Mono-Ha: Powerful Things

Installation view, TRIBUTE to MONO-HA at Cardi Gallery | London. SUSUMU KOSHIMIZU. From Surface to Surface, 1971/2015. Industrially manufactured wood (15 elements). Each element: 300 x 40 x 3 cm; 118 1/8 x 15 3/4 x 1 1/8 in. Image courtesy: Cardi Gallery.
Installation view, TRIBUTE to MONO-HA at Cardi Gallery | London. KATSURO YOSHIDA, Cut-off (Hang), 1969/1995. Wooden beam, rope, stone. Beam: 300 x 30 x 30 cm; 118 1/8 x 11 3/4 x 11 3/4 in. Stone: 60x 45 x 30 cm; 23 5/8 x 17 3/4 x 11 3/4 in. Image courtesy: Cardi Gallery
Installation view, TRIBUTE to MONO-HA at Cardi Gallery | London. ENOKURA KOJI, Quality, 1973. Used crankcase oil on cotton canvas, 370 x 560 cm; 145.67 x 220.47 inches. Image courtesy: Cardi Gallery
Installation view, TRIBUTE to MONO-HA at Cardi Gallery | London. LEE UFAN, Relatum, 1969/1995-2015. Stones, cotton-wool, iron. Variable dimensions. Image courtesy: Cardi Gallery.
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Cardi Gallery’s “Tribute to Mono-Ha” presents 18 seminal (and often sizeable) works by Koji Enokura, Noriyuki Haraguchi, Susumu Koshimizu, Lee Ufan, Katsuhiko Narita, Nobuo Sekine, Kishio Suga, Jiro Takamatsu, Noboru Takayama and Katsuro Yoshida in the heart of London’s Mayfair. The show highlights encounters and relationships without imposing meaning. The things are pure and essential: a heartfelt artistic response to the early years of Japanese post-war development.

Text: Nicholas Stephens
Images: Courtesy of Cardi Gallery

Installation view, TRIBUTE to MONO-HA at Cardi Gallery | London. SUSUMU KOSHIMIZU. From Surface to Surface, 1971/2015. Industrially manufactured wood (15 elements). Each element: 300 x 40 x 3 cm; 118 1/8 x 15 3/4 x 1 1/8 in. Image courtesy: Cardi Gallery.

 

Meandering one lunch time on a spring day, a certain wistful feeling overcame me. Scaffolding here, cherry blossom there, new beginnings… The human tendency  towards mono no aware, the pathos of things, is eternal, inevitable.

This mood was immediately swept aside in the glow of“Tribute to Mono-Ha:” an exhibition spread over four floors of a stucco-fronted Georgian town house in the heart of London’s Mayfair. The show is a quiet revelation of the power of things.

Often, things are imbued with unambiguous meaning. When Tolstoy was in his prime he was trolled by an anonymous evil-wisher who sent a noose in a box to his home at Yasnaya Polyana, with the implication that he make use of it to hang himself. When Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote doubted the reality of his good fortune, he strewed bundles of C-notes around the house so that he could believe it.

With Mono-Ha (“The School of Things”), things behave differently. Each arrangement of stone, wood, rope and metal carries heft and solidity. They each have a presence, and engender an encounter, without imposing a meaning.

 

Installation view, TRIBUTE to MONO-HA at Cardi Gallery | London. KATSURO YOSHIDA, Cut-off (Hang), 1969/1995. Wooden beam, rope, stone. Beam: 300 x 30 x 30 cm; 118 1/8 x 11 3/4 x 11 3/4 in. Stone: 60x 45 x 30 cm; 23 5/8 x 17 3/4 x 11 3/4 in. Image courtesy: Cardi Gallery

 

The idea of the encounter is taken to the next stage by the curation. Each piece is accompanied by a carefully placed poster of the artist, paired with a judicious and illuminating quotation, such as my favourite: “When I put a stone inside a paper bag, I begin with doubting my preconceived notions about paper or stone” (Susumi Koshimuzu).

In rapidly industrializing post-war Japan, a generation found themselves at the service of a new, rather soulless Japan, one that was modernizing, striving to reduce the individual to an economically productive one of many. Building a new country out of rubble was never going to be without its critics, its radical thinkers alienated by a doctrine of growth at any cost. At this time, Mono-Ha emerged as a quest for the essential, harnessing the simplest and most widely available materials which simply had geometry, weight and size, and which existed only for themselves, or in relation to whatever was juxtaposed with them. The objects were untainted; arranged but unmanipulated, created yet unchanged.

Choice juxtapositions at the Cardi Gallery include Enokura Koji’s Untitled, with its calf skin placed over industrial concrete, a calm collision of the natural world with factories, buzz saws and trucks; or Noriyuki Haraguchi’s concrete block covered with sand and oil, an industrial force laid to rest, embraced by the natural energy of the world’s resources.

We are all in a constant juxtaposition. Society is a complex mesh of relationships. We are physically in proximity to others, and metaphysically entwined with the twists and turns of our own history. Sometimes we forget to revel in the closeness of everyday objects to art – the relationship being so close that everyday things become art. At Cardi Gallery, Lee Ufan’s Relatum is perhaps the single best illustration of this: lengths of wood wrapped around a pillar, secured with rope. A balance, a harmony, a beauty.

 

Installation view, TRIBUTE to MONO-HA at Cardi Gallery | London. ENOKURA KOJI, Quality, 1973. Used crankcase oil on cotton canvas, 370 x 560 cm; 145.67 x 220.47 inches. Image courtesy: Cardi Gallery
Installation view, TRIBUTE to MONO-HA at Cardi Gallery | London. LEE UFAN, Relatum, 1969/1995-2015. Stones, cotton-wool, iron. Variable dimensions. Image courtesy: Cardi Gallery.

 

Whilst the materials were sometimes understood internationally only with reference to Arte Povera, the movement itself began to receive its due attention in the 1990s, since when exhibitions such as “Asiana” at the Palazzo Vendramin Calergi in 1995, and “Requiem for the Sun: The Art of Mono-Ha” at Blum and Poe, Los Angeles in 2012 have increased understanding of the artistic response to the creation of modern Japan. With many of the objects on display in “Tribute to Mono-Ha” being shown for the first time in the UK, it’s London’s turn to understand.

 

 

Tribute to Mono-Ha
Cardi Gallery, London
13 Mar 2019 to Fri 26 Jul 2019

 

 


 

Nicholas Stephens lived in Hong Kong for ten years, latterly working for a leading Hong Kong gallery, specializing in contemporary ink. His articles on diverse aspects of the Hong Kong art scene have been featured in several publications. A graduate in Modern Languages, Nicholas has authored translations of novels and plays by writers including Stefan Zweig and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Nicholas returned to Europe in 2018 and writes about the growing profile of Asian artists in the region.

 

 

 
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