Can nature solve humankind’s errors?

by Matthew Larking

Special To The Japan Times

Masato Kodama considers the lobby space in Gallery 9.5 of the Hotel Anteroom Kyoto as his artistic medium. Arguably not so much a conventional hotel as an abode of more permanent residence, Hotel Anteroom Kyoto rents its rooms monthly, even yearly, and the building houses an exhibition and event space for creative performance and exchange. Kodama’s present sculptures on display, are concerned with light, gravity and air. For him, light is a symbol of tomorrow and potential futures, gravity represents the present and the past, and air is associated with memory.

The first work encountered, “Until Becoming a Shell,” features a spiral nautilus shell, the so-called “living fossils” of the cephalopod family that have existed since the time of the formation of fossil fuels. Sitting within it is a little human figure with its hands clasped in pensive pose, elbows on knees. The fossil enclosing the figure becomes a kind of philosophical space in which to ponder, perhaps, mankind’s own death and fossilization — the work becoming a peremptory sculptural metaphor for how we might conceive the larger exhibition space in its entirety.

“Spangle • big dipper” is composed of seven hip-height, thin geometric towers that are erected on tripods. At top, these hold little saucers of a silver liquid metal that reflects light and ripples from the vibrations caused by spectators as they close in on the work. The seven nodes are linked by a line of silver pebbles on the ground that create the constellation of the title — a reference to a diagrammatic way of making sense of the seeming randomness of the universe. The so-called bear shape of Ursa Major (which includes the Big Dipper constellation) relativizes the abstract astrological configuration to the natural world.

Elsewhere, we get arguably uneasy relations established between the natural and the man-made. “Mold — branch” copies nature, though abstracts it by suspending a section in midair, its surface covered in globules of reflective metal. “Spangle • beehive” is again a metal interpretation of a natural geometrical construction, though the crystal-like protrusions coming out of its hexagonal cells appear somewhat vicious and ominous.

The most prominent work in the show is “Nautilus propeller (Ferris wheel)” in which nautilus shells become the carriages of the circular architecture. Intense light shines from the plinth of the sculpture to power solar panels connected to propellers that are mounted on the bottom of each shell. The propellers on each shell whirl only briefly as they pass over the lights, but their combined motion keeps the wheel perpetually turning.

Here, the shells recall the formation of fossil fuels hundreds of millions of years ago, and light is proposed as a present, or maybe future, environmentally friendly alternative energy source. Given that we ride Ferris wheels to observe and enjoy a wide and distant view of our surroundings, Kodama appears to question whether or not we can stop relying on fossil fuels and instead face a cleaner, brighter future.

“Spatium SANDWICH #05: Masato Kodama Solo Exhibition ‘meteor’” at Gallery 9.5, Hotel Anteroom Kyoto, runs till Feb. 9; open daily12 p.m.-7 p.m. Free admission. hotel-anteroom.com/2013/12/17/3244/