道具のフォルムに対する白木の近親性――その近親性とは親和と同等の疑いにあって成立するものだが――の背景には、これまでいくどかの契機があったと推察される。そしてそれは、作家による複数のテキストに偏在している。第一にそれは、家具の制作工程に作家が触れることで、それまで表面性において視覚的に理解されていた道具の内部構造や組成が、身体化されていったこと。第二に、人々の道具の使用方法が、白木が「匿名的な技術」と語るように、日常生活の場でまさにそのフォルムによって随時更新され、決定されていること。これらは、制作と設置という行為との関係に対して、相補的な照応をみせている。そして、それら道具がもつフォルムの生成の汎用性と、使用の汎用性という二つの連関は、白木の生み出す作品にとって、決定的な意味を持ちうることだろう。《pile and pile》では、器の制作方法が模され、桜を素材に用いて作られたフォルムの反復を特徴としている。それらが集積という行為の反復によって、フォルムの生成と使用の二重化の作用を示すとき、分ちがたく緊密な行為の関係性が、作品の内に新たに取り結ばれているといえる。
Objects Become Images: On the works of Asako Shiroki
We attribute a function to most objects, especially those that are hand-made – after all, the purpose of their existence is founded on their function. Whether table, chair or wheel: they all have clearly discernible functions. By contrast, phenomena call for elucidation. None of them is self-explanatory. Cloud or firmament, waterfall or night need to be embedded in a context creating meaning, which explicates their existence. Only those who contextualise phenomena can lend them significance. Taking a look at Asako Shiroki's art one logically supposes that her works tend towards a phenomenalising of objects, in particular of their forms. Everyday objects, often reminiscent of furniture, are transformed here into complex phenomena. It is true that we can still recognise some rudiments of function, e.g. in table legs with a frame, a chair whose legs have been amputated, or the geometric pattern of a pavement. But these object-rudiments do not stand alone in space; they are incorporated into larger constellations of additional elements. Shiroki's works take on the character of landscapes in which – through repetitive processes, for example – a metamorphosis takes place of familiar forms into phenomena of contrasts.
Special importance is granted to artisanal production in her art. The artist, who is trained in carpentry, produces many of the numerous elements of the work herself using oak or cherry wood. Even supposedly found, recycled “objects” reassembled in the form of an installation may prove to have been made especially for the purpose. Looking at photographs by Shiroki, one gains a sense of this production process. One of the photos shows a rather battered looking window, the blind of which is tilted on a slant inside its frame. Therefore it has lost its function, so to speak. A case for the artist and carpenter: not in the sense of repairing it, but to dignify what she sees artistically, and use it in the work Things are on the far side of the room (2014). In the ensemble of a standing frame and flat parallel planks, it is easy to rediscover the two formal elements of the photograph, supplemented by a ribbon laid loosely over them and a container standing some distance away. One sees that the original functions still possible to discern in the photograph have taken their final leave in Shiroki’s space-image. Instead, a kind of mental space opens up to the viewers, not content with the formal and material so-being of the objects. Classic-poetic, almost Zen-Buddhist interpretations are suggested: the frame is revealed in Shiroki’s work as a place of emptiness and a threshold. Slats from the blind lead through it in the shape of a path, like steps and stages, daily repetitions and exercises in advancement. Somewhat to the side, the container offers the prospect of a place of superfluity. And the ribbon follows this individual pathway like a thread of destiny.
The Presence of Absence
Savannah Gorton (Co-Director & Curator, Forever & Today, Inc. New York)
Upon initial impression, entering an installation of Asako Shiroki’s sculptures is like finding yourself in the company of half-finished furniture props, sparsely arranged within a deserted stage set. But rather than waiting for the use of a protagonist, the works in Shiroki’s exhibition On the Floor, Behind the Window, 2014, are devoid of the usual practical functionality associated with furnishings. Without the everyday use one might expect, her works assert themselves as independent objects enacting a subtle existence in their own right. Shrioki has envisioned these works both individually, and belonging together as a whole, while conceptually forming the boundaries of the walls, floor, and ceiling of the room.
Deftly intertwined, the familiar lines of Eastern and Western vernacular furniture are combined in Shiroki’s work—their derivation from wood capturing its essence. Evidence of Shiroki’s methodical labor is apparent in her meticulous application of “hozo-kumi,” a traditional Japanese wood joinery method of expertly fitting parts together without nails or glue. This process enables graceful construction achieved through minimal intervention, with an intuitive knowledge of the dynamics of wood and its innate flexibility. Compositional harmony pervades despite Shiroki’s penchant for abstraction, complimenting the gravitational balance achieved through her mastery of woodworking.
