This work makes use of the refractive properties of curved acrylic to deform images and make them imperfect. We unconsciously assimilate large volumes of images that flood our daily lives as information. By supplementing this sometimes incomplete information ourselves and reconstructing it in our imaginations, there are tantalizing instances when we attain infinite clarity.

Discussion / Hiroyuki Takahashi (Indipendent Curator)

The literary critic Hideo Kobayashi observed in his book Kindai Kaiga (Modern Paintings) that “color is broken light.” When you shine sunlight through a prism it becomes spectrally divided into seven colors according to its refractive index. When these seven divided colors come together, they once more return to being transparent, colorless light. The property of different colors refracting at different angles is what is termed “chromatic aberration,” and was first confirmed in an experiment conducted by Isaac Newton in 1666. This marked the starting point for optics and the theory of colors.


In that sense, this work invites the viewer to observe “broken light.” In this case, however, the meaning of “breaking” is unlike, say, destroying data or physically manipulating equipment to conceal noise in signals like in glitch art. Nor does it effectively color or transform the images like the video art of Nam June Paik. In this work, images are shown on monitors, and the monitor screens are covered by grids comprised of curved acrylic squares. The result is that the images appear distorted, in an almost-pixelated format. Some of the works are actually refracted by this acrylic grid, and others are refracted artificially using CG. That, in a nutshell, is the kind of work Refraction is.


In fact, when I first saw this work, I was immediately reminded of the Vitrine series created by Katsuhiro Yamaguchi in the 1950s. The Vitrine series features works in which a picture is placed in a box-like frame, in front of which is placed uneven rippled glass in vertical and horizontal lines. The lens-effect of the rippled glass makes patterns appear to change rapidly depending on where the viewer is standing, even though what is underneath is a static painting. Of course, the size of the grids used in Refraction and Vitrine are on a different scale and in the background of Refraction are videos, in contrast to the paintings that were used in Vitrine. However, they bear intriguing similarities in that the lens effect serves to deconstruct and deform the contours of the image, transforming it into a riot of colors.


We always tend to assume that we are looking at an “image” when we look at a painting or an image. However, what we are looking at is in actual fact a display or a screen, and you could go as far as to say that what we are seeing is “light.” The artist has expressed his interest in impressionism. After photography was invented in the 19th century, paintings lost their significance as a realistic medium. The impressionists, therefore, stopped painting “objects” once and for all and decided to paint “light.” The theory of colors made it possible to create a bright canvas using additive color mixture. Furthermore, the new invention of tube-type paints enabled artists to paint outdoors and capture the ever-changing light of the moment. Technology therefore directly and indirectly transforms expression.

The artist says that through this work, he is seeking to appeal to the “infinite ‘resolution’ of the human beings who view the work.” In today’s world, where art, entertainment, and advertising are flooded with high-resolution images, he seeks to propose the antithesis of such images by boldly displaying a low-resolution image in what appears to be a pixelated format. The result is an image that leaves room for the viewer to use their imagination, and in so doing encourages them to notice the existence of human sensitivity. In that sense, what is most important in this work is the viewer’s powers of imagination.


If you think about it, the method of implying something with only a scant amount of information is also a very Japanese method of expression. Consider, for example, karesansui rock gardens that evoke islands floating on an ocean, or Shorin-zu byobu (Pine Trees) by Tohaku Hasegawa, who, with just a few deft brush strokes, depicts mist-enveloped pine trees swaying gently in a breeze. Instead of seeking the value of realism, as seen in Western paintings, where the aim is to approximate reality as closely as possible, works are boldly abstracted, and the viewer is encouraged to appreciate these works by embracing what is not there and supplementing those aspects themselves. To drop a spot of ink on a piece of paper is to illustrate the surrounding blank space. Therein lies the Japanese sensibility that sees the charm of a chipped tea bowl.


Back in the long distant past, in the darkness of unelectrified nights, our ancestors would look up at the night sky and weave stories about the constellations, or gaze into the forests and imagine the mononoke spirits living there. However, in the present, where the darkness is banished, we have lost the vivid powers of imagination of our ancestors. Perhaps today we feel an unconscious need to go camping or engage in mindfulness exercises in a quest to recapture the sense of reverence and awe that the ancients possessed. The creator of this work is involved in the production of advertising materials and says that the work expresses something diametrically opposed to his usual activities. It’s like a pendulum, the greater the swing, the clearer the expression gets.

So, can this be said to be art? The artist himself says that it does not necessarily need to be characterized as such. At WOW, there is no need to cling to art, nor become a slave to advertising. Each creator can maintain their creative stance. There is no need to start by defining the genre or category, such as “art or advertisement.” When you think about it, cave paintings and Jomon era pottery were also created in a place and time that transcended questions of whether they had an artistic or practice purpose. You might even say that they were part everyday life, part witchcraft, part religion and part art.