Mining the Archive
Vol 19 no 1, 1999
Guest editor Zara Stanhope. Reflects a range of recent artistic and curatorial responses to particular collections as well as considerations of the nature of archival material and knowledge in the broader sense.
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Akio Makigawa is usually associated with public commissions, large scale sculpture that lends a specially dense social inflection to the space round it, by virtue of the intense energy and unrelenting craftmanship with which each element has been conceived and carved. No doubt this concern originates in his Japanese heritage. This certainly shows in his first major public work, for the Perth Cultural Centre Gate II Coalesce of 1987 in which a series of Japanese-inspired formal elements in black and white marble are arranged around the approach line to the State library.
For some time now Makigawa has been suffering from a severe illness which has restricted his ability to work with demanding materials. For his Perth exhibition, Recollections of Memory, he has maintained his commitment to work with substantial presence by breaking down the form of the work into small, tile-like sections, each individually moulded and cast. Makigawa has had a long association with Perth; much of the work for this exhibition was made during a residency at Claremont School of Art where he began his sculptural studies with his long term friend Tony Jones for whom he acted as a research assistant .
This was an ideal context for an investigation of memory, of the traces that have triggered one's most profound concerns, those half hidden mysteries that become every day more urgent of solution. Makigawa has conceived his fundamental memories in terms of extremely simple shapes, ideograms redolent of an eternity far more iconic than calligraphic.
The centrepiece of the new exhibition was the floor piece Recollection of Memory One, a large circle made up of small panels of delicately rusted cast iron. It floats across the floor of the main gallery as if it were a mandala turning in infinite space. Rust necessarily conjures up ageing and, perhaps also, the persistence of simple human gestures in a hostile universe.
Each element in the circle bears a unique single raised symbol. There is a diagonal cross and vertical cross. There are portico shapes with two, three and four columns. Irregular bird and boat shapes challenge their rectilinear feel so that the symbols never look alike, as if they are part of a series or a letter in an alphabet.
These are not simplified graphic symbols or stylised allusions to some banal narrative. Each is an original effort of the sculptor's imagination in direct contact with this particular form. Every tile could stand alone as a beautifully proportioned object of endless fascination, a statement of precious enduring finality. For Makigawa the act of modelling is indeed the act of creation, of the revelation of one's life as a journey around a series of unchanging elements, figures that preside over one from birth to death.
It was particularly important that the panels should not give the impression of being a simple decorative formula, no more than a set of variations on a theme churned out by an artist too lazy to be perpetually at one with his work. It was important that each work should be a part the whole yet, at the same time, a singular resistant entity, a irreducible spark of oneness with the world The small scale of each panel is merely a means to allow him to work intensely without the need to expend too much of his limited reserves of energy merely in holding the work in focus.
The rich red rust of the wheel also indicates that Makigawa is concerned with time, process and change and not with the bogus, bourgeois notion of eternity that is the stock in trade of so many second rate ego-serving artists. This is most important since Makigawa is often mistakenly characterised as a superficial artist more interested in the rhetoric of design than concerned with profound matters of the human spirit. The effect of the rust was produced by leaving the work out in the rain for just the right length of time. The distinction between active shaping and simple facilitation of the natural course of events would be lost on Makigawa since for him both are part of the same pattern as are life and death themselves. It would be tempting to ascribe this sensibility directly to some specific aspects of Japanese culture, but to do so would be a wilful misconception of the worst kind. Amongst other experiences, Makigawa relates Recollection of Memory One to the well known story by Kafka, in which a man waits for his entire life for admission before an open gate with a guard. As he is dying the guard shuts the gate while telling him that it had been open for him and him alone. Amongst other important recollections.
Memory and desire are intertwined in exactly this way. Memory proposes unceasingly that we should enter the gateway that it has kept open for us into our most profound passions while at the same it forbids any such action on pain of the absolute death of desire. To step within the centre of Makigawa's rusted circle was an experience that went far beyond the usual frisson of a childlike transaction, such as treading on the cracks in the pavement One had almost entered Kafka's gate, all memory and desire were spun to a single unbreakable cipher.
The remaining Recollections of Memory were horizontal lines of groups of ten panels each mainly in gunmetal black but with an occasional whitening, the raised forms each displayed like a frieze at eye level around the walls of the gallery. Their dark finish and brooding mystery make them difficult to look at, as though the gallery had suddenly become a sombre sacred site, a memorial to the elemental icons of a life time.
This effect has been appropriated by every science fiction film from Star Wars on to suggest the portentous melancholy mingling of archaeology and technology and, ultimately, the cheapening and failure of all things human in the face of a bogus romanticism, an abstract instrumental sublime. There are more than a few local architects and designers who have attempted the same thing.
Makigawa will have none of it; his work triumphs over all such banality and reasserts his belief that all sculptural forms of any significance exist only through the specific, profound human experience of being present in the here and now. The resonant spirituality of, say, Recollection of Memory No 4 which is a sequence of portals or varying proportions, relies entirely on their individual presence as human artefacts. They could never have been part of a mechanical design process
His partner, the internationally renowned jeweller and metal worker Carlier Makigawa, was showing her work in the small back gallery. She too is concerned with shapes - spatial relationships as metaphor for life as whole. Much of the recent work has its origins in the form used in Indian temples and other Hindu artefacts. Such forms can of course be massive but as Carlier's pieces demonstrate they are just as powerful at any scale
A sequence of beautifully constructed silver pendants hangs on the back wall each carefully guarded by an open cube of bright metal rods. Each pendant is developed round the unfolding form of lotus or stupa; a sequence of metal petals outlined in bright silver pulses out from an intense centre that is often indicated by a piece of coral. Like Makigawa's Recollections of Memory One Carlier's pendants propose an architectonic view of experience as unfolding pattern with a single centre in which all things meet. The most moving are the five delicately formed pieces in the series, Waiting Outside The Garden. They are artefacts designed for contemplation, for the slow recovery of the order of life from painful chaos.
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Articles in this issue
- Artrave: Artrave
- Feature: A Dream of Earthly Organisation
- Feature: Archives After the Seventies and After
- Feature: Artists and Collections: a working partnership
- Feature: Debra Phillips: List
- Feature: Elizabeth Gertsakis: Tampering with the Archive
- Feature: Fabricating Archives: Six New Zealand Artists confuse the system
- Feature: Four Shoes Many Signs
- Feature: Going Over Old Ground
- Feature: History and Memory
- Feature: Is there an Artist in the Museum?
- Feature: Market Mark-Art: Forgotten Fruit
- Feature: Parallax Error
- Feature: Photosynthesis: Two approaches
- Feature: Polemic: Object and Text
- Feature: Psychology of Retrieval: Personal and Fictional Archives
- Feature: The TMAG Commissions 1998
- Feature: Time Traveller: An Interview with Kim Donaldson
- Feature: Wunderkammern: Actual and Virtual
- Review: Juliet Stone Paintings and Pastels
- Review: Recollections of Memory: Akio Makigawa
- Review: The Fleurieu Biennale 1998
- Review: Underbelly
- Review: Vault: A Collaborative Installation Cluster