In Praise of Shadows

Solo exhibition, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Berlin

Opening speech by Dr. Hans-Jörg Clement


It is a great, great pleasure for me to open this exhibition of works by Miwa Ogasawara today─her first big presentation in Berlin. It is an exhibition that can be described as rich in every sense of the word. It is extensive ─we are showing 18 exhibits─, rich in artistic skill, rich in compositional virtuosity, rich in intellectual depth and reflection, and rich in color ─ even if Miwa Ogasawara postulates that her images are devoid of color. The range of gray and black, of these endless nuances that create unfathomable depths, is so boundless that one could lose oneself in it. The words lose or loss only hold true, however, when one feels that one is completely present in the moment of losing oneself. And thus we are at the center of what this artwork creates, and of what it triggers in the viewer. It touches us.


It is, of course, no coincidence that, in our series of big solo exhibitions with which we always conclude our cultural year, Miwa Ogasawara today follows on from the solo exhibition of Ruprecht von Kaufmann that we were able to show in November of last year. With regard to his exhibition, we already spoke ─in terms of quite different formal solutions─ about the color black, about the movements in this dark mass, about transitions, borderline situations, transgressions and transformations, and about metamorphoses. There are quite wonderful parallels between these two exhibitions and─of course─quite significant differences.


The present exhibition continues the idea of transitions and transformations, and, despite the supposed lack of color, is also not heavy, is often dark, but not gloomy, is not depressing, but rather in an existential intensity that suggests a lightness that can only come from an intermediate world; an intermediate world in which one finds one’s center─fleetingly, but very clearly and precisely and, potentially, in a life-changing way. It evaporates again, but a glimmer of this world remains─a shadow. And a shadow, as you know, can only be cast and created where there is light.


Speak, you too,

speak as the last,

have your say.


But do not separate the No from the Yes.

Give your saying this meaning:

Give it its shadow.


But now the place shrinks, on which you stand:

Whereto now, shadow-stripped one, whereto?

Climb. Grope your way up.

Thinner you become, unrecognizable, finer!


Shadow-stripped one,

Move ahead of the clouds

To swim down below

There you’ll see yourself shimmering

In your colors



These lines, written in the fifties, are from Paul Celan. The poem from which they are extracted is called Speak, you too. It seems as though Celan would have written the lines for Miwa Ogasawara, or as though Miwa Ogasawara would have put these lines up on the wall of her studio as a credo, so that she might be reminded of them with every brushstroke. But none of this is the case; when Miwa Ogasawara was born in Kyoto in 1973, Celan had been dead for three years, after a painful life that stemmed from an entirely different culture, from a world in which he could no longer live.


Paul Celan’s work has not been a reference point for Miwa so far, and yet there is an astonishing closeness that I find quite moving. Here─in Miwa Ogasawara’s oeuvre─an aesthetic sense, if not a philosophy, of shadow is created that comes along as casually and light-footed (and at the same time as seriously!) as the shadow itself.


The shadow always marks, above all, an intermediate realm─an ambivalent state. This ambivalence is an essential characteristic of the works we are seeing today. In an interview I conducted with Miwa Ogasawara, the artist said:


“My work is based on the shift between truth and reality, and it’s always characterized by the contradictions originating from the subject matter. Yes, without a shadow humans are soulless. For me, the search for clarity always ends in a diffused zone─in ambivalence.”


Intellectual intensity and the challenge posed to oneself to set out on a path of increasing refinement can indeed hardly be addressed more beautifully. It’s all about─if one wishes to continue with the light related vocabulary─distinctions that, because of their highly delicate subtlety, cannot be harsh lines, but rather dissolve in a spherical mist. It is magnificent how this succeeds here, without descending into mawkishness or sentimentality at any single point. There is no place for this in this work because, for all the tranquility conveyed, what arises here is, of course, an enormous amount of tension that results not least from the fact that subconscious layers are being scratched at here. In the context of her own aesthetic sense, Miwa Ogasawara refers interestingly to Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, of tension that results from the repeated rebellion of the subconscious, creating dreamlike─and sometimes traumatic─situations, or spaces of tension, so to speak.


With Miwa Ogasawara, spaces of tension, developmental spaces, and living spaces are frequently actual spaces, or architecture. We have named the exhibition In Praise of Shadows, and, in doing so, are quoting the title of an aestheticism of the philosopher and author Tanizaki Jun’ichirô. The at long last rediscovered essay from the thirties explains the meaning of the interaction of light and shadow─a game, a marvel that is much more significant than the actual object or figure that casts the shadow. With Tanizaki, the entire Japanese architecture as a living space is characterized by shadows, by dim light, and by the countless different gray tones.


Such an aesthetic sensibility is continued into all areas of life, right up to the color of a soup bowl, the inside of the bowl giving a particular aura to a meal. Aesthetics as a way of life. The shadow sensitizes. It challenges and trains the senses.


Light, shadow, movement and proportion are the very precisely implemented criteria of Miwa Ogasawara’s artwork. Miwa has an interesting answer to the question of what comes to mind with regard to the concept of proportion: “The beauty of nature.” It’s no wonder that she answers in this way because the proportion of nature always remains an experience of perfection for us. Perfect proportion is perfect beauty; the moment in which the eye is no longer disturbed by anything, and no longer directs the gaze outward, but rather inward.


Miwa Ogasawara spent her childhood in untouched nature, in a place where her socio-politically active parents, who engaged in educational work, set up an institute for early childhood and youth education in a forest. Miwa Ogasawara left the country at the age of 15, and studied at various locations until she found her focus of life and work in Hamburg. She is a cosmopolitan, an eager learner, and an astonishingly capable person─which, as is well known, has been the precondition for learning since the time of the ancient Greeks; she absorbs─her own traditions now as well, that had been dismissed as outdated, but are now being newly discovered in their relevance. “My artwork devours the real world and spits out its own reality,” she says.


For the artist, the many encounters with literature and, above all, with music are also the real world. Working in the studio without music seems almost unimaginable to her and so it’s no surprise that her works have a sonic dimension. For this reason, we are happy to be able to present her with this sound installation as a composition by Johannes S. Sistermanns.


The love of literature is also a special one: “If I could express myself in words, I would never be able to write a finished story, but rather many short or long poems.” This is very cleverly observed because Miwa Ogasawara’s works entirely lack a narrative dimension. They are, however, always poetically charged. But it’s not about stories, and certainly not autobiographical ones; it’s rather about conditions and states of mind. The titles of the works give a hint of these sensitivities─and that means the moments in which one finds oneself. Floating, Gentle Breeze, Spatiality, Between. They are scenarios outside of time, of an emulsion created within itself from memory and projection, a moved and moving intensification.


We are seeing an exhibition with works of the highest precision, of the most delicate formal and contextual nuance; works that fill space in their views of both space and time, and draw us to them─magical. The exhibition is split up into three groups: People/Figures, Nature, Architecture. All similarly breathe a world of shadows that asks us who we are and that transfers us to a kind of perfect standstill, as if there would be the sensation of an originally and finitely intended state:


A garden that holds the secret within, whether you exit or enter it; a landscape in a light that is disappearing or just emerging; a figure going into the darkness or coming out of it; a breeze against a window that seems to dissolve the separation between inside and outside; two birds, the second of which could also be the shadow of the first; figures floating in the blue-gray that dissolve into the gentle movements of the water; concrete architectures that restructure themselves into abstract forms. We see everything that we see there, and yet finally, we see ourselves─introspection. Miwa Ogasawara─I said it─touches us. And we look into this touched inner self and recognize that we and the world are a continuum of becoming and passing, of passing and becoming.