Longing for Form

The tactile sensation is induction and the visual sensation of commanding a bird’s-eye view can be regarded deduction.

I seem to react to forms—to forms in front of my eyes. Of course, it’s the same with forms I myself have created. Ever since I became aware of this, while feeling I wouldn’t be able to do so, I began wishing I could bring a form I had envisaged instantaneously before my eyes. A material which might realize that was corrugated cardboard. Corrugated cardboard already has a form. As a material, by being worked on, it transforms and reveals a new look. I want to see my own reaction to that new look. That is my desire.

The passage quoted above are the comments I contributed to the press release for my solo exhibition of maquettes held in July 2019. Maquettes become plans for making a work, esquisses, and three-dimensional drawings. When working on a large ceramic work, I always use commonplace, handy materials such as corrugated cardboard to make the maquettes.
The forms referred to in my above-mentioned “reaction to forms” are those produced as a result of human acts of production including my own works. I react to forms, immediately respond to transformation induced by materials already possessing forms, and reflexively want to reprocess them. My wish to find out about the origins of the forms I choose results in attempts at exhibiting. Can such a personal desire become the motif of a work? Would the form produced as a result of such a motivation, i.e. “a reaction to a form,” be worthy of viewing? Through that exhibition, I also wanted to verify such issues.

Plastic arts are not fakes, but they are artificial and invented, that is to say, fiction. As, for example, a picture is not a copy of the shape of something but a view of that thing, the plastic arts do not represent the reality as is. They are views of the outside world and ways of analyzing it. Just as a canvas and paint transform into a painting or an illusion, a motif is the desire to edit corrugated cardboard into fiction. I wanted to find out the laws of how a substance transforms into a form or plastic art as an expression.
Materials are substances which stimulate a person’s desire to edit. From ancient times, having materials placed before one’s eyes, people begin to move their hands unconsciously to transform them into something of aesthetic worth. Even if it is not-particularly-special, commonplace corrugated cardboard, transformation of value can occur. However, while the creator is free to transform the material, even with easily processible material, what can be done is restricted by the physical properties of that material. Furthermore, by accepting such restrictions and throwing oneself into the material, the creator secures self-expansion both timewise and space-wise.

According to the art critic Hideki Nakamura, “Recovery of the true character of visual representation is an indispensable prerequisite for the construction of a stable social system by means of generating the individual’s firm emotional mainstay.” He argues, “What is most important is to recognize that the essential role of visual representation is to reveal the ‘border’ between inner consciousness and stimulation from the outside world, where the two inseparably come and go, and to come face to face with that ‘border.’”(1)
Assuming that the inner consciousness is the creator’s self-consciousness and that the stimulation from the outside world is provided by the materials, the “border” as a result of repeated exchanges between the creator and the materials emerges in the form into which the materials are transformed, that is to say, the work.
The materials as the outside world are transformed by the creator’s body including his or her self-consciousness. The stimulation provided once again by the metamorphosed outside world, i.e. the transformed materials, produces a new relationship with the creator’s consciousness. In order to objectify this new relationship, the materials as the outside world are yet again transformed. This act is repeated not once but over and over again.
Such motion is caused as a physiological reaction to the materials induced by the tactile sensation. At the same time, fights with the physical properties of each material, which I mentioned above, and their characters as substances are also mingled.

Although corrugated cardboard is easy to handle, you do need technique to process it. If objects based on skills are worthy of appreciation, they can be considered art. However, in order to achieve a high degree of artistry, live, direct correspondence between the creator and the materials alone would not suffice. Mere coincidence and momentary improvisation are not enough to accomplish a representation.
In order for something based on skills to become an object worthy of appreciation, in other words, for something to materialize as a representation, discipline, in this case, an artistic attitude, is required. There is hardly need to quote the following statement made by Paul Valery. “Fact in the raw is more false than falsehood.”(2) It is a question of whether the relationship between consciousness and the outside world is objectified beyond the everyday, live directness, whether it exists as fiction.
The repetitive movement of repeatedly processing the materials to transform them into works is not eternal. At a certain point, it comes to an end. What is the terminus of such movement based on? Surely it is not founded simply on the creator’s arbitrary judgement, because the work as the end point is subject to being viewed and begins a new movement with the viewer.

