In front of you, there is a school of goldfish occupying water. Each goldfish is created by a mold, repeated several times and extended horizontally, evoking a panoramic view. This installation work, according to the artist, Kosuke Ikeda, should be simply addressed as “picture.”
For Ikeda, the picture is the concrete form of act of seeing. At the same time, it should reflect insights into what is seen. The picture, according to him, is a screen, which is placed in between the act of seeing/seen; the active and the passive become interchangeable on this screen.
His argument reminds us Rosalind Krauss’s discussion about the matrix figural, which is taken from Jean-Francois Lyotard’s theory. He argued that below the “seen” order of the image and below the order of the gestalt, there lies the order of the “invisible,” to which Lyotard gives the name matrix. Krauss further claims that the matrix is the form that recalls the invisible and figures recurrence, by using pulse, which constantly challenges the stability and self-evidence of form. She interprets that Picasso compulsively produced numerous drawings, trying to give a form to the matrix-figure of a scene, by which he was entrapped.
Ikeda chose a motif of goldfish for his work because its existence ultimately counts on the fact that it is displayed. Its shape is captured in frontal view and crowded under water, making the distinction between the figure and the ground inseparable. In this way, Ikeda tries to capture the matrix, to make it visible. This matrix, in which the distinction between act of seeing/seen or visible/invisible becomes vague, fascinates him.
Ikeda is particularly interested in the issues of modern perception and sublimity. In his work, he has created a unique meeting point of these issues in the conjunction of modern Western painting and traditional Japanese printing. Ikeda’s Erasing Picture Series is a work in which the artist scratches the reverse side of mirrors. For this exhibition, Ikeda created a new series of Erasing Pictures by using images of Hokusai’s masterpieces, such as the white wave from Fugaku Sanjyu Rokkei (36 Scenes of Mt. Fuji).
Hokusai’s nearly exact contemporary was the English painter J.M.W. Turner. These two artists lived in completely different cultural surroundings; they nevertheless shared the same interest–the sublimity of nature.
Of course, Hokusai’s sense of nature’s sublimity is different from Turner’s. In Hokusai’s flat, two-dimensional prints, the scenery of the cascading wave and Mt. Fuji clearly shows his interest toward expressing the sublimity of nature. This imaginary scenery was born of an imaginary perspective, something quite new for European painters in the nineteenth century. On the other hand, Turner’s sublimity of nature is clearly meant to create the illusions of three-dimensional space, a sense of space that became possible after the industrial revolution.
Ikeda’s Erasing Picture is a series of paintings that are created by the process of erasing the original image. This erasing process (i.e., the scratching of the mirror) reveals not the reflective mirror parts but its non-reflective parts, which are directly incorporated into the non-painted white canvas. In his work, the unscratched parts contain mirror parts, and their reflections create the illusion of three-dimensional space. Such an illusion creates conflict with two-dimensional scratched parts on the canvas. This conflict highlights the “thing-ness” of the non-painted canvas itself: what a viewer sees is a mere canvas, which loses its status as image; this flat surface resists sublimity. Here, the act of tracing and erasing is perceived as a struggle on the boundary between image and object.
For the series of work titled Erasing Picture Series, Kosuke Ikeda scratches with an electric drill into the reverse side of mirrors each of which is big enough to reflect the entire body of a person. Mirrors are actually silver-plated glass, thus the scratched parts turn back to transparent glass. He does not scratch them randomly but first excerpts and transfers some directional lines from several Japanese comics to the mirror surface and then tries to kill those lines with lines from opposite directions, until the whole image becomes an all over pattern. Finally the mirror that contains all the traces of his actions is attached to a white canvas, and is exhibited.
In an artist statement placed at the entrance of the exhibition space, Ikeda discusses the paradox that a mere canvas, an ultimate form of flatness of painting results in becoming a three-dimensional object. He states that there is a possible solution for this paradox in “painting” something by “erasing” some of the existing image plane. It actually makes sense – a state of “absence” which still retains the information of “prior presence” can possibly be a thing that combines flatness and object-ness.
Erasing Picture Series is his first attempt to explore this possibility. The scratched parts allow the white canvas to be seen (the varied degrees of the scratching gives accordingly varied transparencies), while the unscratched parts reflect the exhibition space itself as well as the viewer facing the work. A split second before the “perfect flatness” turns to a three-dimensional object, painterly illusion-like depth in the mirror catches the viewer’s eyes, and then before your brain can perceive it as a three-dimensional space, the perfect flatness comes up again. A repetition of blinks occurs between the two opposite painting-specific features due to the time lag of our brain’s perception. Though this stability caused by nonstop dynamics works well at the moment, everything will collapse completely once this transition pauses. Before that Ikeda will sooner or later have to leave it behind to prepare his next attempt.
In a extremely thin fish-tank, there are numerous mass-produced goldfish made from several kinds of molds, which are in the shape of ready-made figures. After making these variously colored goldfish, I insert them into the fish-tank, as if I were a painter applying brushstrokes to a canvas.
Even though these two processes are part of one sequence involved in making the work, it seems to me each has totally different characteristics. In the former process―figuring urethane plastic by molding―I am integrated, so to speak, into the system and simply keep producing goldfish as I passively repeat the process. And then, in the latter phase, I select the shape and color of the manufactured goldfish and incorporate them into the fish-tank. Here I actively pick out and arrange these elements as an artist.
Such passiveness and activity in the sequence of making works is duplicated in the experience that a viewer has seeing the piece. At first this work, displayed at eye level, is perceived as a variously colored pictorial plane, and the transparency of colors draws the viewer into its shallow depths. But if you come close to the piece, these color elements are mere plastic goldfish; you become aware that this picture is composed merely of uncountable goldfishes in a flat tank. This recognition is not achieved through a sensuous impression but rather as a purely intellectual or active form of cognition.
For the viewer, such alternately passive and active perception―in other words, sensuous and intellectual recognition―comes and goes. And here, the squirming goldfish can be a motif that draws the viewer’s eye into the flood of colors; and at the same time, the experience of the eye would also be felt as if one were seeing the flood from afar.
A painting has been historically likened to a window. As a viewer stands before the painting, s/he can feel as if a certain space is spreading behind it. It is a flat plane, but it also has a certain space. Likewise, a painting can be compared to a mirror which is a two-dimensional plane reflecting a three-dimensional environment. Numerous artists gravitate to the mirror as a motif, which symbolizes perfect representation of reflection.
One series of my works is the ERASING PICTURE SERIES, which were made by means of a specific technique. If you scratch the back side of a mirror, the scratched parts become transparent, mere glass, and then you can join the scratched mirror and a piece of plain canvas on which nothing is painted. On the scratched part, the viewer can see the white canvas through the glass, while on the unscratched part, the mirror reflects the viewer him/herself or the surrounding.
This work has these mirrors and canvases, in other words, 3-dimensional parts and 2-dimensional parts. Therefore, the viewer will perceive two opposite feelings; s/he can perceive a certain space through the mirror, but at the same time, s/he cannot turn her/his eyes away from the flat canvas.
According to Gestalt psychology, people can never perceive a figure and the ground of the image at one time. That is, we cannot look at a figure when we are looking at the ground behind it, and we cannot look at the ground when we are looking at the figure in front of it. Similarly, with my works, viewers cannot grasp these parts, the mirror and the canvas at one time; they nevertheless are on the same surface. Thus, I could say that the viewer cannot help perceiving two opposite impressions, or more precisely, will be coming and going convulsively between two directly opposite feelings.