JTF (just the facts): A total of 17 large scale color photographs, framed in blond wood and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the large divided gallery space. All of the works are Lambda prints from the series Ametsuchi, made in 2012 and 2013. The images are shown in two sizes: 25×32 (in editions of 3) and 58×73 (in editions of 3); there are 10 images in the smaller size and 7 images in the larger size on display. The show also includes a silent video shown against grey walls in an interior alcove. A monograph of this body of work was published in 2013 by Aperture (here). (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Rinko Kawauchi’s photographs of controlled agricultural burning (yakihata) in the southern Japanese town of Aso turn an annual farming task into a reverent personal experience. As with many of her prior projects, this body of work sees the world with a subtle, inquisitive innocence, the ritual cycle of death and rebirth played out amid the flames and smoke seen with the freshness of curious new eyes, the whole process transformed into a kind of dream, where universal life forces emerge from the mundane.
Nearly all of the images on display capture different aspects and personalities of the fire, from the slowly encroaching crawl of embers in the dark to the powerful jumps of roaring flames. Tiny workers look on from whispering dry fields as the fires blacken the hillsides and choke the skies, rounded mounds bisected by perfect lines of orange, with black on one side and yellow on the other. Elemental fire spirits blast into the air, only to quickly dissipate into ethereal wisps or searing glows that linger on the ground. Kawauchi’s pictures combine quiet formality with the explosive unruliness of the flames, the fires devouring the husks of long harvested crops in rigorously controlled, rumbling waves. Serene images taken of the same landscapes at other times of the year bookend the fire photographs, the dense greenery of the valley and the snow covered mounds telling a story of the rhythms of ever repeating seasons.
Like Kawauchi’s earlier images of fireworks in the night sky, there is a sense of fleeting elusiveness in these pictures, of constant ebbing and flowing in front of our eyes. There is less wonder here than in her bright images of babies, bugs, and other small stolen moments of everyday awe, these works more measured and knowing, the scenes less up close and intimate. As a result, I think the overall impression is more restrained, with some images resonating with more lasting power than others. What I took away most was a sense of almost religious cadence, of the timeless patterns of nature that she alone seems able to see, elemental sensations largely forgotten in our modern world.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are for sale (not always the case in this venue) and are priced as follows. The 25×32 prints are $8200 each and the 58×73 prints are $19800 each. Kawauchi is represented by Rose Gallery in Santa Monica (here). Kawauchi’s work has only recently entered the secondary markets; with only a few lots sold in various sizes, it’s hard to draw many pricing trends from so few data points. As a result, gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.