By Lucy Birmingham
"Kijuro Yahagi: Wielding a welder's flame to breath life into metal"
To know an artist is to know their genre, so it is rare indeed to find an artist like Kijuro Yahagi whose multi-talented and prolific genius appears borderless. An architect, filmmaker and designer for exhibitions, lighting, signage, posters and magazines (like Kateigaho International), Yahagi is also widely published as a photographer and writer.
Now, the award-winning 54-year-old wields a flame as sculptor with his recent, first solo exhibition of 23 sculptures and installation works held at Tokyo’s Hillside Terrace. Created from discarded scrap pieces of stainless steel and metal, Yahagi has breathed into this unforgiving material a new life with surprising beauty. Among the sculptures displayed in this contemporary space designed by well-known architect Fumihiko Maki – a collaborator and friend of Yahagi’s – are two distinct forms. One includes flat, tubular and cube-like pieces of welded and sleekly polished metals. The other is a composite of crushed steel in rectangular, conical and free-form pieces sliced open to reveal an intriguing maze of innards flecked with the colors of rust, grease and age.
Reflected in the title of the show, “Imaginary Boundary Planes/Objects,” the works reveal Yahagi’s fascination with spatial planes, and our perceived sense of space.
“A good example of what I mean by imaginary boundary planes can be found in Katsura Rikkyu (Villa),” he explains while pointing to a photo in one of his published books of Kyoto’s renowned architectural masterpiece. “Here is a room designed specifically for moon viewing. When you enter the space of the room you feel something different. It’s not just a sense of differing lines or the view, but actually a kind of boundary, often unconsciously perceived. The different tatami matting and placement of the stones forinstance, helps to set the imaginary boundary of the space.” He also cites the example of the Japanese ‘torii’ or gate that stands at the entrance of Shinto shrines and sacred grounds. “Although it is only a simple structure, once you pass through, you suddenly feel a sense of spiritualism, that you have entered into a whole new space,” he explains.
Reactions to the show delighted Yahagi. “Some people told me the installation pieces looked like cut cabbage or ancient Chinese characters. Many people told me that they’d never seen anything like this before,” he adds with a warm smile. “It’s that odoroki (surprise) factor that I’m hoping for.”
Yahagi photographed all his works in the show for the catalogue including the intriguing reflective sculpture that seemingly blends into a floor of fallen dried leaves. It is perhaps this work that best represents his fascination with perceived and imagined planes. “I was inspired by Magritte,” explains Yahagi. “You can see and feel in his paintings an imaginary plane where the surfaces are blending. I am interested in this imaginary influence and how it affects us in physical and emotional ways, especially as an architect.”
Among the many differences in Japanese and Western perceptions of space, Yahagi cites the example of the Japanese unique concept of oku – an innermost recess like the back interior of a house. He explains that within the house, this oku is not something you can see, but more of an imaginary space. “Japanese want to show their modernism to the world, but as architect Maki has said, it’s important that Japanese go back to their culture and history, and use their original sense of imagination and creativity,” he says. “By going back to their cultural oku, Japanese can influence Western ways of thinking.”
In Yahagi’s upcoming architectural design to be built in Yokohama, plans have been made to display in the interior and exterior spaces, recreated large-scale examples of the sculptures that were displayed in this exhibition. Combining his architectural and sculptural works on a large scale is an exciting first for this gifted artist whose surprise-filled talents brim with imagination.