David Handley, the founding director of the Western Australian outdoor “Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe” exhibition, set to run March 6 to 23, issues considerable praise on sculptor Haruyuki Uchida.

“It is without doubt that his kinetic 7.5-meter (long) gravity-defying sculpture by will be a highlight of the Cottesloe 2020 exhibition,” Handley says. “Uchida is the Tourism Western Australia Invited International Artist at this year’s exhibition, allowing visitors to see a world-class sculpture never before seen in Australia.”

Eight Japanese sculptors — Uchida, Hirofumi Uchino with Christine Simpson, Takahiro Hirata, Toshio Iezumi, Yuko Takahashi, Zero Higashida, Yoshio Nitta and Keizo Ushio — will exhibiting at this year’s “Sculpture by the Sea,” one of Western Australia’s most popular art attractions, which has reported previous attendance figures in the hundreds of thousands.

“Zero Higashida was selected with a bronze work that encapsulates a timely message of the moment — ‘World Peace Bird,’ sharing his story as a Hiroshima-based artist with the world,” says Handley, describing the work of some of the other artists. “Yoshio Nitta brings us all a little closer with his poetic work reflecting on the home, family, and matters of the heart.”

It is Keizo Ushio, however, who holds a status both embryonic and sustaining for Japanese participation at the Cottesloe exhibition. Ushio showed in the inaugural Cottesloe in 2005, his sculpture there eventually being installed at the Vasse Felix Winery, Margaret River. The friendship he developed with the Western Australian sculptor Ron Gomboc then led to increasingly collaborative relations that also benefited Ushio’s Japanese peers. Nitta’s “Four Pots” (2004) was purchased from “Sculpture by the Sea” as the first sculpture in the Town of Cottesloe Collection; Takahiro Hirata’s “Dark Night Shine” (2014) was purchased from the 10th-anniversary exhibition for installation in front of the Cottesloe Post Office; and Uchida became a distinguished invited artist at the Gomboc Gallery in 2014.

In Japan, Uchida’s studio is in Hieidaira, perched on the Otsu City side of the Higashiyama mountain range that separates Shiga Prefecture from Kyoto. Here, his first foray into kinetic sculpture, a piece titled “Physical Process” (1978), is a functional glass-topped table. Set within the table is a mirrored surface with a circular enclosure. Inside this, an electric current firing magnets drives two ball bearings to move. Like paired dancers, the balls are pulled and repelled, come to a stop, then start their gyrations anew.

For the young Uchida, thus began the possibilities of sculpture in movement, a far cry from the wood medium he saw little potential in as an art student at Kyoto Seika University (he graduated in 1976, and is now professor at his alma mater).

Uchida became part of the new wave of Japanese kinetic sculptors alongside figures such as Yoichi Takada and Kozo Nishino. Often making large-scale geometric works from composite metals like aluminum and stainless steel, Uchida incorporated magnets into his pieces, utilized gravity and created a sense of unease that accompanies the bodily experience of being physically dwarfed by the slight rocking movements of his imposing sculptures in motion. These movements are initiated either by the agency of the curious spectator tipping an oblong momentarily off its fulcrum stasis, or by a natural breeze when works are in an outdoor setting, as in Uchida’s “Red Balance Beam” (2016), installed at a horse stud in Willinga Park, New South Wales. The artistic conception of the perpetual re-achievement of balance is an attractive metaphor for turbulent times.

Burning sensation: Haruyuki Uchida's 'Silent Motion /House of Pyrethrum' (2019) used pyrethrum chrysanthemum in an installation of smoke and flames. | COURTESY OF ARTCOURT GALLERY, OSAKA
Burning sensation: Haruyuki Uchida’s ‘Silent Motion /House of Pyrethrum’ (2019) used pyrethrum chrysanthemum in an installation of smoke and flames. | COURTESY OF ARTCOURT GALLERY, OSAKA

In recent years, as the director of the Takamijima Project of the Setouchi Triennale 2019, Uchida has moved in intriguingly different directions. The island was famous for pyrethrum chrysanthemum cultivation, for which the dried flower heads were used in the production of mosquito coils. Peak production resulted in 1935, followed by protracted decline in demand and production. With rising installation artists Kayako Nakashima, Nozomi Murata, Ai Yamada and the Paranoid Andersons, among others, Uchida restored abandoned and dilapidated houses on the island as part of a memory retrieval project, installing individual pieces within or around the buildings, or utilizing their structures to be a part of the artwork. Uchida’s site-specific “Silent Motion/House of Pyrethrum” used the plants in a combusting smoke and flame installation symbolic of regeneration.

In Cottesloe, Uchida will be showing the most publicly recognizable form of his widely collected and commissioned monuments. The approximately 2.5-ton “Merry Gate” comprises geometric forms in stainless steel, and was transported to Australia in pieces to be assembled in full for the first time by crane. Grandiose in scale, and bold red in coloring, its repelling and attracting magnets offer a sense of gravity-defying flotation. But Uchida’s geometries are also humanized. He conceives of “Merry Gate” as being “symbolic of the special boundary that connects the audience from one place to another.”

Asked what the Japanese sculptors bring to “Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe” (a Sydney, Bondi Beach exhibition will follow later this year), Handley replies, “(They) bring a unique set of highly mastered techniques and skills that are truly exceptional. Their precision, perfection and fine carving techniques are second to none, which our visitors are floored by year after year. The sheer scale and volume of the materials they work with encompasses sculpture of sublime magnificence to delicate poetic beauty.”

“Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe” takes place in Cottesloe Beach, Western Australia from March 6 to 23, with a Bondi Beach, Sydney, showing scheduled later in the year. For more information, visit sculpturebythesea.com.

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