Loops and tangles of everyday objects – wires, strings and cables – dominate the opening room. Spiralling across walls, stretching across the floor and exploding out of various numbered and sequenced glass bottles. The obsessional use of repurposed forms highlight Jiro Takamatsu’s post-war context, but also raises the age-old question: what can be classed as art?
At first glance, The Temperature of Sculpture at the Henry Moore Institute raises questions about shapes and connection. The exhibition suggests the weaving of different beings through the activation of static, everyday objects, namely string, alongside the movement of people and their daily activities. Photographs of ‘The Yamanote Line Incident’ (1962) demonstrate how Takamatsu used public performance to question the fluidity of state and form. The captions explain how during the performance Takamatsu and fellow artist Natsuyuki Nakanishi unleashed a three-and-a-half kilometre rope from a travel bag to examine how it moved, casted shadows and changed form as the urban Yamanote railway and its passengers moved around it.
From the madness of the initial room, the following two rooms offer calmness; but this soon also requires more concentration and a recognition of manipulation. Following non-existent lines and ever-changing perspectives in ‘Perspective’ (1966) and ‘Chairs and Table in Perspective’ (1966), the sketch and resulting comparative sculpture, ask the viewer to question the limits of form but more importantly their own physical viewing and consequential processing of those forms.
The exhibition also demonstrates how Takamatsu’s sketched out thoughts and plans that were crucial for the realisation of physical forms. Tidy pen sketches and scribbles of dimensions and directions, like ‘Slack of Net’ (1969), are placed alongside large, perspective-bending displays such as ‘Slack of Cloth’ (1970). Such work again relies on repurposed material, a large square of scrupled cotton, to further the exploration of the manipulation of the viewer. The combination of recognisable sketches, alongside forms that you might otherwise ignore, allow viewers to recognise that Takamatsu’s definition of sculpture extends far from static information and a similarly static viewers whose purpose is to interpret it. Instead the temperature and state of the artwork is ever-changing in terms of definition, medium and purpose. Takamatsu’s exploration reflects contemporaries such as Roland Barthes and the ‘death of the author’, as here, the viewer, or more specifically the viewer’s eyes and movement, are more crucial to the art. Overall The Temperature of Sculpture leaves a wash of intrigue and confusion, as the optical illusions of childhood maths textbooks are sprung into view.
The Temperature of Sculpture, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, 13 July – 22 October 2017.
Saffron Ward is a History of Art student and writer based in Leeds