The artistic attitude guarantees the fictionalization of the motif being turned into a work. The moment the motif is fictionalized, transformation of the materials, which had been repeated until then, comes to an end. At that point, the creator’s desire “to look at it this way” becomes a work that “looks that way.” The aggregate of the creator’s repeated response to the impetus provided by the materials is revealed as the metamorphosis of the transformed materials. As mentioned below, the fact that a work “looks that way” jolts the affection equally of the creator and the viewer.
Furthermore, what announces suspension of the repeated repetitive movement is the creator’s bird’s-eye viewpoint. A bird’s-eye view in plastic arts is one that verifies whether the motive for creating is expressed unmistakably as fiction. The creator as the subject has to possess “a viewpoint of making and a viewpoint of looking” by means of an artistic attitude.

The development of the argument(3) by Masashi Miura, a thinker who regards the generation of language not as a means of communication but as animate nature’s acquisition of the visual sensation, is interesting. Living creatures gained the visual sensation for predation. By acquiring the sense of sight, living creatures became able to measure how far away a target located at a distance was. In other words, they gained a bird’s-eye viewpoint of the situation. Knowing the distance from a subject—this bird’s-eye viewpoint allows the predator to see the target being preyed on and itself. Moreover, human beings alone learned how to command a bird’s-eye view not for predation but to command an overhead view.
The development of self-consciousness—“I” came into being. In order to objectify this overhead view of “I,” language was born. Words are not chosen and spoken in order to express self-consciousness. “I” am made through uttering words. Language on the outside establishes a relationship with self-consciousness.
A responsive body can also be sensed. To touch your body with your own hand is to be touched by your own body. The same can be said of one’s relationship with the outside world. For example, touching a material also means that you are being touched by that material. This applies to the visual sensation, too. I look, and I see the outside world. Yet, putting it in another way, the outside world being looked at is looking at me. Thus, the creator is constantly being looked at by what he or she produces.

I would like to consider the issue of “looking and being looked at” by introducing the comments I made on the occasion of a solo exhibition of my works held in September 2018. The exhibition was subtitled “Where the Smoke Goes.”

In autumn, knowing I shouldn’t, I gather the fallen leaves in the garden and make a bonfire. With a certain amount of moisture left in the withered leaves, they soon become white smoke and trail in the wind, changing their aspect from one moment to another. Logically, I should be watching how the leaves burn, but I notice that I am enjoying looking at the smoke and am overcome with a desire to cut out that instant. While I hesitate and ask myself whether there is any meaning in such a motive, it is true that there is something like a firm conviction there.
I think I am looking for the whereabouts of the form. That is because I cannot make something I have never seen or cannot see. I continue the task of intentionally stacking clay, whose shape, like water and air, cannot be specified and which does not have a fixed form. The motif is the response to the transformation of the clay realized by the force I applied having been induced by the white smoke and the resulting look. A motive wanting to decipher the moment of where the smoke goes and countless coming and going between the clay and my body produce a form.

The creator as the subject looks, and the creator himself is looked at by the form of the smoke changing from one moment to another. Likewise, the creator is also looked at by the shape of the pliable clay, which is transformed intentionally by the creator. Both the form of the smoke, which changes according to the combustion, and that of the clay, which has plasticity, exist in the outside world. This also proves that the desires and motifs to create forms all exist in the outside world.

Human beings continue to make things “they see and which look at them.” According to Karl Marx, animals are controlled simply by direct physical desires, but human beings transcend physiological desires to eat, drink, or sleep and hunt, cultivate, and exchange such harvests. They established industry, manufactured, and produced systems of social classes and nations.

Animals construct only in accordance with the standards and needs of the species to which they belong, while man knows how to produce in accordance with the standards of every species and knows how to apply the appropriate standard to the object. Thus man constructs also in accordance with the laws of beauty.
It is just in his work upon the objective world that man really proves himself as a species-being. […] he reproduces […] himself […] actively and in a real sense, and he sees his own reflection in a world which he has constructed.(4)

The reason human beings make things is that what they make teaches the human beings what they are. That is to say, human beings can intuit what they are through what they produce. From the reality of the creator’s viewpoint, one creates works in order to find out about oneself through the works one has made.

