Ascertaining the Uncertain: Between Anywhere and Nowhere
Is it a waving curtain that is depicted in Kowaremono, or is it something like the boundary between skin and clothing? The enigmatic title further adds to my confusion as to how and from what perspective to look at this painting. Am I watching the subtle movements of an organdy-like cloth from outside the building? Or am I trying to assure myself of the soft fabric’s texture in a secure indoor setting? As the title suggests, the painting shows something brittle and fragile, but I realize that it displays at once also the flexibility and inner richness of weak and ephemeral things.
Miwa Ogasawara uses subdued oil colors to depict such vague and intangible subjects as light, shadow, wind, and air. Motifs that repeatedly appear in her paintings include indoor spaces, vessels, glass balls, bodies of young or adolescent boys and girls, and landscapes with trees or watersides. These things quietly dwell at places that could be anywhere and nowhere, at an indeterminate time somewhere between day and night.
These illusionary sceneries beyond time and space inspire me to imagine things like a child’s room full of toys; a place where one can retreat after something bad happened; secretly weeping under a blanket; the inside of the shark that swallowed Pinocchio; or the basement where Nick Bowen is trapped. All of these are seemingly places between here and somewhere else, like waiting rooms one enters before proceeding to the next stage. The time in these waiting rooms is a subjective one that does not flow from the past toward the future, and the minute depictions of these kinds of places that we normally don’t even take notice of finally make us realize just how important they are. Pinocchio musters up his courage to rescue the old man from the shark’s belly, and Nick Bowen tries to think up ways to escape from a basement with no means of opening doors or windows from the inside. But we, once we have broken free and jumped out from such places, tend to not look back. It is through Ogasawara’s paintings that the entranceways to those forgotten secret bases are suddenly opened. When we stand in front of the paintings and relive the experience of waving curtains, the silhouettes in the windows, the lights in the aisles and corridors, we feel how emotions that have been untouched for a long time are gradually unlocked.
Once again, I fix my eyes on the clear glass balls that are the subjects of the Glaskugel series. Each painting captures a moment in which the respective spherical object looks as if it were about to start rolling, while the light and the environment it is placed in are vaguely reflected in its surface. The presence of a transparent glass ball is highlighted the moment someone touches and moves it, or when the light is switched on and illuminates it. It’s an object that is free to go anywhere and to reflect any scenery on its surface, but the fact that its surroundings define its presence also hints at the hardships of not being able to exist independently. It can be understood as a symbol of fragility and unstableness, as it may accidentally roll away and break at any time.
The air particles depicted in Inbetween appear to be lost somewhere between the starting and ending points of a journey from a station toward an unknown destination. Maybe they are free to go where they like, but maybe they are at once so weak that they are easily swept away. Zwischenraum 8 depicts a window with masking tape on it. The interval between the completion of a building’s construction and the time someone moves in is like an idle, temporary void in space and time that is quietly marked by this X.
A lot of people, however, have no recollection whatsoever of complicated feelings or uncertain times and spaces, and no understanding of their lives as involving both liberties and hardships. We humans tend to believe that technical developments have put us in a position where we look at natural scientific phenomena from the outside and even control them. The misunderstanding of science as the one and only truth makes us unable to deal with vague and not entirely explicable sensations, accidental occurrences, and things that defy logic. With the advance of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, alternative facts and deep fakes, a hyper-reality has emerged in recent years that exceeds the picture that we used to have of the near future. Day by day, there is an array of cases in which we are dragged into depression as a result of intolerance and lacking imagination.
Ogasawara’s paintings may look simple at a glance, but the observation of the subtle inner transformations and the vagueness of existence that they express is a training in discovering new relationships for the viewer in the search of his or her own personal solutions. That is because the repeated appreciation and experience of these works present us with clues that natural sciences cannot provide. Finding and confronting the inner conflicts and fluctuations that are there, even in the quiet images, charges us with the power to resist established ideas and to jump onto different trains. When repeatedly looking at the paintings that seem to show things like corridors, or maybe vessels, one is reminded of the flexibility and strength of the human body and senses. While the spaces depicted in Ogasawara’s works are closely linked to aspects of existence and emotion, what specifies the painted spaces are the surrounding social, political, historical, and cultural circumstances of our time. We can also read in them matters that have been arising as results of various forms of division, such as refugees, immigration, and racial and sexual discrimination, as well as the collision with and resistance against them. But Ogasawara is well aware that it is not the role of painting to merely reflect these things as they are. A painter is neither a novelist nor an architect. A painter does not construct buildings or storylines, but viewers can draw their own plans or compose narratives based on paintings. Ogasawara’s works introduce us to the potential of narratives beyond the language of painting—or rather, of art in general—to express human perception itself and different space-time systems at the same time, to train our senses in order to connect to new realities.
This essay was written and edited based on an article that originally appeared in October 2018 on RealTokyo.
© Sayako Mizuta