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The calm intensity of Sugimoto: between elegance and concern
la-calme-intensite-de-sugimoto-entre-elegance-et-inquietude - ARTACTIF
April 2024 | Reading time: 22 Min | 0 Comment(s)

About the visit of the writer François Jonquet to the Enoura Observatory, created in Japan by Hiroshi Sugimoto and now accessible to the public.

“Until I die, I will sail the seas of the world. » One day, at a very young age, the artist Hiroshi Sugimoto felt that by looking at the sea, and only the sea, he could see exactly the same thing that prehistoric men saw. Everything else on earth has changed in appearance over the centuries... but not the sea. And he had the intuition that it was by looking at the sea that man understood that he was a thinking being. “The horizon line where the azure sea met the sky was sharp as a samurai’s sword. And I had the feeling of looking at a primordial landscape. » His relationship with time and his presence in the world were definitely imbued with it. No wonder Hiroshi Sugimoto is at the origin of an artistic complex in Japan with a breathtaking view of the open Sagami Sea... Not far from Kanagawa Bay where the illustrious Hokusai painted his terrifying Great Wave in 1830-31, one of the most reproduced images in the history of art.

We know Hiroshi Sugimoto's blurry architectural photos, his infinite maritime horizons, his impressions of electric discharges directly on film, his entire films photographed in a single long pause, his taste for ancient objects which he brings into dialogue with his own works… We know less about his writings, and all the actions he takes for art and culture in Japan. From the Odawara Art foundation that he launched in 2009, the Enoura Observatory was born, overlooking Sagami Bay, in Odawara, open to the public since 2017. A work in itself where thought connected to the world and in the time of its founder, where the French writer François Jonquet made the trip for the contemporary art magazine Artpress. His text is published in the February issue. But before giving you a few extracts, which did not necessarily make me want to fly there, I would like to return to the life and work of this now very famous artist, whose works of art for sale occupied first place in the contemporary art market in the United States in the Photo category in 2023.

Born in 1948 into a wealthy family in Tokyo, Hiroshi Sugimoto arrived in the United States in 1970 to study photography at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He was 26 years old when he began his first photographic series in 1974 by discovering the dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Struck by the artificial aspect of the staging, he realizes that the illusion would work better through the eye of a photographic camera supposed to always show raw reality. It was Ileana Sonnabend, “gifted with the power to anticipate the power of the future work of emerging artists”, as François Jonquet so eloquently writes, who opened the doors of her art gallery to her in 1981. A multidisciplinary artist now living between his studios in Tokyo and Chelsea, New York, Hiroshi Sugimoto certainly works in photography, but also sculpture, installation and architecture. By questioning the nature of time, perception and the origins of consciousness, his art reconciles Western and Eastern ideologies. He himself says that he understood Japan by going to the West...

His photographic series include Dioramas, Theaters, Seascapes, Architecture, Portraits, Conceptual Forms, and Lightning Fields. In 2008, he designed the architectural firm New Material Research Laboratory, and in 2009 he founded the Odawara Art Foundation, a non-profit organization promoting traditional Japanese culture and performing arts. Sugimoto's artwork has been exhibited around the world and is in numerous public and private collections including the Guggenheim and MoMA in New York; the Smithsonian Institution in Washington; the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery in London; the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (MOMAT) and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (MOT). Hiroshi Sugimoto received the international prize from the Hasselblad Foundation in 2001. He was distinguished by the 21st Praemium Imperiale in 2009, received the purple ribbon medal from the Japanese government in 2010. He was conferred the rank of officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 2013, and won the Isamu Noguchi Prize in 2014. He was honored with the distinction of Personality of Cultural Merit by the Japanese government in 2017.

In short, as François Jonquet writes in Artpress, “it is a privilege to wander through a place which is the emanation of the universe of a great artist. It penetrates you body and soul. And you grow. We start to think like him. » The writer and art critic arrived at the Enoura Observatory in the early days of autumn. In addition to the long interview he was able to have with Hiroshi Sugimoto, he is nourished by everything he has read about him, from him. “Mystery of mysteries, water and air are right there before us in the sea. Every time I look at it, I feel a calming sense of security, as if I am visiting my ancestral home; I am embarking on a journey of sight,” the artist confided to him. And yet, François Jonquet cannot shake off a deep concern on the spot. He recognizes that his view of the sea is magnified by the staging offered when leaving the long gallery of the Enoura Observatory. But “to be completely frank, I did not achieve the same almost Zen look that I have when faced with the Seascapes marked, like all his work, by Buddhism,” he confides. François Jonquet instead thinks of a watercolor by Paul Klee from 1920, Angelus novus, in which Walter Benjamin saw a storm caught in the wings of an angel, preventing him from closing them. “This storm is what we call progress,” wrote the philosopher and art historian just before ending his life.

It is by thinking back to Hiroshi Sugimoto's very acute awareness of currently experiencing the end of a civilization, that the writer finally pinpoints the probable reason for his strange impossibility of feeling peaceful when facing the sea from the Observatory. of Enoura. “I’m seventy-five years old, I’m going to die, so I don’t care,” the photographer told him bluntly, “the world is going to perish at the same time as me. I just hope I can live long enough to witness its end. My curiosity is keen,” added the photographer with a smile. “After the disappearance of men, the roofs will collapse, the vines will soar, and the summer grasses will invade everything. I, the dreamer, can't help but imagine this scene. It is as important to me to know the origin of nature, of which my life is a part, as its future. When our civilization collapses, the stone turtle at the Observatory will continue to stare back at the place where the great capital once thrived. I created a garden based on its future-ruins. Perhaps one day, a new civilization will discover this site and wonder about its meaning. »

We can understand François Jonquet: “a magical place designed with the idea of its imminent destruction, this is perhaps the origin of my anxiety”. So why photograph and collect fossils to “expose time” tirelessly? Why continue to work if the apocalypse is tomorrow? Isn't all this in vain? To which the photographer responds very simply. “I continue to produce art knowing only too well that neither eternity nor perpetuity exists in the material world. But what else am I good for? » I guess we're all there...


Valibri en RoulotteArticle written by Valibri in Roulotte

Illustration: The long, narrow, cantilevering gallery spans 328 feet. Photo © Sugimoto Studio, courtesy Odawara Art Foundation

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