“Yamatane” and temporary art

Yusuke Asai, "Yamatane", Rice University, Houston 2014.
Yusuke Asai, “Yamatane”, Rice University, Houston 2014.

So much effort goes in to thinking about where art belongs, how it should be preserved and conserved. So in many ways I can be guilty of taking the idea of preservation for granted. But more attention should be paid to thinking through what exactly preservation means. After all, preservation comes with costs. And thinking about how much does not get preserved, and how much effort it takes to preserve art and sites can seem overwhelming. Which is why it can be refreshing to just enjoy some art every now and then. Yusuke Asai, a Japanese painter created a massive installation at Rice University titled “yamatane” (Japanese for mountain seed). But you can’t see it any more, it has been “deinstalled”, which was the idea all along. As a result he gently forces the viewer to enjoy and take in the work while you can.

Asai's soil samples from Houston and Texas
Asai’s soil samples from Houston and Texas

He uses dirt and earth as a medium. In Houston he had Rice students and volunteers collect soil samples from around Houston and Texas, which he used to create 27 different shades.

Of his works he says:

I do not decide on a story or meaning before I start painting. Imagery of figures and creatures comes to me in the moent. Fox, bird, cat, and sunshine – everything has a role; parts disappear and something is added. The world accepts it and keeps changing. I begin each work thinking of the countless small things that come together to make a larger world. I choose to use the earth as a medium because I can find dirt anywhere in the world and do not need special materials. Dirt is by nature very different than materials sold in art stores! Seeds grow in it and it is home to any insects and microorganisms. It is a “living” medium.

The whole ethos of much of contemporary art is to challenge definitions and push boundaries. But Asai’s work is not aggressive or fussy. Many of the small details are whimsical and silly. The installation was full of small details like this:

rice gallery yamatane

This plays on our idea of what art really is. This is a temporary work, made to be deinstalled, which has a material which is free for all. Its themes of populism and living works very well and it is no surprise that Asai began training in ceramics, before using a vision of the natural world with a very “natural” medium. The installation was also commissioned in conjunction with the Menil Collection’s Experiments with Truth: Gandhi and Images of Nonviolence, which is running until the end of January 2015.

Here is video of the ‘de-installation’:


Deinstallation of “yamatane” by Yusuke Asai from Rice Gallery on Vimeo.

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