Vaporizing Sight

Makiko Matake, Aomori Contemporary Art Center

Photographs are texts woven with what one sees and what is photographed. When we look at photos, it is likely that we overlap those images with our memories of what we have seen. Memories of what we have seen overlap the unfilled space in photos. We often put images from our memories on photos taken by someone else. Thus the reality of photos swells with our feeling of deja vu. Nakanishi Nobuhiro’s installation of two hundred large suspended slides is filled with reality, swollen by one or two hundred times, enables us to experience a grand sight of a forest with a reddish sky at sunrise brought into the gallery. We felt we could experience it because Nakanishi’s photo-work was filled with space overlapped with memories.

Seen from a distance, lined-up rows of transparent one-square-meter film sheets look like two long pipes extending in a bow-shape. It appears to be a minimal-art installation, but, as we approach it, we see each film depicting water-affluent and beautiful nature cut out and arranged endlessly at regular intervals. Walking along the two lines, one with clouds floating in the sky at sunrise and the other with trees in a woods wrapped in fog, viewers feel, while actually moving their bodies along, as if they were experiencing the very moments when these photos were taken. In fact, as they move, clouds float, and trees come into sight one after another, making them feel tempted to go deep into the forest. They would feel humid morning air on the cheek, smell trees breathing, and even hear the sound of their own tread. The material feeling of the films is assimilated into the atmosphere, and the layers of thin sheets begin to tremble as if they themselves became a part of air.

When images, photographed continuously at slight intervals by pressing the shutter every thirty seconds, are seen in succession, there appears the same kind of illusion as for things in motion based on the same principle as rolling-out pictures or animations. When watching animations, viewers are either sitting still or standing still, but inversely, it seems that when they look at Nakanishi’s successive slide-installation, they virtually experience watching animations by looking at still pictures while they walk. For an artwork having the audience experience what an artist has experienced, I am reminded of the works of Janet Cardiff, a Canadian image artist (*1). In her video works, visitors go through experiences with their eyes and ears─listening via headphones to Cardiff’s directions telling them where to look, along with the sounds that were recorded in advance on the scene. There, visitors hear sounds, mixed with those in the surroundings, that Cardiff herself produced, for instance, sounds of her walking on fallen leaves, or her breathing. As those sounds come from their headphones, there is such virtual reality that they imagine that they are really experiencing it on the spot. It means that through a fiction of sounds, viewers experience vicariously the artist’s acts. Nakanishi’s “Layer” resembles this aspect. Are we going to chase a stroller who got out of the residence early in the morning to head for the mountain? As no sound is contained in Nakanishi’s “Layer,” if viewers heard clouds floating or wind passing through the trees, virtual reality could be more intense. Where does this virtual reality come from? Doesn’t the depth of accumulated blank spaces bring it about as I mentioned in the beginning? Although they form a long stretch of many sheets of transparent thin film, there emerges depth out of such blanks. As we walk, we see that blank space on each sheet of film, and the space between the films. I noticed it when, if I remember correctly, Nakanishi remarked, “this work is meant for looking at time from the side.” (*2) It is possible to some extent to see through the sheets of film in rows from the front. The succession of the film sheets overlapping slightly off to each other makes viewers standing in front think of the passage of time. However, the one hundred-layered sheets of film begin to have a material presence by occupying the space. Viewers could realize passing of time more strongly, as air in the atmosphere suggests, when they peep at the films from the side. Each space between the two sheets of film is 20cm. Looking at them from the side means to look in the bundle of air sandwiched between each film that is 20cm wide. Does Nakanishi’s work induce our eyes again to turn to where nothing exists?

In his solo exhibition “Cave and Blank” at Nomart Edition gallery in Osaka in 2003, he spread gray pulp-clay over the wall, and put up plural tower-like shapes that were formed by connected spheres made of the similar pulp material. (Fig.1) Both the form on the wall and the three-dimensional object create irregular boundary on the two-dimensional or in the three-dimensional. It is a device to reverse where something exists and where nothing exists, that is, to show the reversal of figure and background. I think that this work of his has proved visually that the fact of nothing exists and something exists is of equal value in view of space.

