Katsushige Nakahashi

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The art of zero

Katsushige Nakahashi creates artworks from photography that question Japanese society and culture, by exploring their structure and peculiarities. Nakahashi’s monumental ten-year long ‘Zero’ project, involves sticking together several thousand photographs of toy models of Zero fighter planes to create life-size reproductions of each aircraft, which are then incinerated.
Katsushige Nakahashi creates artworks from photography that question Japanese society and culture, by exploring their structure and peculiarities. Incorporating Japanese motifs, such blossoming cherry trees, Sumo wrestlers, carp in ponds and Japanese fighter planes, his works seek, he says, to ‘express in concrete form how Japanese are “made.”’ So, while nature often forms the subject matter of his work, Nakahashi does not seek to replicate or simply pay homage to its beauty, but to investigate the Japanese claim to loving nature. In his works, nature is adapted to suit the needs and desires of humans.

One of Nakahashi’s most important works, the monumental ‘Zero’ project, involves sticking together photographs of toy models of Zero fighter planes, the principal aircraft used by the Japanese Navy during Pacific War, in order to create life-size reproductions of each aircraft. Two-dimensional prints become three-dimensional sculptures, supported only through their own surface. Each structure is intensely sculptural; the expression of volume is at once heightened and diminished, thus marking a fundamental break from traditional sculpture.

The artist’s fascination with plastic model aircraft stems back to his childhood during the late 1950s and early 1960s, when plastic toys were still rare commodities. While he built his model aeroplanes, his father, an airplane mechanic during the Second World War looked on. Nakahashi says, ‘He saw innumerable pilots off on their suicide missions. Many times he faced death in the sweeping machine-gun fire of attacking Grummans. What must he have been thinking as he watched me build my model planes? In the age when dying for your country was a matter of course, shameful pilots who returned from their suicide missions due to mechanical failings of their aircraft were greeted with suspicions of cowardice. I imagine my father, who was in charge of airplane maintenance, must have experienced mixed feelings regarding his responsibility to duty and the safe return of these pilots.’

Constructing his sculptures at sites chosen for their significant relation to war, Nakahashi engages the local community by enlisting their help in the painstaking process of reconstruction.
The scale of each project is astonishing: as many as 20,000 photographs are used for any one piece. The artistic describes the meticulous process:

‘The photography is done at such a close range that a single photograph covers approximately 2mm x 3mm of the plastic model´s surface. Using such a detailed process, we only learn if every bit of the model has been photographed when we fit the photos and tape them together. In fact, it is inevitable that the final work will have a number of holes in the surface where areas were missed. Also, there are places which are out of focus, and where the photo sizes are slightly different. For this reason, when the photos are carefully fit together, as if it were a large puzzle, the results are not perfect – surface of the Zero has bumps and undulations where it should be smooth, and there are places where small sections are missing altogether. The construction of the piece is conducted with no knowledge of how it will look when complete. When errors and gaps occur, we follow the tracks of photos looking for strays, and recheck their placement. As we examine the surface closely and touch in this way, we experience something that may be akin to how the pilots and mechanics felt when they looked over their real Zeros.’

Yet despite this lengthy and obsessive process, the aircraft are incinerated on completion, placing the emphasis on the process of their construction – and indeed destruction – rather than a finished product. For, highlighting the organic nature of the piece, the artist says, ‘The work is completed only at the point when it is reduced to ashes, but when the ashes are taken up by the wind, and the scorched grass begins to re-grow, these processes are also all part of the art work … The work called Zero is this cyclical process of metempsychosis, starting from zero and ending in zero.’

This finale does not simply constitute an ‘anti-war’ statement, however, nor an apology for war. It is the multiple, complex associations of the act of burning that conveys the difficulties of representing war. The artist says, ‘Rather than offering too much in the way of explanation, one of the many layers of meaning involves the custom in Japan of lighting fires to send off the spirits of the dead. Just as firing is necessary in the creation of ceramics, flames are necessary for the completion of this artwork as well.’

