Atsuo Okamoto: Faraway Mountain
A strong sense of both exploration and play
This article is from 2010.
Walking among Atsuo Okamoto’s granite sculpture feels rather like exploring a prehistoric puzzle – 12 pillars, erupting from the ground, cracked and split into pieces then carefully put back together.
The Japanese sculptor’s first solo show in the UK has a strong sense of both exploration and play, particularly in relation to his material. In a short video that accompanies Faraway Mountain, the artist describes how, as a child growing up in the poverty of postwar Hiroshima, he played with stones he took from a riverbank: ‘This is my toy and now, still, I like it.’ The exhibit itself indicates an almost child-like inquisitiveness into this material and the effects that human culture and the environment have upon it.
Okamoto uses a traditional Japanese carving technique known as ‘wari modishi’, which translates roughly as splitting and returning. Here, the 12 pillars have been created by splitting a single piece of granite, which could be reconstructed if the pillars were placed back together. These structures, themselves divided into smaller pieces and then reformed, have a beautiful, fragile appearance, contradicting the strength and weight of their material.
The second part of this show, and just as interesting, consists of two of Okamoto’s stone ‘turtle’ works. Part of a project begun by the artist in 2001, he split large stones into several individual parts, which he sent to collaborators all over the world. They then kept them in their home or place of work for up to six years. Most have now been returned to Okamoto, who has placed them back together. The changes that each piece underwent are immediately clear from the sculpture’s patchwork of colours – changes which, Okamoto points out, are due to the effect of the individual collaborators and their environments. Indeed, it is this very change that he says he finds interesting and surprising, suggesting that each piece of the sculpture has absorbed aspects of its surroundings, becoming a memorial to its own environment. ‘Each stone has a personal colour and each memory of the collaborator,’ he says. ‘Not just human memory … every memory.’
Corn Exchange Gallery, 561 7300, until 30 Sep (not Sat/Sun), free.