mythology to ritual
essay by Lorenzo Bonini
of the most widely diffused themes in the cultures of all ages is that of the mother
with a child her lap. Sometimes it represents the Earth Mother
of all mankind in ancient religions, on occasions the Madonna and Child for
the Christian religion, a most special relationship between that
particular mother and that particular child.
significant example has come down to us in the form of the mother and child of Megara
Hyblaea : this is a 78 cm tall limestone work dating back to about 550 BC that
is now housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Syracuse.
Another is the funerary statue of a mother and Chi: Chianciano, in Tuscany:
dating back to the second half of the fifth century BC, it is a 100 cm tall limestone
work and is now in the Archaeological Museum in Florence. The subject and
even the gesture of the hands holding the baby are the same. In the first statue,
made in the shape of a bell, the body and the gesture are simplified and rough,
yet very immediate and expressive; in the second one, of Etruscan
origin (its function was to contain the ashes of the person in w-hose
tomb it was found), the sculptor paid more attention to reality,
focusing more on the firm yet delicate grip with which the mother's
hands support the sleeping infant's body. At a later date, the methods of depicting
the Pietà, the Madonna lamenting the body of her dead Son, spread
from the countries of Northern Europe down into
Italy. In 1498-99. Michelangelo Buonarroti sculpted the Pietà in the
finest, most sublime image known to us.
Once again. the mother holds her son
in her lap, but this time it is not sleeping or playing child she holds, but the
adult Christ, who has died and been taken down from the cross.
The image is one
of pain and desperation, yet because of the fact that the Madonna is holding her
Son on her lap, just as she did when He was a child, Michelangelo has her express
all the tenderness implicit in that relationship. Over the centuries, this
work was to become the symbol of sublimation in the awareness of peoples. Extraordinary
in its characteristics and proportions, it exercises a strong power of attraction
over popular imagination and sentiment: the holiness of the subject is transformed
into mythology by the community. The closest and contemporary artist who demonstrated
the ability to express the concept of mythology, reviving it in formal terms with
works of significant secular meaning, was Henry Moore, who maximized the simplification
of the forms in his 1936 stone sculpture Mother and Child (London, British Council),
succeeding in rendering the indissoluble bond between mother and child, delivering
the maternal attitude without describing it, vigilant and protective.
Nagatani is very familiar with the concept I have just described, partly because
his studies drew to a considerable extent on Western culture and especially on Italy,
which receives extensive attention in Japan's universities. During the seventies,
he visited a personal exhibition of the works of Giacomo Manzù being held
in Tokyo and was so fascinated by it that he decided to do some research into the
technique used by the great Italian maestro, even going so far as to adopt it and
use it when modeling his own pieces.
a recent interview, he confessed that as a child he used to dream of Italy, a place
he had only known through the photographs in his schoolbooks: he blamed his grandfather
and his uncle for this, because they often used to travel to Italian cities
for work and would always sing the praises of the beautiful places they had visited
when they visited young Kyoji.
graduating from the University of Tokyo Zoukei and the Superior Institute of Research
at the Tokyo State University, he took a specialization diploma in bronze casting
at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts.
1984, he took yet another diploma at the Brera Academy, under the tutelage of Enrico
Manfrini and Alik Cavaliere. There Nagatani became even more enthusiastic about
bronze as a material, with all the different and intrinsic casting methods, so that
his choice of that particular academic course turned out to be the best possible,
as the two lecturers were insuperable for their skill and cultural background, as
well as being great teachers with the ability to transmit the secrets of working
with the alloy to their students.
skills began emerging in Nagatani when the need to develop his methodology led him
to feel the urge to analyse and clarify the meaning of his signs: this became the
beginning of his need to question the reasons and functions of art itself.