Nakahashi is well aware of that his work may arouse outrage among those, like his father, who lived through the war. ‘They may be struck by the audacity, and maybe even the ignorance of individuals who never experienced war and yet create art that so explicitly focuses on war themes,’ he concedes, but asks, ‘Do such works with their cheap ideology make light of the memories that these individuals try so hard to suppress?’ In answer, the artist explains, ‘I have no intentions of expressing the realities of war. One of the reasons I use plastic models is that I want to remain true to the ambivalent sense of play I experienced as a child.’

Referring to the multilayered nature of his work, he describes how the work expands from ‘A giant reproduction of photographs alongside a real Zero fighter. Toys alongside tools of war’ to ‘Japan with its history of kamikaze pilots alongside the West with its attitudes towards life and death. Japan with its “paper culture” (paper walls and doors, impermanence, flexibility) versus the “solid culture” of the West (walls of stone, doors of wood, permanence, rigidity).’ For Nakahashi, the work speaks of the contrast of cultures, forcing an encounter between opposing historical sympathies.

Nakahashi began the project in 2000 and plans to continue making and then destroying his sculptures until the end of 2009. As of 2003, five such aircraft had been created, not only in Nishinomiya, Japan, but also in Brisbane and Darwin, Australia (2000), Seattle, USA (2001) and Cowra, Australia (2002).

Eriko Osaka, Chief Curator and General Manager of the Contemporary Art Center, Art Tower Mito has written about this remarkable artist in the catalogue accompanying The 3rd Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. He writes: ‘In Japan, where everything looks obvious, easy and simplified, Nakahashi never fails to notice an undercurrent involving “vague” and “unintelligible” things. The images produced by his hands represent the sharp and humorous view of the artist who scrutinises the underlying structure of the world.’

Bio

Katsushige Nakahashi was born in Kagawa, Japan in 1955 and now lives in Shiga. He has exhibited widely in Japan and Australia and has also participated in several group shows in South Korea and the USA. He has been awarded four grants in the last three years for his ongoing project Zero which ends in 2009.

Works

FORTHCOMING EXHIBITIONS

Exhibition / Installation,
2003
2003 August ´Zero Project 2000 – 2003´ Kodama Gallery 2003 November ´On the Third of May´ Naniwa Emotional Media Laboratory, Osaka 2004 ´June – September´ Collapsing Histories Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS 1995–2002

