The Cut of the OpaqueTommaso Trini

Ōki Izumi has asked herself if, and how, the flowing, glass sculpture she has constructed over the past ten years can be defined as a form of conceptual art. This is an interesting question, particularly relevant insofar as ordinary definitions of architecture, object, event, or even the environment (particularly if taken individually) do not adequately define her work. It is a compact unit; it has a labyrinthine structure.
No doubt something is taking place here. Ōki cuts her panes of glass, shaping the signs, the images, and the constructions which we later see. This action of cutting delineates the procedure behind the work, in which the transparent material is virtually sprayed with the movement of opaque clefts. The cracks are alive with flickering shadows, my gaze contributing to the variations in an interactive encounter with the reflective planes. The cut continues within the viewer the way a dance describes a labyrinth; in Ōki Izumi’s art an event is prolonged and extended within us. In addition, they are obviously objects – art objects – and they are overtly related to architecture. Likewise, it goes without saying that we are confronted in her work with an environmental scale. Ōki’s early works conformed to architectural models – houses, factories, temples – soon becoming room installations, true environments. I see in the work of this young Japanese sculptor (who has worked many years in Milan) an advanced form of art, a complex art: it is “not-just-sculpture”.
Nevertheless, we are left to identify what her actually is. I can say that Ōki Izumi’s sculpture is at once architecture, event, environment and object, but shouldn’t exaggerate it’s unlimitedness: this would strip her work of its singularity. The extraordinary flexibility which allows each work to cross from “art object” to “design object” appears very singular to my Western eyes. The artist accomplishes this feat without any apparent contradiction, and without necessarily complying to characteristically Western notions of “low” art or craft. If anything, it is when Ōki forms a glass sculpture with iron table-legs that she is exerting the greatest effort. The relationship between her sculpture and architecture is not purely iconic; it is not simply the miniaturization in glass of an Escher-like labyrinth. In the well-chosen words of Pierantonio Volpini, “Ōki Izumi’s work is tangential to the architectural sphere, exploring form as a volume in space, akin to a container for mental space”. The objects or parts of objects (such as the supple “Japanese wave” supporting a prototypical table) she produces have their bodies in the design sphere and their souls in the art sphere. Such flexibility is perhaps related to the medium itself ― glass ― but also to the artist’s Japanese background and education. In Japan, techne and aesthetics have never been separated through idealization.

My answer, therefore, would be yes: Ōki’s is indeed a singular and subtle form of conceptual art. I like her way of visualizing a wealth of images to represent a water- filled aquarium as a solid volume, both of equal weight. I like the simplicity with which she freezes the motion of a fish or a plant within the static, almost crystallographic, block of glass, with its multiplicity of reflections.
Ōki Izumi’s conceptual constructivity participates in a variety of modes of activity and penetrates the layers of optical and intellectual perception (leading us to penetrate them ourselves) to the rhythm of repeated process: cutting glass. The cutting internalizes the figures within the material itself: an intellectual cut-up beyond “do it yourself”. The cuts are hand worked but nevertheless mathematically wrought. It is enough, however, to describe the abstract signs of the airy, serpentine volutes simply as what they appear to be: the Möbius stripe. Ōki’s constructions penetrate all this to find their identity elsewhere: in the purely conceptual dimensions of representational models through which we filter all things close to us and far away.
The transparency appeals to many; I prefer to the opaqueness. Ōki’s work is a detector of opaqueness. Indulging in the idea of transparency has rhetorical implications; an ecological, if not superhuman, rhetoric. One need not have Superman’s X-ray vision to see through the crystalline simulation of Ōki’s sculpture. Furthermore, there is no transparency that is not illusive, which does not verge on the edge or on a catastrophe. The sense of fragility experienced in her sculpture provokes a psychological desire to shatter them: anyone morbosely attracted to glass or ceramic sooner or later is tempted to smash these materials.
The slope of the panes of glass making up the images and the mind-boggling cut where we direct our gaze to receive volatile impressions of figures (or letters) imprisoned for ever, lead us to react rather than to relax. Ōki Izumi’s cuts refer far more to Thom’s theory of catastrophe than to Buddhist enlightenment. The transparency in this case acts primarily as the framework of opaqueness, of all the obtuse things we meet up against. The artist arranges the infinitesimal pattern of the cut for us to see into the glass, not through the mirror.
“I’ve always liked transparency very much”, Ōki Izumi recalls of her childhood and of her first experiences in painting on glass. One day her teacher Iwasaki chose to stop teaching her oil painting and told Ōki to “work in three dimensions which are more real”. Towards 1981, having moved to Italy, she began to develop musical sculpture with glass and fake wood (because she absolutely does not like real wood and marble). Finally, one day in 1988, she created “an idea of death I’ve had since I was little”: a glass construction within a box. This work, with its reflection upon reflection, created an endless hole, a simulation of a precipitous cliff. Today artist says that “transparency is deceiving” and, naturally, she plays with this very deception.
An increasing number of artists, particularly women artists, work with glass. Among them, Cloti Ricciardi, explained her fascination and inclination to the material in these terms: “perhaps glass implies an idea of purity”. With its implication of virtual motion, illusionary figures and the phenomenon of opaqueness, Ōki’s work ushers purity in through a wound. Through this indispensable purity she opens a path to understanding, or at least, she allows understanding to transpire.

January 1991