Space in Time
Hiroshi Sugimoto Architectural Series was at the Kerlin Gallery 5 May - 3 June 2000
Review by Niamh Ann Kelly
The current exhibition of Hiroshi Sugimoto's latest work, Architectural Series (1997-1998) at the Kerlin Gallery Dublin, comprises fifteen photographic works. He has kept constant his practice of producing black and white photographs achieved through long exposures and presented them once again in a series. However, at first glance it seems like Sugimoto has tricked us: anyone familiar with his work will expect the trademark sharp prints. In this series the focus is not accurate, the composition no longer ordered and centralized. His previous series included Seascapes and Night Seascapes; Theatres and Drive-in Theatres; Wax Museums and Dioramas. All were twinned in themes, all re-constructions of differing realities.
Then came The Hall of Thirty-Three Bays, a series exploring the buddhist sculptures, Kannon figures, housed in the famous shrine in Kyoto. This series it seemed stood alone - but now in Architectural Series Sugimoto has provided its twin. Where the buddhist figures were portrayed to reflect the thousand-and-one that stood in the temple, they were presented so as to seem devoid of any particular surrounding. The temple famous for its entirety was imaged by Sugimoto in its essence, by the contrived depiction of the statues en masse which meticulously avoided any direct reference to the building's interior or structure. Here again, in his Architectural Series, the buildings themselves are denied a comprehensive viewing in preference for more challenging images. What makes Architectural Series stand apart from the main body of his previous work is a purely visual concern: the images are insistently blurred and, for the most part, uncharacteristically lacking in his typical sense of symmetry. This is however on closer inspection in keeping with a recurrent theme of his work to date, as Sugimoto continues to upset any comfortable idea of perception. It is the blurring of these images that becomes the device with which he subverts our perception of both spatial and temporal realities. The subversion of perception itself is the means he employs to explore his theme.
Through time, architecture has become a structured historical symbol for discerning the progression of a society or civilization at any given moment. As the architectural works of past ages and the present time are often the most imposing of man-made constructs, they are also the most enduring: our buildings regularly outlive us. Sugimoto has explored some of the most famed buildings of modern architectural design and re-constructed them through presenting blurred details. The photographs show fragments of buildings, unexpected aspects and angles. The architecture of the modern period, lauded for its clean lines - straight or rounded - precise angles or clear curves, is in Sugimoto's work distorted through blurring focus. He redresses a common conception of modern values in a similar vein to his exploration of the buddhist shrine in Kyoto. The building as a constructed whole is consistently ignored, the tangential is instead centralized as the main subject. We see exterior details presented vaguely as if through a haze of time. We are inside some of the buildings, though here our sense of space is interrupted by soft shadowy edges compounded by shafts of strong light, reminders of the world outside the empty interior.
Interestingly, the titles of the works tell us the buildings and the architects while the photographs seem to negate this information, denying the buildings their typical identity as strongholds of the modern ethos, an ethos centred on solidity and utility of presence. The works seem to re-present the buildings in the titles as softly blurring dreamlike spaces that speak not of steel and cement, but rather of the instability beneath the surface. In photographing the buildings thus as potentially transient structures Sugimoto has, as he has done in previous series, developed upon his constant theme of re-presenting and altering realities. In Architectural Series it is the conception of the modern as an enduring value that seems to come into question. The buildings are still standing, though they will no doubt start to look quite different, in time.