Project Description


from 30 September 2016 to 5 February 2017 – Space: NAVATE

“Situations” is the first European retrospective dedicated to Kishio Suga (b. 1944 in Morioka, Japan). For the first time in the career of this pivotal figure in contemporary Japanese art, over twenty of his installations, dating from 1969 to the present, are shown together in the Navate space.
Kishio Suga was among the prime movers of Mono-ha, an artistic group born in the late 1960s. He began showing his work at a time of great cultural ferment in Japan and international experimentation, marked by movements like Postminimalism and Land Art in the United States and Arte Povera in Italy. In 1978, Suga was chosen to represent his Country at the Venice Biennale, introducing the West to an artistic language in which the investigation of materials and space is rooted in a deep affinity to nature and the environment.
“Situations” brings together a series of pieces the artist has adapted to the industrial architecture of Pirelli HangarBicocca. Forging an intense relationship with the vast spaces of the Navate, it unfolds along a single path that balances lightness and gravity, linearity and tension, solidity and intangibility. In keeping with his practice, Suga’s works are presented here as temporary projects which exist for the duration of the show, site-specific in both a spatial and temporal sense.
The exhibition highlights the common threads and experimental nature of the artist’s oeuvre, presenting a landscape of organic and industrial elements—iron, zinc, wood, stone, and paraffin—materials which he often finds on site. At Pirelli HangarBicocca, the pieces therefore take on new qualities and characteristics that differ from previous versions.

Location: Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milano
Artist: Kishio Suga
Exhibition: “Situations”
Allestiment: curated by Yuko Hasegawa and Vicente Todolí
Engineering: MOSAE srl
Team: Michele Maddalo, Alice Brugnerotto, Anna Colombo. Special consultant Stefano Monaco
Photo: Agostino Osio
Law of Multitude: Kishio Suga, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milano
Left-Behind Situation: Kishio Suga, Glenstone Foundation, Potomac, Maryland, Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milano
Exposed Realm: Kishio Suga, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo, Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milano
Situations: Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milano
Pictures in slideshow: from the exhibition

Critical Sections (Setsu no rinkai), 1984/2016

The exhibition opens with the only suspended piece in the show: Critical Sections. Hanging from a height of over twenty meters, the work consists of portions of black and white fabric stretched and braided into a single rope, intersected by branches and dropping to the floor, where it connects to sheets of zinc arranged on the ground.

Through the process of tension and loosening, the artist creates what he defines a “situation” (jōkyō) in which he underlines the existential interrelationships between the materials that compose the work and its surrounding space. Central to Suga’s practice is the concept of “interdependence” among “things” (mono) as a way to create a unique entity that enables the visitor to observe, on the one hand, the surrounding space in its wholeness from the ceiling to the floor, and, on the other, to perceive an invisible space that is created by the presence of the work.

Suga conceived the work for the Museum of Modern Art in Toyama in 1984, where he suspended the ropes from a circular skylight, channeling natural light into the space and putting the museum’s interior and exterior into deeper dialogue.

Fieldology, 1974/2016

In Fieldology a barrier of stretched ropes joins two walls in the exhibition space, creating an inaccessible corner. Numerous fragments of rope are piled on top of this barrier, weighing down the structure in such a way as to dissolve the tension the artist has created. In the corner several different rolls of rope are piled on top of another and leaned against the wall in precarious balance. Kishio Suga utilizes the physical characteristics of the material, like malleability and flexibility, and its functions in order to create a jōkyō (situation) that highlights the actions required to produce the artwork: the tensing and release of the ropes; their union and knotting; the precarious position in which the rolls are set and the mutual support they provide each other to stay upright. As the curator Naoko Seki has explained, «All placement methods suggest a change of state or situation. The positioning of these elements in an interior space is not an immutable display, but indicates a method of display revealing gradual changes within a limited period.» In 1974, at Gallery 16 in Kyoto, Kishio Suga intervened directly in the artwork, modifying it and integrating other materials through what he called “activations”: temporary actions conducted in the presence of visitors, and documented through photography and video.

Continuous Existence–HB (Renkai–HB), 1977/2016

The installation is formed by forked branches of different height that are held in place by stones. The branches are joined by a rope and rest against the wall, while also connecting a sheet of white paper placed on the floor to the walls of Pirelli HangarBicocca’s industrial spaces.

Continuous Existence—HB is one of a series of works that Kishio Suga produced since the late 1970s. They include posts, rods and branches that rest against the wall and connect different structural elements in the exhibition space. In these installations the artist establishes a relationship between two architectural dimensions, such as the floor and walls, in order to reveal their structural differences while also emphasizing their presence and creating a further link with the artwork. For Suga the space is not simply the place in which an artwork is exhibited, but an integral part of it: «The process by which mono (things) are transformed into artworks is equivalent to the process by which a “site” accomplishes the same transformation into an artwork.»

