tearoom the ostentatious Serpentine building offers a theatrical setting. For contractual reasons however, Kawamata wasn't allowed to penetrate the gallery reconstruction itself. He couldn't therefore proceed with his customary crazy scaffold composites of skip ready-mades and discarded wood yard timber. Here he proceeded in the manner of teahouse con- struction providing a depository for the bric a brac of the old gallery. The whole crazy reckless process is reminiscent of shime , the practise of tying ropes around natural objects forming distinct places through which the spirits are encouraged to pass. The Kensington installation similarly elevated the old rejected door and window frames to a special status, It is magical how discarded relics can suddenly become elegant objects of desire when placed in the benign museum atmosphere of the gallery. The whole splendidly absurd process created a strange aura around the front lawn. a temporary shrine to contemplate the future of the Gallery.

Kawamata likes to occupy the space between demolition and reconstruction. At the Serpentine with its duplicated elevations, the design and size of his installation reflected the actual gallery itself. Fixtures and fittings were salvaged from the gallery prior to renovation to create a full-size carbon copy. It's as if the gallery building itself was shedding its skin; the urban equivalent of natures's recycling process. This twinning mirrors the Shinto ritual of Shukunen Shengu. the process involved in the recycling every twenty years of the Ise Shrine. the most sacred Shinto place of worship in Japan. Rather than preserving the original shrine. it is the craftsmanship skills and building techniques which since the 7th century have been transferred from generation to generation. On the twentieth New Year anniversary the two shrines,old and new, stand side by side and the transfer takes place during mysterious over-night rituals of the shinto hierarchy. Before midnight the priests offer their thanksgiving to the deity for protecting the old structure. After midnight they pray for the next twenty years and the protection of their shrine and its worshippers from evil spirits. This ritual which spans the space linking the past to the future applied to the Serpentine Gallery would appear to be an unintentional but happy accident, a master stroke of good fortune for the gallery.


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