Sculpture is supposedly the most solid and permanent of the creative arts, so it is a paradox that an artist like Junichi Mori — whose work often focuses on impermanence and evanescence — has chosen to work in this style, using materials like marble and wood, instead of something more fleeting and tenuous such as spider’s webs or dandelion fluff.
But the artistic act is often a way of fighting against the ultimate darkness and a quest for immortality, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that those who feel they’re in the shadow of death sometimes veer toward the most stable and perennial forms of art. Opposites, after all, attract in a very dialectical way.
The Mizuma Art Gallery, situated along what was formerly the outer moat of Edo Castle, roughly halfway between Ichigaya and Iidabashi stations, is presenting a small selection of new works by Mori under the title “Tetany.”
At first, the exhibition seems a little disappointing when compared with past efforts by the artist, such as his 2004 work, “Coma,” a statue of the Virgin Mary made from lithothamnium, an unusual algae that resembles stone when it dies, or his marble sculptures — inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches — hollowed out to the point where they seemed like brittle garments.
In formal terms, the works in this show seem more conventional and a lot less technically challenging. These include a few figures of a small girl — smaller than life-size — as well as some blurred and scoured paintings of what looks like a 1950s American car with tail fins.
The figures, realistically carved from wood and coated in a rough varnish or paint, with pupilless eyes made from marble, bear an eerie resemblance to the alien children in the British 1960 sci-fi movie “Village of the Damned,” based on John Wyndham’s novel “The Midwich Cuckoos.”
But this is merely a coincidence. Mori’s intent is revealed by the show’s title, “Tetany,” a reference to a medical condition that involves muscular spasms and involuntary contractions. This immediately explains why the young girl has her hands stretched out in some of the works, and is on all fours on the floor in another. There is an undertone of cruelty, or at least detached interest, to these works that is slightly unnerving.
Interestingly, the usual cause of tetany is a lack of calcium, which posits these works as counterpoints to his calcium-rich lithothamnium works.
These are figures that have all the ugliness and frailty of illness, but those qualities are elegantly tucked away inside the beauty of their forms and the ambiguity of their gestures, creating a subtle blending of opposites that emits a sinister tension. These are crafty, if not dramatic, works of art.
“Junichi Mori: Tetany” at Mizuma Art Gallery runs till Jan. 10; open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Free. Closed Sundays, Mondays and national holidays. For more information, visit mizuma-art.co.jp