27/01/2016 CONSTELLATION REFLECTIONS (PDP)

 

The decision to write my thesis on Japanese spatial theories and their relation to minimalist art forms was quite a natural one. The choice might seem quite obscure, but in relation to my own artistic practice, it made a whole lot of sense. ‘Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined’ at the Royal Academy (2014), opened my mind to a whole new depth of architecture I hadn’t experienced before. The structures were varied and all encouraged interaction with visitors. They introduced the work of architects as playful and sensual, each created an individual experience. In the last room, they had a video showing, where the architects and firms explained their influences and designs, but one really held my attention and I later found it online. This particular video showed the work of Kengo Kuma, a Japanese architect who spoke of an exciting concept I had not heard of before. ‘Ma’, he explained, was the most important aspect in his designs. It is the ‘void’ between physical structures that contains the essence of a place, it is responsible for “the change of light, the change of time, the change of smell.” [1] Kuma described an appreciation for simple, everyday things like the smell of rain making a rainy day a good day. Although these small, modest appreciations are something we all experience (hopefully), to think of this simplicity in architecture was a humbling and powerful change for me.

The exploration into Japanese spatial concepts in my second year quickly began to change my way of working as an artist and altered my views of various situations and environments which I have found myself in. I found myself searching for how a place makes me feel, instead of fathoming it out from the exterior aesthetics. The simplicity of forms, geometry and whiteness (to accentuate natural light and grey-tone shadows) that took hold in my sculptures soon got me talking about minimalism, a movement that seemed to follow very similar ideas. Although not spiritual in origin, the similarities seemed uncanny. It then seemed only natural to me, that I should spend my time on constellation this year, researching concepts that would aid and encourage me in my Subject work too. To run this topic and research alongside my sculptural practice has undoubtedly been beneficial, but has not been without its challenges.

From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to find legitimate sources and artists / architects that discussed both Japanese concept and minimalism in the same place. This soon proved harder than I had thought, it seems resources that fill this criteria are few and far between. The first ‘good’ text I found which explained Japanese spatial concepts (and also that of ‘wabi-sabi’ – that beauty is in simplicity) in relation to architecture and also marginally compared to ideas in the West, came from a 1966 Architectural Design journal, from the collection of oldest journal, in the least accessed journal room in the university library. Despite its obscurity, this article made me decide to push on and dig deeper for the information I needed. Because more contemporary resources on this were limited, I also had to look further afield. The worry of whether I could write 10,000 words on this topic did cross my mind a few times in the beginning.

Finding Japanese architects and artists that used the spatial concepts was not a hard task, but I knew my argument would not be complete, without also exploring Western architects who openly have written about or discussed these concepts too. An exciting breakthrough occurred about halfway through my writing, as I stumbled across a British architect through an online search. John Pawson, whose designs are undeniably minimalist, was the solution to my problems. His book ‘Minimum’ [2] openly discussed his influences from Japanese culture, achieving harmony and beauty through the use of simplicity and geometry. He discusses the “excitement of empty space”, that it “offers the space, both psychological and physical, for contemplation, and the serenity that can encourage meditative quiet and calm, without the jarring distractions of possessions” (Pawson, 1996: 15). The discovery of John Pawson’s work was very encouraging and spurred me on to analyze the work of American artists, Michael Heizer and Donald Judd. Most of the information I found came from Cardiff Met’s library because the breadth of books and journals on creative subjects is very good. I also contacted Cardiff University’s Architecture library, as I felt they may have more specific books on my topic. However, their library is quite small in comparison, and most of the resources I found were already available at Cardiff Met (which was easier as I could not take books out of the Architecture library). I did, however, stay there for several full days to make notes, seeing as it is just a five-minute walk from my house. I am a very visual, and hands-on learner. This is perhaps why the ‘Sensing Spaces’ exhibition had such a large effect on me. I have found I also respond very well to videos of the architects / artists and their work. It would have been incredible to travel to Japan and experience the culture first-hand. This was not possible but would have been an unbeatable experience. Perhaps I will be able to do this at some point, and write some more on the topic from my own experiences – not learning just from the knowledge of others.

I don’t think that when I first chose to write my paper on this topic, I realized just how many connections between the Japanese concepts and minimalism I was going to find. The longer I researched and the deeper I dug for information, the more connections I found and the more exciting it became. I was surprised with the amount of information I had gathered by the end, and I know there is still much more to find. In the end, my problem was having too much I wanted to write about, not too little.

It would now be impossible for me to ignore what I have learned during Constellation this year. The ideas I have explored run deep in many areas of my life now. It has helped me to identify and refine the artistic areas I am motivated by, and having always been inspired by architectural design, gave me a good reason to include this in my research and practice. In my Subject, and for my upcoming degree show, I am compelled to create work which builds an experience, considers the surrounding environment, and shows complex ideas and beauty through its simplicity and geometric forms. I also feel that these spatial concepts will influence how I exhibit my work later this year.

All in all, I think I have handled the challenges of Constellation this year successfully. I am quite proud of myself for persevering with this research, despite the times when resources were proving hard to find. It was a challenge to write about ideas which I had only a basic understanding of when I started, but I have come a long way this year, worked my hardest, and I am pleased with my outcome.

[1] The Royal Academy of Arts (2014). Kengo Kuma. [Online Video] 22 January 2014. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ew4rx6oQOgY

[2] Pawson, J (1996). Minimum. London: Phaidon Press.

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