Soft Concrete, 1970/2016

With the installation Soft Concrete, Suga investigates the transformation processes of matter and compares the physical properties of materials. Four metal plates, set in such a way as to form a rectangle, contain a pile of gravel onto which a mound of soft concrete — a substance composed of cement and oil — has been poured, enveloping and partly submerging the metal surfaces while simultaneously holding them up. The chromatic uniformity of the artwork counterbalances the quality of the materials, revealing Suga’s interest in creating a unitary structure in which the presence of each element is mutually highlighted by another’s.

Thereby the rigidity of the plates is emphasized by the fluid, liquid aspect of the concrete, which seems to bubble up from the centre of the rectangular structure, and the solidity of the plates emphasises the fluidity of the substance that surrounds it. Furthermore, given that soft concrete takes over a year to completely solidify, Soft Concrete will change throughout the length of the exhibition, undergoing different physical transformations.

Perimeter (Entai), 1985/1989

Kishio Suga created Perimeter — a site-specific installation that surrounds an area of the exhibition space — using blocks made from Ōya stone that support pieces of connected wood. The work stands in a semi-rectangular form and creates a separation between two areas of the same environment. This paradoxical combination between connection and division underlies Suga’s practice and his investigation of the concept of “boundary”. The artist analyses the links between objects and space with regard to how these are perceived by the visitor both physically and internally: «When an entirety is formed by connected elements, we feel this sense of place around us. Most probably, we cannot be interested in each and every part of the whole. We have an interest in some parts but not in others. This is how we create our surroundings.»

Like many of Kishio Suga’s works, Perimeter has also been conceived to be shown both inside exhibition spaces, such as museums and galleries, and outside in nature. For the artist, the site of a work determines how it will be configured and installed. When situated outdoors, a work is influenced and modified by its natural surroundings and changes in the weather; indoors, it is subject to the structural features of the room in which it is presented.

Placement of Condition (Jōkyōchi), 1973/2016

The idea of “boundary” and the concept of interdependence are also developed in Placement of Condition, a work realized several years earlier and similar to the structure of Perimeter. In this case, the blocks of granite, set in balance between a series of wedges that the artist inserted beneath the bases, support one another through the tension created by the steel wire that connects them. Meanwhile, the wire shows both the distance from the centre and the perimeter of the work, as well as the boundaries between each element and the visitors.

In Periphery of Space Suga utilizes the concepts of “centre” and “periphery” to expand his reflections on “boundaries” and investigate the different physical presences of the materials in relationship with their surrounding environment. The installation is made up of a circular perimeter on the floor formed by a roll of paper, with stones placed inside and on the edges.

Condition of Situated Units (Ikyō), 1975/2016

The work is composed of steel rods partly hidden by a throng of surrounding branches. Suga here combines natural elements with industrial materials, bringing out their differing physical characteristics in order to contrast the rigid verticality of the metal with the horizontal tangle of branches. The exhibition space seems to disappear, becoming part of the intricate ensemble. Suga’s aim is to create visual and physical interdependence between the objects and the space in order to dissipate all distinction between them. As Suga explains, they seem to fuse into a single entity and alter the way we perceive them: «Mono (things) and places used to be treated separately at the level of recognition but for me they were the same when seen within the horizons of internality.»

Parallel Strata (Heiretsusō), 1969/2016

The idea of “boundary” and the concept of interdependence are also developed in Placement of Condition, a work realized several years earlier and similar to the structure of Perimeter. In this case, the blocks of granite, set in balance between a series of wedges that the artist inserted beneath the bases, support one another through the tension created by the steel wire that connects them. Meanwhile, the wire shows both the distance from the centre and the perimeter of the work, as well as the boundaries between each element and the visitors.

In Periphery of Space Suga utilizes the concepts of “centre” and “periphery” to expand his reflections on “boundaries” and investigate the different physical presences of the materials in relationship with their surrounding environment. The installation is made up of a circular perimeter on the floor formed by a roll of paper, with stones placed inside and on the edges.

Abandoned Situation (Hōchi Jōkyō), 1971/2016

Beginning in the early 1970s, Kishio Suga realized a series of installations through which he investigates the idea of “release” or “abandonment” (hōchi), which he theorized in 1971. One of these, Abandoned Situation, is composed of a corrugated pressed concrete sheet placed horizontally on the ground. The artist seals the two central furrows with cement, pouring a mixture of water and ink into them to create two dark lines that contrast with the others and highlight the opposition between the structure’s curved and convex forms. The use of water is central to Suga’s artistic practice, whether conceived for external or internal spaces. In Abandoned Situation, for example, this natural element is “released” and confined within an artificial structure in such a way as to highlight the intrinsic physical qualities of all the elements that make up the work.

