Click here to see Shimon Sakakibara’s art exhibit

Shimon SakakibaraShimon Sakakibara is a visual artist who orchestrates distinctive visual inquiries of the lifelessness, boredom, and ennui of our society. Sakakibara is especially interested in depicting struggles of youth because he feels they are in their most mentally vulnerable years and are therefore the “ones of closest age to death.” At once vibrant and perplexing, Sakakibara is also poetic, particularly in the subtle ways he draws from influential philosophical and spiritual writers of our past and present to explore the human condition.

The pieces showcased in this exhibit include the two media in which Sakakibara typically works: site-specific installations and two-dimensional paintings.

Sakakibara’s abstract nature may distance us from an easy understanding of how his work relates to our daily life, but this difficulty actually reflects his subject. The difficulty in moving beyond the surface of the human being and into the compartments of thought, emotion, desire, and struggle echoes the difficulty in initially approaching Sakakibara’s work. In attempting to discover the truth about a person’s life (or this artist’s work), we begin with experience—what we can see, think about, and discover. Then, through time, patience, openness, and interdependence, what we see becomes grafted into how we live and view ourselves and those around us.

As we study Sakakibara’s work, we see that it hints at the makeup which we naturally hide behind; it reveals that much more occurs beneath the surface than we are ordinarily aware. Thus, Sakakibara invites us to enter inquisitively into self-awareness and other-awareness, to an awareness of those of us who daily are “those closest to death” through the reminder that whatever seems unusual, foreign, distorted, perplexing, disturbing, and mysterious actually has more to do with reality than what is easily visible.

In the hopes of offering some assistance with navigating Sakakibara’s work while leaving ample space for dialogue, I have offered a few introductory words for each piece. Sharing your places of resonance, dissonance, understanding, and confusion will make this work come more alive for all. Therefore, I invite you to view, consider, share, and discuss.

—Jen Grabarczyk

Site-Specific Installations
No Shelter & Homicidal Tendency 9:04pm

No Shelter and Homicidal Tendency are two separate installations that were temporarily on view at Sakakibara’s place of Master’s work in London. The difficulty in viewing these pieces through photographs is that we miss the actual experience of feeling the floor beneath our feet, the movement of others passing through, the potency of color and symbolism, the intricate details one would have to draw very near to see, and the ambient noise in the space—all of which would dramatically affect how we receive this artwork. However, we can still experience something of the art from these photographs.

Sakakibara considers No Shelter to be a performance where the actors have already left the scene. And so the artist sought to take on the role of those who are often his subjects, the role of a person emptied of hope. To that end, this installation represents Sakakibara’s own funeral, a dying to himself. He clues us in to this message using recognizable symbols (e.g., the cross on the floor) as well as more nuanced components (e.g., the box on the ledge containing little soldiers in multi-colored liquid [war] and scattered CD parts [broken memory]).

When we think of funerals, we tend to think of unwanted loss, darkness, and mourning. Yet this particular scene combines that frequent experience with a livelier ambiance. Influenced by readings from Meister Eckhart, the German theologian, philosopher, and mystic, Sakakibara found this conception of losing oneself meaningful in both his life and his work. Again, without fully experiencing the space it may be difficult to feel the paradox , but it is the paradox of this loss of self that Sakakibara illustrates through the lurid red coloring and atmosphere of light. In the place of hopelessness, despair, and death, there is a simultaneous movement toward hope renewed through the cleansing of one’s self-centeredness.

Homicidal Tendency appears to suggest similar themes as No Shelter. For instance, the hanging painter’s garb is what the artist wore as he created this environment and then included as a sort of “end credit” for the piece. Again Sakakibara seems to be referencing his participation in this “performance.” He is perhaps illustrating the theological and philosophical death of the artist: Now that the installation is complete, others are invited in to the process of making meaning, and the intention which is communicated no longer belongs solely to the artist. Thus, as the artist invites viewers to experience his work, he surrenders his authority of interpretation to an authority that is born within the viewer, and so the Homicidal Tendency becomes a meaning-making conversation between artist and viewer that is mediated through the work.

This painting originated from incidents the artist observed involving youth with knives in Japan. Sakakibara’s traditionally vibrant colors and “pure” white negative space make the painting seem disjointed from the subject matter and the alien-like figure. Through these aesthetic choices, viewers may be deceived into perceiving the piece as hopeful, a deception that itself reflects the deception of hope Sakakibara’s seems to be communicating. The title Dis-Knifed, which was inspired by the Smashing Pumpkins song “Disarm,” suggests the expected relief of a perpetrator in unleashing a knife on another. Yet the relief and sense of life becomes the deception, for the posture of the soul is one of lifelessness, and ironically, it is this lifelessness that makes carrying out the action possible.

During Pieta
Disturbed by the prevalence in his culture of mothers who abandon their children, Sakakibara uses this canvas to grapple with the idea of maternal love. During Pieta is a contemporary interpretation of Pietà, art that portrays the Virgin Mary grieving the death of Christ her son while cradling his dead body. Sakakibara’s inclusion of the word During in his title brings a sense of continuity—something fluid, ongoing—to the activity of the Pietà. In During Pieta Mary’s image is the most difficult to discern, and the inner life that Sakakibara conveys through his technique suggests negativity and ambivalence rather than the gentle, altruistic presence one would expect from a mother. The mother and child are encompassed by ordered chaos throughout the rest of the image, allowing us to feel a possible tension and estrangement within the relationship.

Desert in the Fridge
The self-professed ambiguity of this title by (and to) the artist should help us in processing the images of Desert in the Fridge. Like his other work, Desert in the Fridge again uses abstract and otherworldly figures to represent human forms. We see human representations in the blue-and-yellow figure to the bottom left (which has the appearance of trying to run away) and the white figure directly in the center (which is seemingly ghost-like and trapped in a box). Although the surface is painted two-dimensionally, there is a push-and-pull quality we are meant to find between the interplay of these forms and the title. Juxtaposed in the name are two elements that live in loud contrast to one another, and yet Sakakibara suggests that through their various imagery and interpretations, the desert and fridge are connected: The desert is a vast space with intense climates that appears barren but is home to a world of life, and the fridge—the refrigerator—is a daily commodity that we often take for granted, yet it is an appliance that many of us would be lost without. Here Sakakibara proceeds in mixing the tangible with the intangible, the physical environment with the inner environment, as he speaks to an infinite loop of the human condition. If we consider the imagery of both the desert and the fridge more thoroughly, we may also see a tension between living in relationship and isolation, and between what it is that we experience and do internally and what we do externally when we find ourselves in these intense and varying or claustrophobic environments. Humans are needy beings, and when we live in the refrigerator climate, there is a necessary interdependence required, for we cannot open the door to the fridge alone. When the door is opened, and we have the luxurious space of the desert to play in, the illusion is that we are free from the feelings of entrapment. Yet the truth, as Sakakibara sees it, is that there is a constant interplay between these environments, and the true freedom comes as we learn how to live within the continuous, multi-faceted tensions, when the potential for inner death is so near.