Why does Nakanishi, watching space, turn his eyes to where nothing exists? Wishing to find a clue to that mystery, I probed into his past works and drawings. Making a survey of his works up to the current day, however, I have come to realize that the truth is more shrouded in mystery. A group of his early works suggests that he used a motif of clothing to have the theme of body overlap with the relationship between oneself and others. Then, in his installation of mini-cars made of corrugated cardboard, the size of vehicles upsets the balance─buses and dump trucks are extremely small while general cars are as long as several cars connected. It seems that he tries to throw standard measurement such as speed and size into confusion. Looking closely, however, I started to see some forms suddenly, for instance, clouds connected into some form in his “Garden of Blank.” (*3) I had such a feeling when I turned my eyes to a group of watercolor drawings light in color that looked like a set of blurred watermarks or bubbles. Those drips and blots appear to be in the process of forming a shape. Or a shape or something seems to be evaporating and gasified. Such a feeling became more certain as I saw “Drawing like Smoke.” (*4) Further, with “Form of Gap” and “Hole of Gap,” I was confirmed of it.

Nakanishi, who wanted to paint a “picture like smoke,” said that he was hunting for “a way a gaseous body looks like solid substance.” (*5) It means to depict what is difficult to catch like air into an obvious form, and develop it further into a three-dimensional form. On the other hand, a large three-dimensional object with a strong presence that he made has many openings so viewers can see through the other side. A clod large enough to fill a basement is a lump made of hard-pressed earth dust, and it will be smashed if beaten. Probably he is not looking only at what is invisible or where nothing exists. He is interested in any way of existence, both what exists and what doesn’t. He must be paying attention to how things occupy space or open up themselves to show us space.

A series of works that appeared immediately prior to this large work using films was named “Layer Drawing.” In a group of his film-works that is considered the archetype of the recent work, twenty-four 35mm positive photos depicting various materials and landscapes are piled into a block, and they are arranged on a light-box to be viewed from above. In the exhibition at ACAC, a part of this work was displayed in the projection room. The work itself is a device that resembles a microscope through which we can observe a prepared specimen of the microscopic world. The subject that is so small that we need a loupe to peep at is a fragment of a material that appears to have no definite form. Those series can be regarded as the specimens of what Nakanishi has seen so far. As we inspect them one by one, ways of existence that Nakanishi wants to see are gradually revealed. They include real-sized powder, dust, liquids, and even burns. Fragments of landscape such as trees and mountains, which come in confusing sizes, are also contained. Most of them are in the state of either fluid or mist.

In fact, we see gas change into powder, powder into a solid and solid matter into a fluid in our daily life, but we little wonder about that, and don’t pay much attention to them. If, however, this matter of course happened to everything that we see, we couldn’t look away from them. Nakanishi might be seeing such impossible phenomena in material objects or space─clothes someone wears start to be covered with many holes before the wearer knows, and we expect the body exposed gradually, but there is no substance inside them but empty space. A running vehicle is shaved off rapidly, with its exhaust gas, and disappears. To the contrary, trailing smoke turns to have a definite form. Thus, by intermingling what is visible and invisible, or what we have seen and what we have not seen, he tries to put our perception off balance, maybe in order to decide what he really wants to see.

What he is seeing, memories of what he has seen, and what he has not yet seen are all mingled with each other in his sight, as if his sensory experiences at present and his memories were coming into keen conflict. In this confrontation, what is actually seen disappears while what is virtually seen remains. Or, how about this idea—if seeing is considered owning, he seems to be hungry for seeing. It is as if what Nakanishi has seen and has left great impact on him would go out of people’s sight. Perhaps Nakanishi is going ahead by himself to experience visually what humans might experience somewhere in the universe towards the end of the 21st century. Others might not be able to see them, because he changes what he sees into foam. While memories are accumulated in blank spaces, our perceived images are dispersed in the air one by one. What is visible to us is only void left behind.

(*1) This video work was shown in the second Yokohama Triennale in 2005. To experience sound art, visitors listen to the sounds that the artist has recorded in advance with difference in time.
(*2) This spontaneous remark was made when he was requested to take part in the gallery talk without notice.
(*3) The title of his work displayed in the said exhibition “Cave and Blank.”
(*4) This is a drawing displayed in “Nakanishi Nobuhiro: Recent Works,” an exhibition held at Gallery Works in Osaka in September 2002.
(*5) It is a part of his comments that were printed in the above exhibition leaflet.

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