‘But I am talking about the time when there wasn’t any Earth underneath or anything else solid, not even a celestial body in the distance capable of attracting you into its orbit. You simply fell, indefinitely, for an indefinite length of time’
(Italo Calvino, The Form of Space)
There is an elegance and organic malleability in Hiroe Saeki’s (b. 1978, Osaka) drawings which depict landscapes reminiscent of galaxies captured in a brief moment of their formation. Some of the scapes seem to fall from the firmament, others rise from the ground or stretch from both sides of the panels, creating an illusion of a languid movement and another dimension hidden outside the edges of the paper sheet. Lightweight and amorphous, Saeki’s terrains recollect the timelessness of Italo Calvino’s solitary orbits, where ‘you simply fell’.
Currently exhibited in the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation in London is a collection of Saeki’s ten prints titled Cosmogenesis (meaning ‘the origin of the universe’), executed in pencil, graphite powder, acrylic ink, water colour, gold leaf and bronze pigment. Emerging from the white sheets of paper speckled with black holes and iridescent particles, are the nebulae of dots, vessels, sprays and cosmic dust layered onto a Japanese washi paper in a meticulous yet spontaneous manner. Sombre and delicate from afar, the drawings burst with queues of lines and atoms of ink upon closer inspection, revealing a complex network of phenomena that guides the viewer’s eyes into multiple directions. In a way, these undescriptive scapes recall maps of no particular place or time, but rather of movements and journeys within the crevices of the universe; ‘a kind of catalog/ Of the lights of all ages’, as Japanese writer Kenji Miyazawa would have perhaps described it. Thus, the attractiveness of Saeki’s art comes not only from its visual stardom, but the suggestion of stories that unravel in front of the spectator. Stories of the universe, science and humankind written within all the smallest particles, undetected by the eye.
Spread across two rooms of the Daiwa Foundation gallery in London, the show has been perfectly balanced between somewhat panoramic drawings of sculptural formations (Park Side Gallery), and smaller, more detailed pictures gathered in the Mews Side Gallery. Whilst the former room offers a wider glimpse into Saeki’s lyrical landscapes made of shapes and forms merging, separating and unfolding towards the empty planes of the pictures, the latter room focuses on their microscopic view. Here, we discover a surprising vibrancy and depth created by layers of graphite, ink and gold patterns. Together, the exhibition presents a beautifully crafted interpretation of continuous movement and interdependence between void and form, stillness and change, immateriality and physicality. Above all, Cosmogenesis expresses a curiosity about the unknown and is a testimony to simplicity that conveys the most complex ideas in the clearest way.
The craftsmanship of the show lays in the method, with which the artist handles a representation of unrestrained matter through controlled techniques and a discipline of form, resultant in a visual balance between energy and subtlety. This can be seen in Saeki’s use of vast empty or semi-transparent spaces, as well as a combination of forms, some of which appear constrained and others ‘released’. Collectively, they create a multidimensional landscape that parallels Miyazawa’s galaxies, inhabited by ‘Papers and mineral ink assembling/ Everything that flickers within me/ Everyone senses at the same time’. That is why, Cosmogenesis is a form of an aesthetic meditation on the way in which we look at the universe, how we encounter it and expand within it.
* The artist is represented by Taka Ishii Gallery in Tokyo