Exhibition / Installation,
2003
2002 ‘Memory – The Exhibition of Contemporary Visual Arts’, Takamatsu Historical Museum, Takamatsu 2002 ‘Collapsing Histories’, Lisa Coscino Gallery, California 2002 ‘NewEdition! Japanese Art -– On Inheritors of Japanese Tradition’, Yamanashi Prefectual Museum of Art, Yamanashi 2001 ‘Superflat’, MOCA, California / Walker Art Center, Minneapolis / Henry Art Gallery, Seattle 2001 ‘Actual Art from Japan’, Luigi Pecci Center for Contemporary Art, Prato 2001 ‘After Image’, The National Museum of Art, Osaka 2000 ‘Superflat’, PARCO Gallery, Tokyo 1999 ‘The 3rd Asia–Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art: Beyond the Future’, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane 1998 ‘Contemporary Artists in SEIAN’, The Museum of Modern Art, Shiga, Otsu 1998 ‘The Pleasure Ground of Art’, Itami City Museum of Art 1998 ‘Technotherapy’, Osaka City Central Hall 1998 ‘TheField of Vision’, Kyoto Municipal Shijyo Gallery 1998 ‘Eyes & Ears’, SAI Gallery, Osaka 1997 ‘Art Scene 90–96: Contemporary Art Witnessed byArt Tower Mito’, Contemporary Art Center, Art Tower Mito 1997 ‘Bird House Art Exhibition’, Daijoushutoku Gakuen Yamanaka Kenshu Center, Yamanashi 1997 ‘Future Recollections’, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art 1997 ‘Modern de HIRANO’, Hirano Ward, Osaka 1997 ‘Humour Box Exhibition’, Izuminomori Hall, Izumisano 1997 ‘Japanese Contemporary Art Exhibition’, The National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul 1996 ‘Shiga Annual ´96: Handmade Objects’, The Museum of Modern Art, Shiga, Otsu 1996 ‘Inter Work’, SAI Gallery, Osaka 1996 ‘Tokyo Pop’, The Hiratsuka Museum of Art 1996 ‘Art in Flux 4–Oh, My ´Japanese Landscapes´?’, The Fukuoka Art Museum 1996 ‘Portraits in the First Stage’, Gallery 16, Kyoto 1996 ‘Objects with Body’, Gallery Kuranuki, Osaka 1995 ‘Drawing Chat, Nakahashi Katsushige–Nara Yoshitomo’, Shinanobashi Gallery, Osaka 1995 ‘Diverse Vectors of Contemporary Art’, SAM museum, Osaka 1995 Osaka Triennale ´95 / Mydome Osaka (Awarded Silver Prize) 1995 ‘Ambiguous Sculptures Living Together’, The Gallery of Ibaraki 1995 ‘Books and Paperweights’, Gallery Kuranuki, Osaka 1995 ‘Shinanobashi Gallery 30th anniversary exhibition’, Shinanobashi Gallery, Osaka

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

Exhibition / Installation,
2003
2002 ‘On the day’, Cowra, Australia 2001 ‘Anata No Jidai (Your Majesty´s Reign)’, Kodama Gallery, Osaka 2001 ‘Anata No Jidai (Your Majesty´s Reign)’, Yano Art Gallery, Yonago 2000 ‘Zero’, The Aviation Heritage Center / Northern Territory Parliament House, Darwin 2000 ‘Anata No Jidai (Your Majesty´s Reign)’, Otani Memorial Art Museum, Nishinomiya City 1998 ‘Zero’, Osaka Contemporary Art Center 1995 ‘Sally’, Street Gallery, Kobe 1995 ‘Houses of Johnson’, Shinanobashi Gallery, Osaka 1995 ‘Houses of Johnson’, Rittai 7gokan Gallery, Kyoto Seika University 1994 ‘1994 rice, after? \1994 Kome, Sonogo?’, Yonago City Museum of Art 1994 ‘BO–BO–BO’, Otani Memorial Art Museum, Nishinomiya City 1993 ‘Nippon cha cha cha’, Gallery Nikko, Tokyo 1992 ‘Nippon cha cha cha’, AD & A Gallery, Osaka 1991 ‘Pine Viewing’, Shinanobashi Gallery, Osaka 1991 ‘A Tool To Be Tempered, A Gaze To Be Refined 2’, Itoki Crystal Hall, Osaka 1990 ‘Pine Viewing’, Gallery Muramatsu, Tokyo 1985 ‘Dog Days’, Torroard Gallery, Kobe

Merits

AWARDS

2003 Grant from Seian University of Arts & Design, Japan for Kyoto Zero project
2003 Grant from The Japan Arts Council for Kyoto Zero project
2002 Grant from New South Wales government of Australia for Cowra Zero project
2000 Grant from Northern Territory University, Australia for Darwin Zero project
1995 Awarded Silver Prize – Osaka Triennial ´95
1987 Awarded Excellent Prize – The Sculpture Competition in Hyogo
1981 Awarded Grand Prize – Kobe Figurative Sculpture Grand Prize Exhibition

FELLOWSHIP

1994 Awarded Freeman Fellowship – Artist in Residence of Vermont Studio Center in USA

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Zero

(01 September 01 - 30 September 01)

Www

Kodama Gallery

Kodama Gallery website
images
Katsushige Nakahashi
Performance View at East Point, Darwin