However, in order to make a self-manifestation of one’s intuition worthy of being viewed, as mentioned above, it is necessary to objectify and fictionalize the relationship between the creator’s consciousness and the outside world. What is fictionalized is the creator’s view or interpretation of the outside world as the subject. How the creator takes in the outside world depends, of course, on his or her consciousness. Yet, the work as fiction can be shared by all human beings because, there, an unconsciousness shared by the self and others is included.
Needless to say, there are many aspects of sharing such as empathy, consent, inconsistency, and unpleasantness. Sharing gives rise to affections or emotions such as “touching,” “maddening,” “sickening,” “seething,” and “nostalgic.” As such words imply, sharing plastic arts is closely related to how the viewer’s body and the innermost layers or unconsciousness of the viewer as a human being respond to the work. Rather than unconsciousness, perhaps it should be described as the working of an inexplicable visceral sensation as a living creature existing in a layer older than the “I” producing a “bird’s-eye view.” This old layer or visceral sensation is also deeply related to the creator’s motive of creating as a subject. It goes without saying that the viewer is also aware of his or her relationship with the outside world through his or her own overhead view and visceral sensation. Consequently, the viewer is capable of reacting to the outside world objectified by the creator through the work. The viewer shares it as the difference in what Marx refers to as “standard.” This is how it is possible for the creator’s response and improvisation to be shared by the viewer.

Let us go back to considering form. Towards the end of a transcript of a lecture given by the architect Hiroshi Naito at the University of Tokyo,(5) Naito poses a question to the students. Why do human beings alone, unlike animals, pursue form? The moment human beings drew wall paintings in the caves in Lascaux and Altamira, their self-consciousness was born, and form, like language, became indispensable to the human being. If there were to be a case in which a form does not bring about a certain emotional movement or feeling, what would that mean? Naito argues that form is precisely being alive, a message delivered by a living human being who has gained self-consciousness.
This corresponds to visual representation as a vocation to maintain life, which Hideki Nakamura refers to at the beginning of “The Spirit Nurtured by the Eyes and Hands.”(6) “Humankind living on earth is no other than a flesh-and-blood living creature living in groups. However, it is different from other living creatures in that it hypothetically visualizes how to perceive or respond to the outside world and others by means of ‘traces of handwork’ such as painting, sculpture, letters, symbols, etc. Through such workings, human beings confirm their own existence, identify the foundation of their own salvation as beings destined to die, and attempt to build a social system in which they can coexist.” That is the raison d’être of visual representation.
There is a mark incised with three fingers on the argillaceous ceiling of the Cave of Altamira referred to as an “exclamation mark.” This shows that by objectifying the movement of one’s own body, seeing the trace of three fingers, and being looked at by such traces, the human being intuited itself. “Longing for form” is a working essential for the human being to maintain life as a living creature. At the beginning of the plastic arts, the creator as the subject goes upstream to the generation of the visual sensation with his or her autonomous imagination and gets involved with the tactile sensation. By doing so, the creator indicates the whereabouts of human life.

The tactile sensation is induction and the visual sensation of commanding a bird’s-eye view is deduction.

(1) Hideki Nakamura, “The Spirit Nurtured by the Eyes and Hands, Chapter I. The Ambiguity of ‘Skin’” [in Japanese], Shiso 1059 (July 2012).
(2) Paul Valéry, “Note and Digression (Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci),” in The Collected Works of Paul Valery, Volume 8: Leonardo, Poe, Mallarme, trans. Malcolm Cowley and James R. Lawler (Princeton University Press, 1972), 69.
(3) Masashi Miura, Kodoku no hatsumei, matawa gengo no seijigaku [The invention of solitude, or the politics of language] (Kodansha, 2018).
(4) Karl Marx, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts,” in Karl Marx: Early Writings, trans. and ed. T. B. Bottomore (London: C.A. Watts, 1963), 128.
(5) Hiroshi Naito, Keitai dezain kogi [Lectures on designing form] (Okokusha, 2013).
(6) Nakamura, “The Spirit Nurtured by the Eyes and Hands.”

(Tama Art University Bulletin 34, 2019)