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Three Dimensional Painting

I. Painting and Modernity
For a long time, we have been familiar with tableau style paintings or such style of works that are flat and hung/seen parallel to a wall standing vertically, as a main form of pictorial art. Based on this form, now we used to call paintings ‘two dimensional work’ in a broad sense, and there were even critics such as Clement Greenberg who considered that the essential norm of pictorial art that guarantee independence of painting from other art is ‘flatness’.
But looking back on our art history, ancient paintings drawn and painted in caves like Lascaux or Altamira expand three dimensionally on the surface of the cave raising complexly in the whole space. Such form of painting is inherited by various kinds of religious architectures or ritual spaces all over the world. They are filled with images or pattern that symbolize religious or ritual meanings on their walls, ceilings, floors—whole architectural space.

 When the concepts of architecture, painting or art still remained undifferentiated, our ancestors needed religious or ritual spaces to contact with ‘Others’ like death and catastrophe that we cannot control, or dream and vision that give us some hints for living. Every cultural activities such as ‘building a space=architecture’ or ‘seeing a vision=painting’ were united at that time, and they didn’t need the differentiated or isolated concepts of architecture or painting. And as architecture and painting were united as one space, there was no need for pictorial art to fall within the form of two dimensional flatness.
Conversely, we can also consider that architecture and painting were isolated from each other in the process of differentiation and independence of the concepts of every art form. In this process of purification, architecture were forming just a three dimensional construction as a ‘pure’ shelter, and painting were forming just a two dimensional surface as a ‘pure’ visual medium. Classification and verification of every objects and concepts critically to clarify the essence of them is the important project for the process of modernization—for the challenge of this age to make ‘Human’ control the whole thing of this world instead of the transcendent existence such as gods. Content self-criticism and self-definition is the very essence of Modernism, as Greenberg insists, and therefore pictorial art required flatness as the essential norm of itself that shared with no other art.

 Thus tableau or such flat style painting flourished in the process of modernization over hundreds years (also the spread of private ownerships of art in modernization took a vital role in this process). And finally, according to Greenberg, some Modernist painters got to the ultimate achievements to create their expressions that clarify the only norm of pictorial art—flatness.

 Each works and expressions should be evaluated as marvelous achievements of cultural creations. But in this process of purification, the more we reduce painting into flatness to seal off the absurdity that ‘a three dimensional space on two dimensional surface’, the more we lose our visions to see in the picture. At the end, self-criticism and self-definition turn into self-destruction. When painting denies the illusion that is itself, painting is no longer painting.

 The problem that modernist painting faced corresponds to the defeat of modernism itself. The more our civilization try to seal off the absurdity such as death and catastrophe, the more deaths and catastrophes spurt out from the world, and only the impossibility for ‘Human’ to control this world become clear.

 To bring back the relationship with this irreducible, unclarifiable and uncontrollable world, we ‘Human’ need to explore the way that our ancestors held to connect with ‘Others’ as death, catastrophe and absurdity that we once broke off with and sealed off. Actually, various kinds of philosophies and cultures of modern age have approached absurdity, insanity and uncertainty that have the risk of stranding the modern subject to try to question modernism critically.
Thus, for pictorial art, to connect with this art again that is impossible to reduce into flatness as the clear essence, we need to face the absurdity of this art again that ‘to see the invisible vision—to perceive non-existence’. And also we should think again why our ancestors needed pictures in the place to contact with the transcendent existence.

II. The Art of Formation
First of all, I started a trial practice on my own work to try the method and the form that were experienced in modern art history—‘automatism’ that was tried as a critical re-question of a drawing/writing subject by the method to avoid interventions by the subject and draw/write in alterity such as unconsciousness and contingency, and ‘all over’ that was tried as a re-question of a seeing subject by the form to avoid building a hierarchy of the perspective illusion and cover the whole area of a painting with homogeneous surface.
Through continuing this practice, I had understood that lines drawn automatically or painting material spread all over the surface transcend traces of drawing/painting actions, and generate new shapes and spatial illusions that I could not catch by existing ways of painting and seeing. Certainly the way to paint that would refuse a painting/seeing subject involves the risk to hold a work just a pure trace or material. But as our ancestors gradually spin meanings and stories out of moans or screams of their mouth, we’re able to spin sensations of original shapes and original spaces out of traces and materials when we touch the absurdity of visual art—‘to see invisible’.

 Automatism or all over—the critical investigations of modern art that ran down pictorial art to the brink of self-destruction—were not tried for suffocating pictorial art itself, but it might be the project for expanding newer perceptions by exposing a painting/seeing subject to danger of breakdown. Or, at least, we’re able to re-read the evolving of modern art in such way, I considered on my practice.

 To avoid the blockade of species and keep the potential for adaptation to environmental changes, life has positively accepted the risk of catastrophes such as genetic shuffling by interbreeding or gene mutations induced by ultraviolet rays.

 And I started to consider that also philosophies and cultures of human being have evolved and survived by using the same strategy as life. Not to rule and seal off the risks that attack us such as death, catastrophe and absurdity, but to connect with them positively for keeping the potential of changing is the only way for us to survive this world. And this may be just the fundamental reason for the existence of art in human history—the reason why we have connected with the uncontrollable, transcendent existences through artistic activities.

 Assuming that’s the case, it is valid to expose the order constructing a work to danger positively. Then I started to cut and divide a work once completed into pieces, and reconstruct them. It is a trial practice to split apart the hierarchy composed to converge on center from rim of a rectangle work, and combine the slit pieces for reconstructing shapes and spaces in the picture.

 The process to cut up and split apart a work destroys the composition of center and rim once completed. But as the slit pieces reconnect with each other and form newer shapes and spaces, it has became possible to get the expanse of composition and the larger scale of visual experience.

 The most important achievement of this practice is that it enables to transform a two dimensional work made and seen as a flat surface into a three dimensional construction by combining the divided pieces sterically. As a two dimensional flat painting just like tableau style, a viewer and a work are only able to face each other parallelly (just only in a basic way to hang a work on a wall…surely it is possible for a flat work to be painted or hung/put on a ceiling or a floor). But as a painting expands its body three dimensionally, a viewer is able to make more ambiguous and polyphyletic connections with shapes and spaces in the picture.

 In a sense, pictorial art once reduced into two dimensional flatness gets back the expanse of a three dimensional space as its origin.

 Then I place emphasis on evolving three dimensional painting into architectural scale, and approaching the origin of art where painting and architecture are united. It means that not only to make a two dimensional object into a three dimensional object to appreciate, but make painting and architecture—that once regarded as just an object of appreciation or a function to serve society—flow together again. To the place where our ancestors created to weave a relationship with this uncontrollable world, we who live in this age of breakdown of modernism should go forward, with a guidance of the power of absurdity in pictorial art—as ‘the art of formation from contradiction’.

Based on the statement for the solo show in 2018 "The Archi-Picture"
Okubo Takahiro

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