Introduction & afterword: art is...

– by Kiko Denzer (to read the full text, click HERE.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Earthwork Projects

– by Nobuho Nagasawa

The year before I graduated from the Art Academy in West Berlin in 1984, I took the Trans-Siberian Railroad and traveled through Eastern Europe, Russia, Mongolia, and China and returned to Japan after a six year absence from home. Inspired by the sight of the Great Wall of China vanishing into the desert, I built a sculpture of a wall in Japan that would gradually return to the earth, unlike the Berlin Wall at the time.

This project “Noyaki” (1984) became my first earthwork that involved extensive physical labor, firing, and the bringing together of community. During the last of seven days of firing, a curious meteorological phenomenon occurred, which led to later projects associated with the atomic bomb. Because of the intense and prolonged heat caused by the firing, I altered the local weather patterns and brought rainfall, just like the Black Rain that fell the day after the bomb was dropped in Hiroshima. Furthermore, the sculpture resonated with the wind. I realized that I had induced changes to the environment which were neither predictable nor controlled, and these surprises brought nature very close to my projects for the next few years.

In 1985 in Northern Italy, an earthen drum “Rain Drum” was created in nature. Focusing the sun’s energy through a magnifying glass, the firing of the drum began and continued for four days. After the firing, a canvas was stretched over the form. Only nature may decide when to drum, providing communication between humans and the heavens.

"Navel of the Earth" was my first reclamation project in 1985 in the ruin of a Jewish synagogue in Kreuzberg, a district of Berlin near the former Berlin Wall. My goal was to give new life to the earth that had been destroyed during World War II. Excavating the earth in Berlin was a dangerous endeavor. Bombs buried in the ground during the war could still detonate without warning. Needless to say, my proposal of excavating and burning the earth was intensely debated among the Jewish and German communities. The long process of gaining approval from the community and the city for the project became a "project" of its own. The debate was not only about the artwork, but also involved how to come to terms with the past in postwar Berlin. The following spring, the project was completed as life came back to the earth and the people embraced the site. The site still exists to this day as a community park in the reunited city of Berlin.

"Earthwork Process 7" was one of the major projects (and my seventh earthwork) that I completed during my residency at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in 1987. The goal was to work with the elements of nature, earth, air, water and fire. The material I used for the construction was an unfired green brick that I purchased from a local brick factory. I drilled eight holes on both top and bottom of each brick to increase the adhesion of the mortar (the same material that brick is made out of), and stacked the bricks until it left a very small opening on the top. The diameter of the tower is 16 feet in diameter (4x4=16, representing four elements of nature). The inside of the tower was painted with copper glaze, which was mixed with ocean water, and the tower was fired for four nights and five days continuously. This project attracted not only people from Cal Arts, but also a wide range of people from Los Angeles. It resulted in an event that involved several hundred people at its final stage, the four-day firing process.

In the fall of 1988, I was invited to create a site-specific project for the International Arts Festival in Ushimado, Japan. "Kiva" was an underground amphitheater (46 feet wide and 17 feet in depth) that also functioned as a sundial. By standing in the center of the "Kiva," your own shadow becomes the indicator of time. Dealing with the perception of nature, my goal was make environmental awareness more pertinent. The project explored the essentialness of the sun's energy to life and claimed for humans an integral part of the cosmic cycles. The highlight of this Festival was the performance of 82 year old Kazuo Ono, the founder of the Butoh dance, in the earthen theater. (The title "Kiva" refers to the Native American Anasazi underground ceremonial space.)

“Temple” was a brick structure in the form of a gateway, sited deep within a pecan grove. While walking through the masonry passageway, one can reclaim myth and travel in the land of imagination. In the summer months, the temple hides beneath a canopy of green, awaiting discovery.

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