In my opinion, his 1986 bronze work entitled Changeable constitutes, in its completeness,
the conceptual aspect of the artist's linguistics. His sign became the force that
acts in a field, whose limits are the limits of its own influence. Three sides of
this fine rectangular slab of bronze are finished and squared off, while the
right-hand side is sinuous and rougher, left there (maybe) as a temporal premise,
to offer the possibility of a new sign, like a starting moment for logical continuity
and that each can undertake.
linguistics of the sign in the work entitled Illogical is transformed into splitting,
lacerating, cleaning: it is the demonstration of the incompatibility between
the restricted sign and the space. By thus changing the way in which the ambiguity
of the dual space, of the outside and of the inside of the material, is represented,
the philological response matches the concept perfectly. The artist's task is this
above all. In fulfilling it, Nagatani undertakes that ritual that does not represent
the object, but reproduces it in a different material, transposes it and consecrates
it in a metaphysical dimension: the tale, the allegory, the myth. Quite apart from
illustrative academicism, what we have here is the quest for the absolute in arguments
for a living thought exuded by the surfaces of objects before then descending
into the depth of being.
a comparison between the bronze sculpture entitled Throne of Silence, coloured with
a dark patina and executed around 1998, and the earlier sculpture Illogical, created
almost exactly ten years before, reveals evidence of the evolution experienced by
Nagatani. His skills and the high degree of professional aptitude he acquired working
constantly in the foundry workshop have enabled him to dominate his material, making
it ductile even in his monumental works. This sculptured throne. whose dimensions
are quite significant, stands out for its technical execution and the finished smoothness
of the work - actually one of its fundamental qualities - going well beyond the
symbolic concept of the theme and making it a sine qua non for the observer, to
whom it offers the possibility of tactile perception. It is worth remembering
that this sculpture can actually be used by occupying it: sitting in it and practising
a meditative sit-in, while your hands flow over the polished surface of the bronze
and that contact is transformed into a pleasant sensation of being protected, affectionate
and embracing, as tender as the sensation that mother's hands know how to transmit
to her child (see Foreword).
in this work, religious fervour unites with a lofty sense of harmony, with a direct
sense of realisation, of the force of nature and of the natural law that derives
from it. The breach, the gap
in the rock, the grotto, the cave,
the great crack, the ravine, the fissure, the cleft, the split, the opening symbolically
represents the place where we can take refuge and seek protection, or withdraw in
meditation and listen
to the silent heartbeat of the universe. Yet it must be remembered that, in
the field of abstract painting, and especially with regard to the current of sign
and of gesture, Japan's artist internationalised the Zen concepts of the void (sunija).
representation combines ethical behaviour with harmony, between the human being
and nature: that is why Nagatani's work is intimately related to ritual, as
an authentically perceived way
of living. Japan has always expressed
ethical values above all others in its art, the unconditional surrender to
Nature that regulates everything and to which everything returns.
Anima Mundi", a rather large work made in 2002 in bronze with a burgundy patina,
is crossed longitudinally by a great breach that breaks (splits) its streamlined
oval form, dividing it into section,;. an upper one and a lower one,
with different interpretative symbolisms linked to the form: the shuttle
- the shell - overlapping hulls - or to a grain of corn, because of the groove,
the most appropriate shape for identifying with the Earth: grain as the universal
source of nourishment that, together with rice and Culture, gives rise to new life
as it germinates. In this work, the concept of void is used as an ethical value.
his operative phase, Nagatani is not content with merely marking a sign: he also
activates it by forming a large split, an open breach, without altering the
predetermined concept of natural fissure. This act gives the field an equally accurate
dimension, which is that of space. The artist can now operate inside the material
(space) and reconstruct there the symbols of the industrial archaeology that is
founded on consumerism, which so-called modern man leaves as the testimonial,
the trace of his passing (garbage).
the elements of the sign, in the testimony left by modern man, become indispensable
for explaining the phenomenology of industrial production, even though an industrial
product is not, strictly speaking, an object, because it does not
identify the user as a subject, but is merely a unit in a series, whose
counterparts are a series of users. Yet it does become a model, the testimony of
a certain technological development where the field is the area in which it
is produced and diffused, marking it with the proof of development.
is this choice that Nagatani counters with his statement of the void (sunija), of
acting, that only the artist can practice and produce, for the very reason that
it cannot be traced back to an operation bound up with serial production, but to
a one-off piece.