Both the natural and unnatural phenomena already present in the oak and cherry woods that Shiroki utilizes are a feature of her sculptures. Viewed more closely, the unfinished surfaces are riddled with small woodworm holes, occasional stains and knots, light tracings of pencil lines, and red crayon markings made from storage inventory. As opposed to disrupting the characteristics of her medium, Shiroki embraces its present state of materiality in an unaltered fashion.
In this manner, Shiroki’s interventions upon surfaces are subtle. Areas are imbued with a pale patina of buffed powder color using a complimentary palette of pastel cream and teal blue or a light dusting of dark grey or ivory spray paint. Here and there, textiles are introduced: a grey-smudged rope lays loosely coiled; cotton ribbons with rubbed pigment are neatly tied with bows and knots, connecting various sculptural components together. Cup forms make an appearance, with the inclusion of a hand-thrown stoneware vessel, serving as a foil to similarly shaped solid wood-turned objects. These objects focus our attention to their volume, or lack thereof–and where they are placed–balanced on an edge or solidly on the floor.
Although Shiroki’s painstakingly fabricated sculptures draw aspects of their respective forms from household items such as chairs, tables, and frames, what is most noticeable is that parts of their components are missing or omitted. Geometric concerns echo throughout the installation, as shapes are repeated from one work to the next, with the criss-crossing of lines, angles, and circles. The result is a series of works that are created through outlines of shapes, intended as framing devices coupled with empty spaces. Our eye is drawn to this inclination for absence, yet uncertain if it is highlighting a process of disappearing or revealing.
Given this, how may we approach the paradox of unsettling emptiness in the works? The answer is perhaps that Shiroki is directing our gaze to both what is there as well as what is implied by not being there. This brings to mind a sequence of open-ended questions posed by each sculpture, punctuated by the presence of absence inherent within the works. As a point of entry, the titles indicate where we should begin to look, as each describes not only the spatial location of the work within the installation, but its particular situation per se.
In On the frame, in the frame, 2014, a table-like structure stands beside its disembodied top, seemingly removed and hung on the wall. Taking the linear form of a 12-sided polygon, it houses an asymmetrically sliced section of transparent glass. Reminiscent of a drifting boat moored to a quay, it is secured to the table by a loosely hanging, yet tightly fastened length of ribbon. Deconstructed and repositioned in this manner, the tabletop is further mirrored by this “floating” picture frame. Placed at eyelevel, it requests reflection on both its impassiveness and partial containment.
Similarly, Things are on the far side of the room, 2014, calls our attention to multiple perspectives of vacant space. A rectangular frame sits upright on the floor like an open window, a ribbon slung over it. The end trails away, tracing a soft abstract line, almost as an interruption to our view. Despite the emptiness of the frame, it creates viewpoints from both sides, as there is no discernable front or back. The faraway “things” alluded to in the title may even be what we glimpse from a distance, through the frame, rather than in it.
The denouement of Shiroki’s line of questioning may be found in Between the ceiling and the floor, 2014. Momentarily viewed, an abbreviated staircase precariously balances on a stool in defiance of gravity–though we come to realize it is actually supported by a vertical banister reaching toward the ceiling. The direction of our interest is generated from the structure of the work, as our eye is guided upwards and downwards, but then comes to rest on a lasso of braided cord. Suspended, its loop configures yet another open space–an intentional ruse in the thread of thought set up by the work. Although at first glance a visual departure from the other sculptures in the exhibition, it fluently follows Shiroki’s discourse instead of dissolving into a non sequitur.
Shiroki has discussed “oblivion of self” as a central aspect of both the creation and experience of her work. This state of meditative unconsciousness may bring about a temporary lapse of personal subjectivity and/or awareness of objects and surroundings. The deliberate emptiness in Shiroki’s sculptures, and the repetitive framing of space as a site for the existence of absence, engenders a meditative location for wonder at what lies beyond the scope of perception. As Zen scholar Daisetsu Teitaro “D.T.” Suzuki may be quoted, “Emptiness which is conceptually liable to be mistaken for sheer nothingness is in fact the reservoir of infinite possibilities.” The idea of being or seeing what is “behind the window,” as Shiroki’s title of the exhibition suggests, hints at this unknown prospect.
Measuring Things: On the Work of Asako Shiroki
Nora Mayr (Curator; co-director, insitu, Berlin)
On the Floor, Behind the Window, the title chosen by the Japanese artist Asako Shiroki for her exhibition at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, neatly encapsulated the combination of straightforwardness and narrative or associative elements that characterises her work.
