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Thinking Inside Out

陈溪 Cecilia Chan 2018-04-03 15:32


I noticed Nawa because of his artwork PixCell, a taxidermy deer covered with glass beads that gained a lot of traction at various exhibitions. It made me aware of a very interesting phenomenon: many audiences would start out posing “V” with their fingers next to the sculpture and madly taking photos; nonetheless, when they learned the deer in the artwork is actually a real specimen, their expression would instantly switch from pleasant to panicked - after all, linking the image of a “crystal Bambi” to “death” is rather “heavy taste” for a Chinese audience who have been spoiled by art that only show aesthetic appeal; it appears to be very uncomfortable as if one had just witnessed innocence destroyed. 


Such dramatic shift in mood rather sums up the characteristics of Nawa’s work very well: behind the high aesthetic value of each sculpture are heavy topics of life and death, existence and distinction. 

When I first met the cold, low-key Nawa, he appeared to be quite ordinary. But once we started talking, I felt as if I was talking to a Zen master. Nawa put his motivation of creation this way, “Rather than a specific country or region, I always attempt to approach things from the viewpoint of the whole universe. For instance, if a certain sensibility exists in space, and something communicated from that sensibility to a different sensibility via matter were to create a link, producing a history of expression, I feel a need to capture that single link through the means of sculpture.” 


Born to a family of schoolteachers in Kyoto in the 1970s, Nawa’s passion for astronomy trained him to observe with patience. Nawa is also very sensitive to images which led him to major in sculpturing that accommodates his hobby very well. Earlier when studying at the Kyoto City University of Arts, Nawa began to explore different media, material, and matter that resulted in his curiosity for Buddha and temples. At age 24, the experience of studying at the Royal College of Art in London as an exchange student opened up his view on the creation of contemporary art, it also helped clarify his goals. In 2003, after finishing PhD studies, Nawa chose to stay and teach at Kyoto City University of Arts. During that year, he diligently taught and made art; based on the themes of “Pixel” and “Cell”, he created a series of sculptures that are now well-known to the public: PixCell


Nawa is used to thinking about philosophical questions that are related to time and space. However, his thoughts and discussions on the topics never appear to be, at all, academic neither do they appear to be boring and long. Rather, Nawa can employ the ordinary material and phenomenon so well that he can always achieve far greater results with less for his artwork. Because of his ability, which he acquired during childhood, to observe and evaluate things from new perspectives, Nawa is able to reorganize elements that are available to him at hand while making art; he can completely randomize their size and order, then reorganize them in his own unique ways while adding some light touch in the end like in the usage of glass material and crystal in the PixCell series. He enlarged the tiny material units to create the false look of pixelated cells. In the Ether series, he captured the nature of high-viscosity fluid at the moment when it is dripping downward to make gravity visible and the artwork appear weightless. 


At the beginning of last year, Nawa joined Belgium performance artist Damien Jalet, Japanese musicians Marihiko Hara and Ryuichi Sakamoto on a tour for Vessel, an art program that received universal praise. Recently, using his expertise in sculpturing, Nawa manifested the scenes that were only demonstrable through video and on-stage performance. He abstractly rearranged the body parts’ appearance from Jalet’s original choreography. He hid the gender and used organic silicon carbide powder to achieve the visual effect of actors’ sweat meeting water - he created a large installation 24 metres long, and placed it at Arario gallery in Shanghai for exhibition. Using the “Nawa” style, again, he made his audience think about life and death, liquefaction and ablation, or even to think about moments and relative moments - the origins of dance and sculpture. 

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