Thursday December 20, 2018 | by Andrew Page

CONVERSATION: Artist Rui Sasaki, who's been interested in the concept of "the corner" since RISD, on her recent museum exhibition in Japan

Rui Sasaki's recent exhibition in Japan (a group exhibition at the 21st-Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa from October 30th through November 11th) was an exploration of the meaning of the Japanese term "Kogei," which can be roughly translated as "Craft" in English. It was no accident the setting was Kanazawa, a city that has been closely linked to "Kogei" since the 17th century. The city government has actively been promoting the association with this complex term, which is discussed at length in Japanese culture. The exhibition, entitled "Exploring the Possibilities of KOGEI x Architecture" sought to tease out some of the nuances of meaning of the "Kogei," and Sasaki was one of 14 artists, architects, designers, and philosophers asked to participate. The Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet recently caught up with Sasaki to ask her about her participation and impressions of the exhibition via an email exchange.

Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet: How did this exhibition, and your involvement in it, come about? 
Rui Sasaki: The invitation to be a part of this exhibition as a participating artist came from that Yuji Akimoto, who is a supervising director of this exhibition, and who got interested in my work in a symposium that I attended as one of speakers when he was a moderator in November 2017. Mr. Akimoto is a chief executive director of 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa and an art critic as well. The symposium was about how emerging material-based artists consider “KOGEI” between their technique and concept in their work.

Before I received the invitation to this exhibition, I'd already decided I'd like to deal with the concept of “CORNER (=inner corner)” in my mind because I have had opportunities to show my new body works of corners since I graduated from RISD in 2010 but all exhibited venues were ironically outside of Japan even though I believe that the concept of thinking about corners comes from a unique Japanese sensibility of the sense of space as Junichiro Tanizaki said on “In Praise of Shadow.” Also, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa happens to have no corners in its own architecture (although there are corners inside the gallery spaces). In this exhibition, I thought that this is interesting paradox to make a project themed “CORNER” in the museum without corners.

Glass: This was a collaborative work, wasn't it?
Sasaki: I started thinking about who can be my collaborator who has a full of excitement towards exploring together about corner as an architect, or as a person who is professional about space. Coincidentally, at this time, gallery owner Yukari Suzuki asked me having a solo exhibition associated with the theme of corner in 2019 since she's also been interested in corners for a long time as a space producer. I convinced myself that she definitely brings me a chemical reaction towards this project.  

Glass: Can you talk a bit more about the piece, itself, what made you so interested in the architectural space of where two walls meet?
Sasaki: My work in the exhibition is called “Reading the atmosphere of a corner” as a site-specific collaborated work with Yukari Suzuki as the space producer. This work is the vehicle of experience of being in a corner. I've been obsessed with exploring the space of corners and a corner itself through my work since when I was a graduate student at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 2009. However, this is the first time that I collaborated my corner project with someone.  

Our mutual interest about the concept of a corner is that a corner can be seen but nobody can touch into a corner. How can we emphasis and enhance a corner itself that people usually do not pay attention in a white cube like a venue that we exhibit? How can we make people to reconsider about a corner as space? How can we make people to take a time to interact a corner or the space of a corner that people usually exploit?

Glass: Did you and Yukari have a similar interest and approach?
Sasaki: My interest about a corner is that a corner is the safest and the most comfortable space, the container of history of space, and the threshold between private and public space. On the other hand, I would like to know all of my private space by touching but I have been struggling that a corner never allows me to reach there. I am always interested in exploring and researching a corner that has already existed in a space. However, I have made a corner by myself in a space.  

Mrs. Suzuki’s interest about a corner is that a corner can make the brightest and darkest in a space. She is a space producer but not an architect. She considers an architect and an interior architecture designer as composer of inner and outer building. However, she believes that a space producer is a tuner of the interplay between presence and absence such as light and shadow in a space. She realized that the brightest space is an outer corner and the darkest one is an inner corner. She always focuses on how she can make brightness in outer corners when she is thinking about darkness. Also, she said that an outer corner is convex so that she needs to pay attention to protect it because people can touch and destroy it but not an inner corner because nobody can touch. Therefore, Mrs. Suzuki has never designed and made an inner corner as space producer.  

Glass: How did you feel your project fit the exhibition's exploratio of "Kogei," or "Craft"?
Sasaki: Discussing about our project together, we found three important overlapped interesting aspects between “Architecture” and “ KOGEI” as conclusion about how we can explore this project: Experience, interplay, and perception. It is crucial for both of us to consider “Architecture” as a resonator of the interplay between our body and space as experience, and glass (and mirrors) in “KOGEI” as the vehicle of enhancing experience about a corner in a space using reflection, transparency, and projection.  

This work is experimental as the device of how to make people experience of the space of corner through glass. The work is in the darken room with a small entrance. In the darken room, there are two elements of work to just focus on a corner: One is a portable hot cast prism-shaped glass like a corner that viewers can pick up from a floor under a narrow and strong spotlight. Another is one of actual corners in a space covered with mirrors on sides and a floor under a spotlight that viewers can step into. Viewers must feel uncomfortable or unrealistic since we emphasis on “CORNER” in a space that is often forgotten and unnoticeable. Before entering the work, viewers read a sign about how to read the atmosphere of a corner: Pick up, Carry, and Enter. We did not mention anything about specific because we are interested in how viewers interact with a corner through our project.