Shiroki’s work conveyed the idea of a three-dimensional space for an undefined performative sequence. One of the works in the show, the installation In the grid – floor windows, 2014, consisted of a floating floor made of rectangle-shaped wooden tiles supported by small wooden cubes. On two separate spots of the structure, a chair and a stool literally seemed to grow out of the geometrical pattern. Its dimensions were based on slabs of pavements in Berlin, which the artist had previously measured, thereby transferring elements of the urban space into the exhibition space. By appropriating the dimensions and shapes of everyday objects such as furniture items, frames and pavements, Shiroki’s works radiate an immediate and moving sense of familiarity.
Much of her work consciously straddles the boundaries between art and craftsmanship. Shiroki often uses oak, a type of wood commonly associated with furniture, which in combination with her precise craftsmanship allows her to create work that could be mistaken for handicraft. She deliberately constructs objects whose dimensions and formal vocabulary reference our daily environment in installations of dazzling perfection. In comparison to design or artisanship Shiroki’s works are not made to serve a particular function but instead they act purely as formal condensations – shape, material, structure.
Shiroki’s work does not only distinguish itself by the skilful use of varying formal vocabularies, but also by the traditional techniques that its implementation requires – a characteristic equally manifest in On the frame, In the frame, 2014. In the foreground of this installation stood a round shape on wooden legs that vaguely resembled a table, or possibly a well, while in the background a window-like object reiterated the same shape on the wall. This form, which was reminiscent of a frame, was composed of tightly fitting pieces of wood held together by a ribbon running along its outer edge. In other words, the individual parts were held in shape merely by the tension of the ribbon – a perfect illustration of how using the natural balance of things allows the artist’s work to radiate a distinct sense of calmness. On the frame, In the frame, 2014 also shows another important aspect of Shiroki’s artistic language: the use of repetition. Shiroki considers repetition to be the possibility of forgetting the purposes of an item by distancing the material and the function from one another. Aiming to move beyond the initial purpose, repetition allows Shiroki to concentrate her work on material and abstraction over function.
When implementing her work, Shiroki attaches great importance to her working techniques, often using tools she has designed herself. She produces utensils that allow her to achieve the greatest possible precision in her work. Among other things, she has constructed wooden rulers that form an exact horizontal line, and special wood planes that she uses to achieve the smoothest of finishes. Shiroki’s handmade tools themselves are reflections of the materials and shapes she is working with. Working wood is an essential part in her production process, and rather than coercing objects into a given form, she lets the inherent properties of the material guide her.
Shiroki is an attentive observer of her environment, from which she unravels hidden rhythms and symmetries, analysing the arrangements and reciprocal relations of objects, which her works bring to the fore. She describes the development of her works as a process of “listening to the materials and objects” and getting to the bottom of the natural dynamics of forms and materials. Shiroki is interested in patterns of human behaviour in relation to objects and materials as well as in the physical phenomena inscribed in the form and structure of her works. The result of this measuring is a simultaneous re- and de-construction of our daily life spaces. In his novel Measuring the World, Daniel Kehlmann asks, “Without continually establishing one’s own position, how could one move forward?”* Similarly, Shiroki’s artistic practice could be seen as an act of measuring aimed at establishing one’s position. Her works effectively heighten our awareness of our own position in our surroundings while offering themselves up to further development. In the realm of sociology, for instance, space is no longer just defined by parameters such as length, height and width, but also by the active relations that we create daily between social commodities and people.**
The results of Shiroki’s visual research have been condensed into the photographic series Anonymous Techniques, ongoing since 2010. The fortuitous arrangements of forms, objects and materials in these images seem like staged installations of everyday life. If these photographs are to be believed, the whole world is composed of patterns. Our gaze is sharpened as we discover the fascinating geometrical structures emerging from stacks of bricks or the perfect balance that seems to underpin a constellation of objects around a water basin. In this sense Shiroki’s photographs could be likened to an encyclopaedia about the language of things, filtering the perceptual exuberance of things and revealing the quintessence of objects and materials.
* Daniel Kehlmann, Measuring the World, trans. Carol Brown Janeway (Quercus: London, 2007).
** In 2001 sociologist Martina Löw developed a “relational” model of space that defined the creation of spaces through the “arrangement” of living beings and social commodities. At the heart of this model lies the question how space is created in processes of perception, remembrance or imagination, and how these condense into a social structure. See Martina Löw, Raumsoziologie (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2001).