Kohei NAWA, Japan
PixCell–Red Deer 2012
The new acquisition of a sculpture by Japanese artist Kohei Nawa is all that you could want: it is a glittering addition to the NGV foyer on St Kilda Road. The first impression is rather like a giant chandelier anchored upside down to the ground, an image emphasized by the splayed branches of the antlers totally covered in glittering glass and crystal spheres. This is part of the Bead series by Nawa, many of the series being animals or domestic appliances covered in glass, crystal and acrylic beads. This sculpture by a Japanese contemporary artist owes nothing to the aesthetics of traditional Japanese art with its devotion to simplicity and restraint. Rather than less is more, this sculpture screams more is more, but still manages to capture a unified elegance rather like the most beautiful of chandeliers.
Another view of this sculpture is that it resembles a giant Christmas decoration – the ultimate deer on the front lawn covered in lights. Is this a reflection of the other side of Japanese culture, the worship of kitsch and the appropriation of the tacky and ‘cute’ as defined by Hello Kitty and the work of Murakami. Certainly it captures the attention as demonstrated by groups of tourists gathering about and the sheer number of photos being taken on cameras and phones. This phenomenon rather proves the point of the sculpture as Tony Ellwood, the recently-appointed director of the National Gallery of Victoria, observed in an interview with arts journalist Dewi Cooke in The Age newspaper. “He is commenting on the way we’re looking at images through a sort of pixelated format these days,” he said. “So it’s a comment on that screen-based visual culture.”
This is in its own way a reflection of modern life, where more time is spent looking at an image through the filter of a tablet or a smart phone than looking at, and engaging with, the object itself, making, in this instance, an engagement with nature a filtered experience so that the body of the animal is now secondary to its glitter covered form. At first glance this sculpture is all about surface – our attraction to the sparkle and light as reflected through a myriad of glass and crystal spheres. Its depth lies in the contemplation of the opposite. Closer inspection reveals a stuffed red deer seen through the distortions of the clear spheres; a glimpse of hair, an eye barely visible. ‘Rudolph en gelée’ as I like to think of him is a striking, enticing and engaging piece of visual splendour. It celebrates the magnetism of glitter and bling while inviting us to reflect on nature through a filter. All in all it is a stunning work to locate in the foyer of the gallery, particularly when viewed against the other arresting example of light and nature through a prism – the water wall.