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Written by Takeshi HIRATA   
Published: July 06 2009

fig. 1 "flower snow" (1977); ‘Seiichi Niikuni Works 1952-1977’ (The National Museum of Art, Osaka, Shichosha, 2008), p137


“Crystals of snow are letters from heaven”.

     This phrase is quoted from an essay collection entitled “The Snow”,*1 which was written by a physicist, Ukichiro Nakaya. Risaku Suzuki is said to have created his “WHITE” series, which uses the motif of snow, inspired by this line of Nakaya’s. Snow flying down from the sky lies thick on the ground and covers the earth, throwing into stark relief the terrain covered with the white color of snow. In this scene, we can only see the white snow and parts of trees, mountain ranges, and the sky.

     There is one piece of modern poetry that expresses a view similar to that written above. Its title is “The Snow Flower” (1970), and it was written by Seiichi Niikuni, who is said to be the founder of the concrete poetry of Japan. In this work, there is a kanji character (Chinese character), “花 (Flower)” at the center of the work, which is surrounded by a number of other characters of “雪 (Snow)” placed on a grid throughout the paper (fig. 1). This work is a kind of visual poetry, in which the character, “花 (Flower)” stands out from the plane of the paper that is covered in orderly fashion with the characters of “雪(Snow)”. This gives us the same image of a single flower growing on the ground covered with snow. This poem, which was created using almost only one character, “雪(Snow)”, gives us an abstract and tension-filled image of a “landscape” which seems to be similar to that of Risaku Suzuki’s “WHITE”, doesn’t it?

fig. 2 Risaku Suzuki "WHITE" (2009); Type C-print, © Risaku Suzuki / Courtesy of Gallery Koyanagi

     Niikuni’s poem, in which characters are placed on a grid or used in a figurative way, tends to make it difficult for viewers to recognize its composition perceptually. They may ask “On what kind of material was this poem written? On paper? On a plate?”,*2 or “Was this work intended to be read or to be looked at?” In his poem, each character has its own meaning, while also playing a role as part of a poem (page), which may make viewers feel a kind of hesitation about how to approach the piece.

     Suzuki’s photograph also makes us confused about whether we are looking at the white color of snow in the real world or the white of printing paper. His “white” picture, which looks, at first glance, as if no image has been recorded, seems to ask viewers how they should consider a “photograph”. It can be said that the subject of Suzuki’s photo is not “snow” but “WHITE”, since we find that “snow” in his work does not only have the role of the subject but also forms part of his whole work, the “white” paper, which seems to be similar to that of the character in Niikuni’s poem (page).

     Nonetheless, like Niikuni’s poem, which continues to be a “poem” even if it is “looked at”, Suzuki’s picture remains a “photograph” in spite of being filled with the white color. In this way, “WHITE” can be said to have been created with the aim of challenging the limits and possibilities of photography, which is a form of media. In addition, like Niikuni, who has deliberately selected and composed the figures and images of characters to be used in his poem, Suzuki has turned a snow scene back to and settled in the white paper, while keeping his photo as it has been by giving it a detailed composition and concept. I suppose that such deliberate and tension-filled work created by Suzuki may remind us of the question about the poem and the page, which is prompted by Niikuni’s concrete poetry. Nevertheless, the reason Risaku Suzuki’s photo attracts us must be that we find some fluctuations in it, such as the fluctuating distance between the viewers and the subject of the picture, between the photo and the printing paper, and between the picture and the exhibit. Such ambiguity gives Suzuki’s photo a thrilling impression, which sometimes may evoke for us two different impressions simultaneously, as happens with snow, which gives us both a cold and a soft impression. The “WHITE” still lies thick within my mind without melting.
(Translated by Nozomi Nakayama)

“The Snow”, Ukichiro Nakaya (Iwanami Public Library, 1994), p.162
‘Seiichi Niikuni Works 1952-1977’, “The Rectangular Sanctuary - Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Seiichi Niikuni -”, Akira Tatehata (The National Museum of Art, Osaka, Shichosha, 2008), P.202
Last Updated on October 24 2015

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