In “One” and “In-between” Sphere: A Review of “In an Urbanized Wilderness”
The exhibition entitled “In an Urbanized Wilderness” was held at a space located in Minami-Aiki Village, Nagano Prefecture. However, this “space” is not the space which is usually acknowledged as the place for displaying works of art, like a museum or a gallery. In this exhibition, the works by two Japanese artists, Makihara Taisuke and Katayama Hatsune, are placed all around the woods where a mountain lodge is built.
The exhibition title “In an Urbanized Wilderness” was cited from Robert Smithson’s essay on Frederic Law Olmsted, a landscape architect who designed Central Park in New York City. This is suggestive because the outdoor works I have just referred to seem to have some relation to Earthworks or Land Art in the late 1960s and early 1970s. On this point, Itoh Takako, a researcher in the field of environmental aesthetics, considers in her essay published in the exhibition catalog .
It is important to recognize that the site for this exhibition, the woods, has an in-between characteristic. On the one hand, the site is full of natural beings like plants and insects, and isolated from the center of the social or economical activities. But on the other hand, it is not exactly a “pure” nature, for the woods are managed by humans, and coexist with the artificial lodge. Therefore, as the title suggests, the space of this exhibition couldn’t be defined as “urban” nor “wilderness”.
Both artists made their works based on materials that have an affinity with the environment of the site. Makihara focused on the stones originally in the woods, then removed the deposits such as moss from their surfaces with a high-pressure washer and a deck brush [fig.1]. Katayama built a wooden structure which is the same as the deck of the lodge in shape and size [fig.2]. Thus their works didn’t add radically heterogeneous elements for the site. Makihara’s stones and Katayama’s structure reflect the site’s surroundings to some extent.
This approach to the site is reminiscent of a work by Japanese sculptor Wakabayashi Isamu (1936–2003), The Green Constellation of the Unicorn. It was a kind of garden in a forest. The forest was planned to be used as the site for a waste disposal facility. In the mid 1990s, Wakabayashi began to make the garden in the section purchased by the citizens who joined the movement against the facility construction. He intentionally chose materials in the forest such as trees, earth, stones for the garden.
There is another point to be made in relation to Wakabayashi. For he had a specific sculptural thought about the distance between one and the opposite object, or the limit of a spatial volume including one. For him, the limit is something to be recognized as the surfaces of one’s body and of things like trees which have some uncertain thickness. Such thought on a haptically grasped distance or volume led the artist to works like his well-known series Oscillating Scale in the late 1970s. This in-between space with uncertain thickness is suggestive because the works in “In an Urbanized Wilderness” also focused on the “in-between” quality in their own way.
Makihara’s dispersedly positioned stones, as I mentioned, got their surface washed, losing the deposits and exposing their naked, original state of the surface. But what does “original” mean? On the one hand, considering the state before growing moss, the naked surface might be called original. But on the other hand, considering the state before washing, the surface with deposits might be called original. This contradictory double meaning presents the conception of the in-between, “uncertain thickness” of the surface. One of the stones was washed along the line defined by the shadow of the lodge cast on it at a specific time [fig.3]. This half-naked stone marks the intersection of artificiality and nature.
The objects to be washed include not only natural stones but artifacts made of concrete, such as the stake for indicating a property line [fig.4]. The washed surface of the stake underscores its components, such as gravel and crushed stone as aggregate in concrete, exposing the material origin that they came from a natural environment. The washed shiny surfaces oscillate their viewer between the different stages in the history of the object.
Katayama’s wood deck, whose structure is precisely identical to the one belonging to the lodge, is directly placed on the ground of the woods. It is surrounded by trees and intruded by some branches which blur the boundary of the structure [fig.5]. So it does not offer the privileged perspective, unlike the deck of the lodge from which visitors can take in the whole space in front of them without involving themselves in the viewed environment. Katayama’s deck is not necessarily for viewing, but for locating the viewers among the trees, making them physically perceive the terrain of the site. On the deck, some trees are too close to viewers to draw a landscape from a bird’s-eye view. So they would feel belonging to the environment, and composing it with the other beings such as the trees or the earth.
However, visitors of the exhibition could get an exceptional item that enabled them to have a bird’s-eye view: a map [fig.6]. The locations of each work are on this guide map, not unlike other exhibitions. But this map takes on something unusual. Because the maps made by Makihara are neither printed by copy machine nor identical to each other. These are produced by cyanotype, the printmaking method in which a paper sensitized to ultraviolet rays is overlaid by a transparent sheet drawn with black line, and then exposed to the sunlight.
Compared to the typical guide map that usually functions as a supplement for the exhibition, the cyanotype map partakes of an artwork in itself, though it can be used as a map as well. Moreover, the texture of the map is affected by the environmental condition, especially the state of the sunlight. So this map also has an in-between characteristic of art/artifact and nature, like Makihara’s stones and Katayama’s deck. These objects will make us become conscious of “one” sphere, which comprises various beings including trees, stones, animals, humans, fungi, and many others.
 Itoh Takako, “Contemplations on Nature, Landscape and the Environment: On “In an Urbanized Wilderness,” Makihara Taisuke and Katayama Hatsune (eds.), In an Urbanized Wilderness, 2022.
About the exhibition
Exhibition period: 14th, 15th, 21st, and 22nd May 2022
Venue: A mountain lodge and neighboring surrounds in Minami-Aiki Village, Minami-Saku County, Nagano Prefecture, Japan