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Kazuo Katase (1947)

Kazuo Katase

Born in Japan into the tradition of Jodo Shin Shu Buddhism (Buddhism of the pure land), Kazuo Katase moved to West Germany in the ’70s. His work combines elements of both European and Asian culture, particularly the sacred arts of Buddhism and Christianity. Katase filters these traditions through contemporary technology in order to express a meditative bridge between two different ways of encountering the world. The resulting mood is perhaps more philosophical than religious.

For his gallery-size installation entitled Nightwatch, 1990, the walls have been painted red, the lights turned off, and the windows covered with blue gel to block the red portion of the spectrum of natural light entering the gallery. At first the walls look black, but on closer inspection, they seem a kind of emptied-out red. One piece within the larger installation, The Battle of Nancy, includes a back-lit photographic negative of Delacroix’s painting by the same name, as well as a red aluminum globe with a circular opening the size of a second, smaller globe cut into its side. The globes are positioned next to each other, in the middle of the room, with the opening in the larger orb facing the smaller one. Both globes are painted the same red as the room and hence they are both also characterized by a chromatic absence. Minimalism has influenced Katase’s work but its emphasis on angular geometry is replaced by the spherical forms. This substitution, along with the Delacroix, helps to create in the viewer a sense of Katase’s work as a meditation on the relation between these various traditions.

The other red (black) work in the exhibition, entitled Nightwatch, consists of an enlarged black and white photographic detail of Rembrandt’s painting divided into two adjoining panels. The two panels are backed by a red glaze and hence again the work acquires a numinous quality.

Katase’s work is, in one sense, about an absence intended to elicit thought. Walking into the exhibition is a little like walking into an undisclosed room of the space-age Versailles at the end of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Though the installation as a whole suggests a contextual integration of art, magic, and ritual; the exhibition of two works in another room, in which the light was not filtered nor the walls painted, historicizes the exhibition as art. This gives these elements or works (this distinction is left intentionally vague in Katase’s own remarks about his project) an uneasy but charged synecdochic relation to the ephemeral quality of the installation. Similarly, Katase’s pieces that use back-lit photographic negatives derive a certain amount of their charge from the fact that photographs can be reproduced ad infinitum, but the use of a negative instead of a print reintroduces an irreplaceable and unique origin. has 1 publication currently available on Katase


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