Hiroyuki Hattori

reverse of volume ACAC / Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori Japan
Artist in Residency Program 2009 Autumn HOME
2009.11.14 – 12.13

Beyond Absence–Casting Invisible Phenomena

ONISHI Yasuaki visualizes the invisible and the mostly ignored in the forms akin to sculpture by simple but fundamental means. His methods are simple but brilliant and often eye-opening. While his media have been varied from sculpture and photography to drawing and installation, his works consistently display his view of the backside of things and the concept of visualizing invisible phenomena.
For example, mountainroom (2006) (fig. 1) is a photograph, a multiple exposure picture, of a piece of rope coated with fluorescent paint laid in various positions all over a dark dining room. two sights (2002) (fig. 2) is also a photograph, a long exposure, of the laser beam of a pointer moving on the surface of many boxes and cans of various sizes neatly stacked up in a dark room. see darkness (2004) (fig. 3-1, 3-2) is an installation in the dark composed of a stack of boxes dotted with a large number of light-accumulating stickers stuck on their surfaces at regular intervals. As light flashes, the stickers glimmer and the outline of the installation appears like a nightscape of skyscrapers. In all these works, Onishi turns common scenes into new landscapes of a totally different scale using inventive and sophisticated techniques.

Furthermore, in restriction sight TOM (2007) (fig. 4), which won the Taro Prize of the 10th Taro Okamoto Award for Contemporary Art, strings, coated with light-accumulating paint and suspended from the ceiling of a semi-transparent polyethylene tent, visualized the airflow in the dark when the tent was fanned from the inside. As the tent alternately got inflated and deflated, the luminous strings swung in the dark.

All of these works are ‘sculptures’ of common phenomena and mechanisms, made from common materials with simple devices that everyone understands well.

Another long exposure photograph, darkness thing 8 (2003) (fig. 5), traces the sparks from a grinder being rolled forward and rubbing a cubic metal frame. Only the sparks could have been seen when the artist was actually using the grinder in the darkness. However, once fixed in a picture, the sparks form the outline of a dark space.

The installation untitled (2008) (fig. 6) with a number of polyethylene balloons floated by small electric fans at the bottom also successfully visualizes simple phenomena. First our eyes are caught by these balloons that contain massive air within, then we notice their surfaces reflect the fluorescent lights and surroundings around them, and finally the existence of the air filling the rest of the space and the whole room draw our attention. As he said “I would like to make spaces like margins or negatives,” it is evident that he does not aim at creating conspicuous sculptures as objects, but rather to compose the entire space with the objects placed there as an installation.

Onishi used to create sculptures in his college days. gawa[Ring] (2001) (fig. 7) was composed of slices of a log arranged in a circle and welded with hundreds of iron sheets on the surface. When the whole object was burnt, the empty iron ring remained. While this is an orthodox sculpture featuring the texture and materiality of iron, it shows the connection to Onishi’s recent works in terms of the emptiness and absence after all the unnecessary were eliminated. Just as he says that he creates something akin to sculpture, his works are to fix phenomena in the forms of sculpture.


Over recent years, Onishi has eagerly participated in ‘artists in residence’ programs in various places from Europe, the U. S., to Korea. As he migrated from one place to another working for these programs, his work changed little by little. He has now taken the style of using what materials are available in each place. Since it was his major, sculpture is certainly the foundation of his work and thought. People tend to think of sculptures as something solid and heavy in weight, but many of Onishi’s works are transparent and wafting. He uses materials that are lightweight and available everywhere, such as polyethylene sheets, strings and ropes, simple electric motors and paints, and simple methods that are possible in most of the places. Like it or not, this indicates his works are temporary unlike conventional sculpture; they are not durable and do not survive after each exhibition ends, so he makes even a similar work all over again in the next place. Partially due to his temporary residence at each place, absence and temporality have become the primary characteristics of his works. Having doubt about the classic methodologies of sculpture he once studied, he has ended up with having absence to take shape. There is no doubt that his experiences in ‘artist in residence’ programs have more or less influenced on this aspect.


His new work created at ACAC, reverse of volume (2009) (fig.8), is also composed of materials available everywhere: hot bond glue, polyethylene sheets and fishing lines. Onishi began to use glue and polyethylene during his half-year residence in Korea in early 2009. Sticky liquid falling from the fishing lines stretched near the ceiling onto the swollen polyethylene sheet afloat in the air. Actually the sheet partially reaches the floor but is so soft and light that it looks as if floating in the air. Its shape suggests it is covering chairs but there is nothing beneath it. This is how it was made: first the artist put chairs on the floor and laid a polyethylene sheet on each. When the glue gun was shot at regular intervals for days and days along the fishing line stretched across the ceiling, the glue came down like innumerable irregular threads falling onto the sheet. Although very thin and looking delicate, the glue strings are tough enough to pull and support the sheet together to keep its position and shape even if the chairs are removed. While keeping its shape, the sheet still moves and swings when a viewer approaches. This feeling is something pleasant, and it highlights the clarity and absence that are important aspects of Onishi’s work.

reverse of volume is also made in a similar method. However, the assigned space was no doubt the largest and the most unusual ever to him. He was to use half of the 6-meter high, 10 x 60 sq. meter gallery with the fan-shaped floor. A ‘void’ would describe the space better. In this void, he created a new spectacular landscape.

First, Onishi carefully inspected the given space and decided to create a gentle slope here. He piled up many cardboard boxes in various sizes, covered the whole pile with a polyethylene sheet, stretched fishing lines at regular intervals on the frame of the ceiling, from where he then shot a glue gun and fixed the shape of the slope. Onishi worked hard to stack boxes day by day, and now they were gone, but instead, the reverse side of the slope became visible. This polyethylene sheet is really afloat in the air, so the viewer can walk under it and see the backside of the slope.


Right or wrong, reverse of volume is somewhat reminiscent of inframince, a word coined by Marcel DUCHAMP, which is usually translated goku-usu in Japanese (literally meaning ‘ultra thin’). Although its volume is as big as 360 cubic meters, this work weighs only about 5 kilograms. It has two qualities seemingly ambivalent: being able to float in the air and being huge. When a viewer goes across the floor or speaks aloud nearby, this work slightly swings.


As for the materials, glue is usually purported to stick things together and hidden beneath. Few people want it to appear on the surface. However, in this work, glue is visible while certainly connecting the fishing lines and the polyethylene sheet. Rather, the work features glue not only as the mediator that visualizes the distance between the two things, but also as the main material component. This reversal use of materials is characteristic of Onishi, who likes to see the reverse sides of things and turn over the values and roles of materials, and is connected to his visualization of the other side.

reverse of volume gives form to multiple things. By dripping glue, it visualizes gravity. The polyethylene sheet visualizes the shape of the stack of many boxes that was removed when the work was finished. In addition, the sheet delineates the existence of the air as it quietly moves. The works of Onishi are to give form to various phenomena that take place at the sites and, in this sense, they are exactly sculptural.


I heard many Aomori people talk about this work associating with Mt. Hakkoda in Spring, when dark soil surfaces on the melting snow. Certainly the black glue falling on the milk-white sheet may look like it. However, this response assured me that this work fixed some changing phenomena by its form. I heard that Onishi was going to participate in some ‘artist in residence’ programs in 2010 as well, starting it in Norway. I am looking forward to seeing from now on what phenomena he will visualize through his ‘sculptures of absence’.


Aomori Contemporary Art Centre Curator   HATTORI Hiroyuki