KAORI YAMASHITA: Remote Ancestors at Bass & Reiner
Kaoti Yamashita’s ten sculptures in Remote Ancestors, delicate small to medium-sized structures of ceramics, tile, wood and mortar, take the form of scaffoldings based on quotidian real-world structures: walls, boxes, frames, vases or amphorae, maybe even architectural frameworks. If some of these handmade, untitled constructions recall Minimalist works by Sol Lewitt in their geometric, serial form, their apparent fragility suggests not abstract, timeless mathematics, but vulnerability and transient beauty. Mono no aware is a Japanese term for the pathos of things, or empathy toward things, which are all passing with infinitesimal slowness away (if we choose to look at things sub specie aeternitatis, in the perspective of cosmic time), with some, if one may editorialize, vanishing considerably faster than that—visibly.
One pyramidal floor-standing piece invokes architecture, but one quickly realizes that the walls and floors replicate the mortar holding bricks together; it’s as if the bricks had become invisible, or been removed, like the scaffolding beneath completed Roman arches. A trio of vases or vessels is made of mortar skeins as well, not in orderly formations, but in ramose cracks, as if a shattered vase had been glued together, and then the fragments had decayed, leaving only the repairs remaining, in an extrapolated or extreme version of kintsugi, the Japanese aesthetic tradition in which broken objects are repaired with precious metals. A small rocklike ceramic piece is joined by its skeletal double, Yamashita’s structures have a family similarity to postminimalist works by Eva Hesse and others that dramatize and anthropomorphize abstract form. There’s poetic feeling, here, and Zen philosophy about “the contingency of structures in daily life” and the “innate nothingness that persists through continuous change” (to quote the fine Post Brothers essay for a 2015 show in Berlin), for those who look for it. —DeWitt Cheng