SCULPTED RITUALS: Tetsuya Yamada

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Walking Drawing and Ceremonial Pole and a Rock
at Denler Gallery, University of Northwestern, St. Paul

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All the photographs by Tetsuya Yamada, courtesy of the artist

Writing itself should be untied from canonic habits: these sculptures are not meant to be monumental, or reproductions of anything physical. They are shaped by a secret feeling the artist has every day of his life: such a deep awe for the living that ordinary trees, stones, and the color of the day seem to him extraordinary gifts from the present. Just the very existence of things that surround us with no voice, not particularly appealing, many times invisible for lack of attention. Humans only see what they already have in mind, so it happens that ordinary things can look at us with detachment.

Yamada likes to think through Basho’s poems (1644-1694):

“in my view a good poem is one in which the form of the verse, and the joining of its parts, seem light as a shallow river flowing over its sandy bed.”

The true and the beautiful of his art must flow in a rarefied landscape; a place in which the artist tries to detach himself from physical desire and wish of possession. His art making becomes an absolute gesture: walking around the walls of the gallery for hours moving his arm up and down, letting the arm trace on the walls an horizontal action which is personal only because he did it, but has an impersonal quality like the blades of grass in a field.

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It has been written that art, for the Japanese Gutai Group in the Fifties, “speaks of the delicate interaction between spirit and matter that ultimately enables art to tell a story and possess life and freshness.” (Wikipedia)

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The Gutai experience is for sure on Tetsuya’s mind, and yet it is there along with many other Japanese rituals that Tetsuya knows well enough to keep their essence, and let the pods go away. It’s a way to unwrap his feelings, make them as pure as possible, but also to fill the space with them, this seems to be his goal. The lines he traced are light and thin as human hair. Up and down, into the mid space which is the active living between the ground and the sky. Life is a temporary density that rolls on herself. And art is the simple left over of a regular motion, the hand beating, the hand touching, exactly as with the prehistoric graffiti makers and the Anasazi shepherds leaving white little hands on a cave’s ceiling to mark their presence, once or more.

Tetsuya Yamada says he likes Zen ideas, not the practice itself. He doesn’t wear any specific religious habit. Maybe his ritual around the walls of the gallery was meant to be stripped from style, or cultural definitions, as if preceding human communication, or pretending to. The ritual scene has two witnesses, the stone and the tree at the center the room. They are both silent. Wondering what that human machine was doing around the room? The tree and the stone smile patiently at the bundle of lines all around them, so regular, and softly repetitive, without really disturbing one another: was that human body allowed to dream on his own -the will was gone once the action had started- until a thought appeared, the first of many: humans can only dream of the roots they don’t have.

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The artist’s studio

Being Italian, I can’t avoid comparing Yamada’s sculptural artwork to the practice and ideas of Giuseppe Penone, an Italian delicate interaction between spirit and matter.

What is sculpture? (by Giuseppe Penone)

A work that evolves in space, occupies space.
A work whose form is necessary in all its parts.
A work whose form is possible only by way of the materials it consists of.
A work whose content is the significance of its material.
A work that contains the wonder of the material.
A work that represents nothing other than itself.
A work that reflects an anthropomorphic vision of the world.
A work that suggests and reflects our existence.
A work that does not describe but is described.
A work that is created by hand.
A work that is a thought produced by action.
A work that…

From Branches of Thought, by Giuseppe Penone, a little book published on the occasion of Penone’s exhibition at Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills, 2014