“The State of This World: Thought and the Arts,” the second of the Ashiya City Museum of Art and History’s “Art Trip” exhibitions, this time focuses on four contemporary artists’ works that are in some instances inspired by archaeology. They address issues of seen and unseen worlds, life and death, and the past speaking to the present.

Tatsuo Kawaguchi (b. 1940) remembers his parents planting seeds in scorched earth after World War II, watering and fertilizing them and bringing them to harvest in a miraculous transformation. His “Until the Stick of Distance” (2016) forms concentric circles of 3,500 yellow painted shells. Representing fossils they symbolize death, though within them are yellow-painted lotus seeds, symbolic of life’s potential — a reference to the fact that some prehistoric Jomon Period seeds have been germinated. Up the staircase banisters behind Kawaguchi’s central installation are lead-encased lotus seedpods on stalks creating an effect similar to the artist’s earlier work “Relation — Floating Lotus Boat” (2007). These address the issue of radioactive contamination both past and recent. Life is not seen here, but imagined at some point in the future.

Materials placed at the center of the installation are testimony to huge swathes of time and include part of a Pleistocene-period Naumann elephant fossil and an apple seed referencing Adam and Eve in the Old Testament. For Kawaguchi, the seed is also symbolic of nuclear power and a wicked fruit that should never again be eaten.

Yuko Ozawa (b. 1984) uses video, sound and words to treat individual identity in relation to other people and cultural difference. In works such as “Nick (2)” Ozawa had a non-Japanese participant copy a Japanese-language script, resulting in a meaningful communicative exchange that is not “meaningful,” but a transfer of a pattern by an unpracticed hand.

“I don’t know Japanese,” writes Nick, though he may not have known he had written that. There is less unease about cultural difference here than about the level of interest this kind of conceptual art can sustain.

More engaging, though visually reductive, is Kotaro Maetani’s (b. 1984) “Echo of Reality” (2016). Maetani records the transfer of light from the outside world to the interior of a self-built camera obscura (essentially a black box with a pinhole). He then shows the fuzzy record of light intensity on a screen. Moving from the natural light of the gallery to the blacked-out viewing room is ostensibly a conceptual parallel and a shift between worlds.

Zon Ito (b. 1971) has combined his contemporary embroidery display with Jomon Period clay artifacts that often feature surface patterns of repetitive lines. Taking inspiration from these, Ito forms his own earth-colored panels with embroidered hatching, which appear topographical like modern Aboriginal painting. Other stitched works are displayed on upright panels that are weighted at back by stones. Looking like small-scale menhirs or perhaps grave markers, these might also inadvertently speak to the longevity of some contemporary art stories.

“Art Trip vol.02: The State of This World — Thought and the Arts” at Ashiya City Museum of Art and History runs until Feb. 12. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Mon. ¥600. ashiya-museum.jp/en-top


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