Exhibition by Fukui formative abstract artist Tatsuya Tatsuta at National Art Center Tokyo.

New Artist Unit, February 4-19, 2018.


“You can’t go neither forwards nor backwards into your daddy’s time,” preached Hazel Motes upon his rat-colored Essex, “nor your children’s if you have them. In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.”

If a genre of literature ever comes out of Japan mirroring Flannery O’ Connor’s vision of the American South as given in Wise Blood, this ‘Japanese gothic’ may have roots in Fukui.

Remote from the present day capital, this prefecture on the Sea of Japan is further cut off by the Northern Alps and Lake Biwa. Known locally by its old name, Echizen was once the major northern trade route and strongly garrisoned gateway when Kyoto was the capital.

450 years later Fukui locals will speak about the pre-Edo era of Echizen with a forwardness and nostalgia that makes this history feel recent, even controvertible.

Fukui city has its central castle. (The uniquely enclosed moat bridge is currently under restoration with cypresswood and copper added to its original specifications, funded by voluntary citizen contributions.)

Also in the city at the base of Mount Azusa is one of several preserved folk villages, Osagoe. Inside we see a simulation of feudal living arrangements and farming practices. The central fire pit and soaring thatched roofs without chimneys, beams and rafters smoked and aged; spy-holes in the upper floorboards above the genkan (entrance).

The private garden of Togando, occasionally opened to the public, was once the summer retreat of a renowned Fukui doctor. Rainwater filled a cave from where the blue Shakudani stone was mined, now a permanent Koi pond and grotto. Also in the garden and carefully preserved is the secret meeting room where samurai would discreetly scheme during the Edo period. The ceiling was built intentionally low to curb sudden swordplay.

In summer, beyond the city the plain blazes green with blinding reflections from paddies of water and rice grass.  Where the plain enters a valley, forested on its slopes and cut by the small fast-flowing river the home of the Asakura clan, wiped out in a week of attacks in 1573, has been re-constructed.

In the modern era, Fukui City was twice razed in the space of 3 years: in 1945 by allied bombs and in 1948 by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake. It thereafter became known as The Phoenix City. Fukui has more nuclear reactors than any other prefecture, the notoriously unworkable Monju among the 13. Energy generated goes to the cities of Kansai.

Though voted the happiest region in the nation, the cliffs at Tojimbo are one of Japan’s infamous suicide spots. Deeply folded, the grotesque brown rock emerges beyond a surreal atmosphere of dilapidated shops selling fish and ice-creams. A smattering of sightseers peer out at the vast ocean without islands or boats, some cormorants perched on bare branches. It is a deathly silent and angry corner of the world.

As we approached an A&E vehicle overtook us and a helicopter buzzed overhead. “Somebody fell,” a spectator told me. The chopper sank and rose up again empty-handed from the sea, a rescuer on the rail. On the rocks below an orange gurney and more rescue workers. No body.

Further up this coastline, victims have been snatched by North Korean kidnappers and borne away to an anonymity and alienation that beggars imagination.

One may feel that Fukui is not part of the same country as Tokyo, or perhaps not in the same era.

When Hazel Motes put his own eyes out with a bucket of quicklime it was the only justification he was familiar with for the Fall. The only way to stop seeing, and having to reject, what was everywhere false and incongruent to his sense of himself and the drive to keep moving through the land in search of his true place in the world. By the time the patrolman, in that act of flagrant injustice, pushes Hazel’s only sanctuary, the Essex with its rear oval window over the embankment, he must either bring the whole world to its knees or serve some commensurate epistemological transformation—an imaginative transformation.

He chooses, silently, to stop seeing the reality of appearances to redeem his own spirit. It marks the end of his competition with copycat preachers. Indeed, it marks the end of all Hazel’s preaching. At the end of O’Connor’s story we are sickened and even scarred by the scheming of the landlady who, unable to fathom or tolerate the silent mystery of her tenant, develops and urge ‘to penetrate’ him, press him into service for what he appears to be his remaining worth.

By the time she steams open his mail, we no longer have access to Hazel himself, who to the landlady’s mind would get as much pleasure out of life dead as living. In fact, when the patrolman clubs Hazel to death and turns him over to her for rent owed she doesn’t realize he is dead.

In each of Tatsuya Tatsuta’s recent exhibitions at the National Art Center Tokyo (Re-Monad, Castle of Debris, First Judgment), we cannot escape the sense that there is no way into the future without a continuation from the past, and there is no going back to the past. Meanwhile there is, of course, however and everywhere, limbo.

Everything is formed through violence, even procreation. The igneous rock from earth’s ruptures, refined metal melted back into ore by the silent sun and Fresnel lens, the discarded polystyrene trays convulsed into a unique rictus by the propane burner with toxic vapors evolved in the process.

The fragile belief in a hierarchy of past and present, the one black solid and slick, the other white hollow and textured, establishes the aspirant.

Linking the hierarchy with the illusion of continuity is a small conceit—one that is sufficiently effective to keep the aspirants all alike, and aspiring in apparently unique style but identical form; while the invisible establisher of form is safely integrated behind black reflective plates of history.

Above, the plates are colonized by objects of similar texture: rocks coated in molten metal, a marriage of extreme and long-endured violence. Below, at ground level the polystyrene monads, white and alike, are created out of a weaker, fleeting violence. On the corner of the upper platform is a single rock-oyster shell. On the next level and just beneath it, a near-replica form made from polystyrene, almost identical in appearance but radically different in origin and substance (and natural history).

It is a conceit, of course, a lie. There is no way to the top as a white monad, as a pure follower, however original. The white shell is a lure, strategically placed at the point of perception. This one illusion of linkage is holding the entire system together. In reality the platform space above is occupied by opposite, larger, objects that cannot be seen from below.

From below, there is one symbol of natural purity for all to imitate, while varying their style as best they can. These are the ‘silent majorities’ Baudrillard wrote about, who passively consume commodities, television, sports, politics and information, mere terminals within media systems, for whom it is impossible to distinguish between real and spectacle, true from false, good from bad. Induced to buy commodities through which to differentiate oneself socially, at the same time one becomes integrated into the same consumer-patterned society.

If one’s ethical orientation is undermined by inaccessibility to reality and therefore reference to the normative implications of one’s action through measurement against overarching social dynamics, the psychological escape according to Michel Foucault (and Nietzsche) is an aesthetic turn to individuality-building through aesthetic self-fashioning. But what if this unmediated striving leads one wildly astray? How does this fit into cultural-historical narratives, into finding one’s place in the continuum?

In ‘First Judgment’ the world of appearance is a world of imitation, confusion and vanity. The hierarchy is set. The anchors clustered well out of site, bigger, different and violently composed. Slick, reflective, smooth, poreless, solid, rounded.

Plastic lives, disposable and clean, are burnt (by hope) into shape to resemble the beautiful white oyster at the corner, a natural image. Then they lay suppliant and massed, piled and exposed. Nothing flows down from above. Nothing new is allowed to travel up from below except at one corner (currently occupied!).

On the choice between good and evil: if reality is not known, equally, to all, and not to be found in the appearance of one’s neighbors nor the preachings of government disciples where is ethical orientation to be grounded?

A 20-minute documentary about Tatsuya Tatsuta, “Re-Monad: Violence in Silence”, can be seen at https://januscreations.com

–George Saitoh

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