Taka Ishii Gallery New York published “Land and Sea 1970” to accompany an exhibition by Tatsuo Kawaguchi in September 2015. Since that time his book has consistently stood out from the other gallery publications and art books on my bookshelf as being an exceptionally good one. It manages to function not only as documentation of a specific show but, in a sense, is practically a work in its own right. In that regard, we could refer to it as an artist’s book though it was not intended as such.
The book presents the work Land and Sea 1970 in its entirety. The work comprises 26 photographs of four large wooden planks placed on a beach in Japan at about the mid-tide mark. The book closes with a short essay by the artist in which he speaks simply and directly about the process that went into the conceptualization, planning and execution of the work. It’s as good an artist’s statement as you’re going to find and it makes for an enriched whole.
The images in the book — grainy, low contrast, black and white, landscape format — are presented in grids of four to a spread and while reminiscent of inartful 60s and 70s era photo documentation of minimalist and Mono Ha art the main subject here is the passage of time as opposed to the physical presence of the object and is thus perfectly suited to a book format.
The photographs themselves are nondescript enough to not overshadow the conceptual content and yet charming enough to draw and keep your attention. The book’s designer makes it clear that this is not a photobook per se: maybe it’s the grid layout of four images to a page or the thick creamy-white strips Kawaguchi placed above and below each print or its indexical nature (instead of focusing on the planks, one can follow a certain lump of sand or rock on the beach and read its progress from image to image). I like it also as an object in that the human touch comes across in the clarity of thought and the overall design, something normally lost in book production.
The opening line of Kawaguchi’s essay is as matter of the fact as the book’s physical appearance: “‘Land and Sea’ is a photographic work produced in 1970.”
He continues, “The beach, which I’d selected as the site for the work, was a place that I’d frequently taken walks on and swam at annually in the summers. I felt that photography and film were the only media that could wholly capture the scene repeatedly reinvented on the beach, by the land and the sea. Simply photographing the scene, however, did not feel right. I doubted that photographing nature as is would make the invisible world sensible.”
“I concluded that inserting ‘something’ into the space between the changing tides, which produce the infinite transformations of the land and the sea, would resolve the issue. By doing so, I postulated, the influence of the tides could be made apparent, and the invisible relation between the ever-changing land and sea, and the strange relation between the earth and moon visible. That ‘something’ had to be a natural object that would float on water. I chose wooden boards.”
“The board’s length was determined thus, by natural conditions and through careful observation. The board’s width was determined so that the board’s floating and sitting states would be perceivable. The dimensions of the board were determined naturally, but I had to determine the number of boards to use and I struggled to make this decision. A single board would be too symbolic and absolute. My point was not to emphasize arbitrariness and I did not want the board to look like driftwood, which simply happened to be there by chance. Two would create a pair, bringing attention to the relation between the boards rather than the invisible relations I wished to visualize. Three boards would create a center, which I found disagreeable. Ultimately, I decided on an even number to avoid the centrality, and four to avoid the pairing.”
“Additionally, I felt the that the four boards should be cut from a single log.”
“In observing the site, I decided that I would place the boards perpendicularly, pointing toward the water’s edge at the midpoint of the tide’s ebb and flow. The four boards were positioned in parallel and spaced to prevent them from hitting each other or overlapping int he waves. To preventive the boards from floating away, I attached one end of a rope to the bottom of the board and the other one to the rocks buried in the sand. The rope was made long enough to allow the boards to drift naturally in the wives during the high tide.”
“The most important element of the of this work is the passage of time. I thus felt that the interval at which the photographs were shot had to be carefully considered. I first planned to shoot every ten minutes, but in actually seeing the land, sea and four boards, and hearing the sound of the waves, I could find almost no meaning in shooting the photographs at predetermined intervals. The actual scene determined the timing of the shots. The photographs are imprinted with the date and time and in some cases, even the second of their shootings. Reality had surpassed the conceptualization. And art had subsumed reality.”
And it carries one along, just like that.
This book can be taken in at one time or you can focus on the images or just the text. Either way, it rewards repeated viewing and reading: it energizes rather than fatigues and for that is deserving of your attention.
All images copyright Tatsuo Kawaguchi and courtesy of Shigeru Yokota Gallery and Taka Ishii Gallery