It would be difficult to find other two artists as individualistic and controversial while at once so deeply Japanese in their work. With his loud, monumental projects Nobuyoshi Araki has set trends and pushed back boundaries in world photography. Shiro Tsujimura, perceived as a rebel and revolutionary in ceramic art circles, has forced his way centre stage on the contemporary art scene. In addition to their titanic productivity and uncompromising work ‘on their own terms’, they share a clearly defined selection of ethical and aesthetic models drawn from the Zen tradition. This only apparently contrasting juxtaposition of two of Japan’s most outstanding artists is at the heart of the exhibition to be shown between 12 May and 25 October 2020 at the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology in Kraków.
The minimalist spaces of the Europe–Far East Gallery will host eighty photographs from eight series created by Araki between 1972 and 2008. Freeze-frame, nostalgic shots of the artist’s beloved Tokyo in outsized and somewhat smaller enlargements will afford viewers window or keyhole peeks into an intimate world captured in unique moments. The wide range of subjects of Araki’s work will be complemented by Kinbaku, or sophisticated soft forms of tied-up human bodies, ‘pulled out of the shade’ as it were, and Obscenities, nudes with scratches made in the emulsion with decisive gestures, as well as decadent flower arrangements, first painted in intense colours and then photographed.
The melancholy urban landscape and the dynamics of captured organic matter will be balanced by the presence of a very consistent, both exuberant and austere collection of sixty vessels by Japan’s leading ceramic artist Shiro Tsujimura. Made after 2008 in traditional hand-moulding and firing techniques, these rounded, incised, deliberately deformed and thickly glazed objects elude the canons of conservative Japanese ceramics. While Araki uses light to bring images out of darkness and set them in motion, Tsujimura uses fire to cast material extracted from the dark of the earth in unique, remarkable shapes. Highlighting the transience of a moment by stopping short of saying everything in the content of the image and producing an incomplete shape in the form is a truly Japanese ploy, in which suggestive imperfection and incompletion remind us of the inevitable passing of everything around us. Such controlled balancing on the symbolic boundary line of life and death is the common link between the two artists’ work, while the emotions that their art arouses in us compels self-reflection.