Glass: So it was possible to touch the glass, and interact with it?  
Sasaki: Yes. A prism-shaped glass is a miniature sized of actual corners covered with mirrors. This cast glass can be picked up by viewers and they observe this miniature as trigger of how to interact and read an actual corner covered with mirrors. This inner corner in this cast glass is transparent and magnified as the phenomena of glass but nobody can touch it physically even though viewers can touch outer corner of it.  

An actual corner covered with mirrors is that viewers can enter a corner. Viewers must feel insecure and uncomfortable to see an infinite and bright corner as phenomena of mirror. Viewers never reach into a corner physically but they can project themselves on a corner as reflection on a mirror.  

As I said before, this work is the vehicle of experience of being in a corner. In the end of the exhibition, there are a lot of new inspirations from the residue of viewers’ interaction of this work of a cast glass and mirrors. The cast glass was surprisingly unbroken on a corner. There are a numerous numbers of fingerprints and footprints on mirrors in a corner even though people usually dislike having an experience in a corner. The fingerprints and footprints had never reached a full space of corner. When I observe how viewers interact with this work in a venue, most of people faced to a corner. Just only few people turned their back towards a corner. Some people hold the miniature corner glass object for a long time to think about something that I never know. In the last two days of exhibition, a mirror on a floor of a corner has been broken twice somehow. All fingerprints, footprints, and dust that is the evidence of viewers experience in a corner make a corner more visible and beautiful under a spotlight.    

The project is considered as art installation more than architectural installation. Of course, a corner in a space is one of crucial elements of architecture. However, we did not focus on any of issues of structures, safety and security as building or room. We just extracted a corner as the representation of our most interest about architecture through glass.  

The difference between architectural installation and art installation is how Mrs. Suzuki and I define this project as the theme of architecture.  

In some meetings of this exhibition with other groups including architects, architects seemingly believe that “Architecture” needs to have a floor, walls and a roof. Our definition of architecture is obviously not about it. Our professional is different as I am an artist and Mrs. Suzuki is a space producer. However, we believe that architecture should be the interplay between space and ourselves as experience and communication. Mrs. Suzuki and I are not talking whether architecture as a box or a box-less shaped space through our project. So, it was absolutely fine without a box as architecture. Moreover, we used glass as concept and not about just a part of building. As conclusion, our project is not architectural installation because our work is the device of “experience” of architecture to make viewers to reconsider about space, specifically “corner.”  

Glass: I know the theme of "The Corner" has been something you've been dealing with for many years -- it came up during our conversations when you were graduating from the MFA program at RISD. I know you are also very interested in light, but are the corner more interested in architectural space? Does light figure into your investigations of "the corner" at all?   Sasaki: In my work, light is one of important components but I have never thought that I am interested in light as concept. If you think about light among my works, the concept of phosphorescent glass came from unstable weather where I live so that it is not just about light. Actually, your question gave me new insight. You are right that I must be interested in light because I am interested in corner that is the darkest space in a space. So, I must have been thinking about light as well as exploring about the darkness. When I am exploring corners for my project, touching is the most important behavior towards corners other than seeing. This is the reason that I have not notice that I was not interested in light.

Glass: Can you tell me how your thinking about "the corner" has evolved over time? How has all your travels and experiences at residencies around the world changed your thinking about "the corner" or is it unchanged?
Sasaki: Wondering around the world and knowing new cultures when I am in different countries for residencies always make me notice subtle differences from what I have already known for a long time. Only time I can discover subtlety is when I experience “the uncanny” that is familiar but unfamiliar or unfamiliar but familiar. I believe that this experience is required to be in different places to sharpen my five senses.  

Exploration about corner has been started from the loss of intimacy in unknown places within and outside of Japan. I was eager to discover subtle intimacies to connect my body and surroundings, as I am being a ghost. The interplay between them allows me to connect where I am physically and psychologically.   

Actually, I would never been obsessed with keeping thinking about the space of corner and corner itself because of the different sense of space in each country if I did not study abroad in the US and was not wondering around in different cultures for residencies. Moreover, in Japan, I have still struggling and dealing with reverse culture shock since I was back to Japan in 2012. I do not know how I lost the sense of intimacy to my home country that I was born and grew up. When I reconsider and rediscover the intimacy in Japan, corners has been reminiscent of my childhood memories to make me feel safe and comfortable. Also, I feel comfortable in the feeling of insecure in a space due to reverse culture shock in Japan when I am on a corner since two walls protect me and I can see everything in a space from a corner. Being in a corner gives me the intimacy of space.  

Glass: Where do you think this work will go next? Do you have ideas for new directions or areas of exploration after seeing the work now on view at the KOGEI Architectural Exhibition?
Sasaki: I'm thrilled to have my first solo exhibition themed “CORNER” in Japan at Lights Gallery that Yukari Suzuki runs in Nagoya (Aichi Pref.), Japan between August and October in 2019 as the same time as Aichi Triennial 2019 that is an international contemporary art triennial is held.  

Through our process of the KOGEI Architecture Exhibition, I realized that I always explore “CORNER” subjectively and am thinking about corner itself but not about the space of corner. In our project, I had an opportunity to seek how viewers actually interact with corners as itself and space. I discovered new insight about the space of corner and corner itself seeing from viewers’ interaction and behaviors when I was observing viewers in the work objectively. Also, the work is the device of experience of being a corner so that it was new experience that I did not tell my experience of corner into work. I would like to develop my idea of the vehicle of experience of being in a corner by researching about behavioral science in the space of corner more towards upcoming exhibition in the next year.


*Lights Gallery:

*Yukari Suzuki:

*Aichi Triennial 2019:

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