Tale and Poetic
and above conception in the choices made by the artist, his thinking hinges primarily
on the pcetic element that acts in his work and completes it in the spirit: "the
emblematic sculpture in the shape of a grain (of corn) will soon make its content
germinate and become an admonition for all those who are to come;
it will be shown as the proof, it will be presented as the sign, it will appear
as now tangible, it will last as a gesture, it will be preserved
as a sign, and all this will come forth from the Komb of Mother Earth. The nature
of things is fond of remaining concealed, especially in sculpture, welcoming
within it the non-visible and only showing the paradigmatic structure": (L.Q.B.)
is often thought that the figurative arts - painting and sculpture - represent space
in `still' images and cannot have anything to do with time, i.e. with the sequence
of moments in which the affairs of man and of the world take place.
It is evident that
there is a substantial underlying difference between the figurative arts and other
arts, such as music and theatre, in which products develop in a certain measurable
timeframe. Yet in many cases the figurative arts have tried to unite space and time.
The cinema is a fine example: here the use of images to represent space melds with
the sequence of timing that tells a story. In the figurative arts, many ideas have
been studied to be able to meld space and time, when artists have had to tackle
the problem of narrative. The sculptures listed here - Space in Silence, Home of
Time, Intuition of Time, Navigator of Time, Door of Hope and Return to Origin -
are different works with emblematic titles that challenge fate and are dense
with stupor at the secrets that govern nature: with the intelligence that springs
from the design idea throughout the process of casting, Kyoji Nagatani has shown
how to care for them, transforming them into a vigorous denial of the problem.
In his bronze sculpture
Door of the Wind, the artist has configured the texturing in three different materials
used by man in the course of his history.
The pillar on the
right shows worked and chipped stone, with the abacus - grafted onto the capital
- depicted in metal, with an evident high tech look. Meanwhile, the pillar on the
left is conical, rounded and swollen like a wind-filled sail: its upper part
ends with a flat forked joint, where the wooden (bronze) beam rests, on which a
shape that is smoothed (today) by the passage of time, by the wind, rests unstably
in space. Compared with the method of the past, the high tech reveals and measures
the passage of time by highlighting the difference in technology. Motionless and
monumental, the door stands like a triumphal gate in space: an evocative void that
cuts its space out of universal space.
transfers to the sculpture Space in Silence all the symbols of ritual with gesture.
The theatre chosen to perform this ceremony as the proscenium is the peak of a mountain,
where the traces of footsteps, of hands and arms of man are pressed into the soil
where he has related to contemplative abstraction with his gesturing.
This is that man
who joins his hands to sublimate the beauty of nature, drinking from her spring.
These are images
where expressive harmony is recharged and further enriched with moods and secret
impulses. Now it is images of this fundamental vision that Nagatani presents and
proposes in his latest works.
Images of art are
always polyvalent, when they encapsulate an authentic poetic yeast. One key of interpretation
is never enough on its own, sometimes more than one is needed to break the lock:
the more the meaning is concealed and hidden away behind the multiplication of facades
of allusion, the more keys will be needed. The surprising thing about Nagatani's
works is that their polyvalence of evocations and meanings is achieved with expressive
profundity. The character of his sculpture possesses a -formal evidence
that is sealed well within its plastic definition.
In this sense, a
work like Return to the Origin is actually exemplary.
Ancient, vague mythology
is renewed here in the desire to rediscover the identity of things lost, with natural
truths of bushido. With elegant matterism, the bronze becomes wood, its veining
corroded by the events of times past. Acting as a bridge, it
spans the gap between past and present. Set there as the limit of time is the door,
which marks the route, alluding to passage as a return to the past, while the mass
of stone - symbol of fullness - is lifted from its soil, leaving the depression,
the cavity of the void. Were the stone to be put back in its place, it would be
like a return to the origins of Nature.