Units of Dependency (Izon’i), 1974/2016
Exposed Realm (Rokai), 1986/2016

This is also the case in Units of Dependency, an installation formed by two different lengths of perforated concrete bricks running parallel to each other through the space. The linearity and homogeneity of the structure are altered by the presence of natural elements like stones, located at the extremities, and fresh grass — the scent of which visitors can smell in the surrounding space — that is pressed and inserted between the bricks and inside them. In Exposed Realm, a work composed of a corridor of wooden panels, Kishio Suga subverts this modular structure, inserting a large stone that seems to anchor the entire installation.

Unfolding Field (Noten), 1972/2016

Kishio Suga considers both external environments, whether natural or urban, and internal ones, whether institutions or museums, as potential spaces for exhibiting his works. Exiting the Navate, visitors encounter Unfolding Field, an installation made up of bamboo poles pointed upwards, and at the same time tethered to the ground by cords connected to stone blocks. As the title suggests, the artwork — with structures similar to fishing rods — unfolds both vertically toward the sky and horizontally within the surrounding environment. In 1972 Kishio Suga presented Unfolding Field on the rooftop of the Joshuya Building in Tokyo, offering a partial view of the urban context into which the artwork was inserted.

Contorted Positioning (Kyokui), 1982/2016

Through a series of works characterized by a horizontal placement of interconnected materials on the floor, Kishio Suga develops the concept of “field”, conceived as a novel space for visitors that the artist defines within the exhibition space by installing an artwork. In Matter and Location diverse materials coexist in strict connection: planks and pieces of wood are interconnected by zinc, forming arches, and are framed by rocks and stones that emphasize the presence of each element of the structure. In Contorted Positioning Suga connects several different wooden beams, basing his actions on the angles of bifurcated branches, connected at the end of each piece of wood. The installation develops therefore in different, diverging directions within the exhibition space, forming a series of corners according to a system the artist established starting from the physical characteristics of the materials he uses.

Gap of the Entrance to the Space (Kainyūsa), 1979/2016
Separating Dependence (Izonsa), 1973/2013

The installation Gap of the Entrance to the Space is composed of a reflective surface of zinc plates on which both natural and cut stones have been placed. Where the cut stones stand, Kishio Suga has removed the sections of the zinc plates beneath them and placed them on top of the stones — and thus the surface appears to rise and gain in volume. The reflective surface of the zinc emphasizes the physical differences and properties of the materials: the shiny surface of the metal, the roughness of the natural stones and the smoothness and geometric forms of the cut stones. Some of the latter stand at the perimeter of the structure, extending out from the zinc sheets and onto the original floor of the space. This creates the sense that the work is open to the exterior while also drawing attention to its physical boundaries and the close relationship between the surroundings and the arrangement of the objects. In addition, Suga makes the internal limits of the structure visible by emphasizing the lines that demarcate the individual zinc plates.

Various thematic and formal characteristics are shared by Gap of the Entrance to the Space and an earlier work from 1973 titled Separating Dependence, which is also composed of zinc plates.

In the latter work, Suga has created an installation in which each element is combined and connected to the next through dependence: the zinc sheets of the base are bent to create a frame and are supported by cement blocks, while thin metal pipes connect several stones placed on the surface to the walls and to one another. For the artist, every object is completely assimilated in a unitary structure through a relationship that is not purely physical. According to curator Hitoshi Dehara, «“Dependence” is not limited to relationships of mutual physical support but includes various aspects of spatial placement, visual relationships, and semantics as well.»

The very title of the work reveals what Suga is attempting to underline: on one hand, the dependence between the different elements and the overall structure, and on the other, the separation between this and the surrounding environment, with the use of metal poles that emphasize the presence of the walls, and of folded zinc sheets to separate the metal surface and the space.

Left-Behind Situation (Shachi Jōkyō), 1972/2016

The work Left-Behind Situation consists in a single industrial wire stretched across two levels of the space, conjoining various points across the four walls and creating horizontal and diagonal intersections on which the artist has placed stones and pieces of found wood in precarious balance. Installed in the Cubo space, this is the largest version of Left-Behind Situation ever realized and makes the space inaccessible to viewers. The artist uses human proportions as a reference and hangs the work at two levels — 50 and 500 cm — so that the visitors’ gaze is immediately attracted by the stones and wood pieces that seem to float in the air and only in a second moment do they perceive the wires.

Like many of Suga’s works, Left-Behind Situation is conceived and adapted each time according to the space in which it is exhibited, and is hence a temporary intervention of the artist that will last the duration of the exhibition. The modification and re-adaptation of works according to the context in which they are shown is a central aspect in Suga’s practice. It is only through photographic documentation that it is possible to witness the different versions realized across the years. Simon Groom, Director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, compares Suga’s work to a photograph that captures a fixed and unique instant, affirming: «Although dimensions of works are always given, like a photograph fixing a moment in time, one always feels they could have been different, and that conformity to such a convention serves only to highlight its very irrelevance to Suga’s work.»