It is the sequence
in Kyoji Nagatani's theme that come at us from the images in
this personal exhibition of his, a theme that was born and has grown together with
him and has been renewed in its continuity, the first sign of an inexhaustible sign
that is renewed without changing, and that is the most certain sign of the artist.
It is in point of fact the sign of Nagatani.
saw your exhibition in Milan (with catalogue and presentation by Luciano Caramel.
It interested me a great deal: obviously you keep in mind the formal artistic tendencies
in contemporary sculpture in Italy alongside Japanese tradition.
Nagatani's sculpture flourishes artistically, and culturally, in two worlds, East
and West, and from their opposition he creates something of unique and delicate
sensuality at their interface. From his country of origin, Japan, he extracts an
exquisite poetry of form as compact and suggestive as a haiku. This aspect of his
expression encourages associations of intimacy and subjective discourse. His adopted
home in the West, on the other hand, has nourished more risky and dynamic elements:
surprising contrasts of crudity and refinment, and at times the ambition to fashion
monumental form modulated by a very ltalianate tradition of finely crafted detail
in highly polished bronze castings that recall the more elegant passages of Arnaldo
Pomodoro's large sculptures. Unlike Pomodoro, however, Nagatani makes no attempt
to embrace or comment upon machine forms or modern technology as such, either visually
or philosophically. At their root we feel instead the profound and calming presence
of landscape and a lyrical nature.
Nagatani's beginning, in his native Japan was deeply influenced by Western culture
and Manzù holds a particular fascination for him. He first became directly
acquainted with the work at an Exhibition in Tokyo and adopted the thematic and
modelling styles he observed. Girls frozen into a single moment of time, full of
beauty and peace; surfaces and shapes transformed by quiet levity of touch into
breathing flesh, at the same time with the definitive permanence endowed by metal.
It was the potential offered by casting that fascinated Nagatani during the subsequent
years. Whilst interest declined in highly descriptive images, a style
too obsessed with detail for people who - like he - were seeking to rediscover the
exclusively Oriental drive to give substance a form. Thus we see him transfer his
attentions to materials and ways of transforming them, after gaming his degrees
at the Zoukei University of Tokyo and the Research Institute at the State University
in the same city - specializing finally in bronze casting. This
choice only appears reductive and should not be interpreted merely from a mechanical,
artisan aspect. To focus on a febrile instant symbolizes a dedication to searching
for matter's most outstanding characteristics - form, irrespective of any anecdotal
effusion - and matter itself. In
this context, it is significant that on his first visit to Italy in 1979, Nagatani
entered the Academia Brera attending classes given by Manfrini, undisputed expert
on every aspect of actual sculpting and exceptional in revealing all the tricks
of the trade to his eager pupils. This was the experimental time of casting “all'italiana”,
of micro casting, casting in aluminium, some were “'figurative” works,
other were not, for reasons inherent in the formative processes; there was also
considerable disregard for stylistic aspects. So we see him in the early '80s creating
geometric structures inclining towards the constructional, not by reasons of expressive
preference, but exclusively because of his research work on aluminium. He of course
reached the point where remaining an apprentice held little interest; the time soon
came when the mastery he had acquired was applied to creative purposes: to endow
the invisible with form if you will permit me to use an expression I particularly
like. Clearly, for Nagatani, in a direction deeply influenced by thought, by Oriental
spirituality. Gianfranco Bellora emphasized this point three years ago when opening
the artist's exhibition at the Studio Annunciata, referring to
Zen philosophy, to the fusion of spirit and form “to embody universal emblematic
concepts'” eliminating the “awareness of time” by the fusing
together “past and future in the eternal present of the illusory sublimation