Transcendence and the incorporation of time by art

Sculptor and researcher Satoru Kitago (left), and
expert in cultural economics Akitoshi
Edagawa, both from the Tokyo University of the Arts

In addition to having a programme dedicated to the natural sciences, the second phase of the Intercontinental Academia in Nagoya also had a workshop on arts, on March 15. The exhibitors were two members of the Tokyo University of the Arts: Akitoshi Edagawa, an expert in cultural economics expert, and professor of global art studies and curatorial practices, and Satoru Kitago, sculptor and director of research.

In his presentation, Edagawa commented on the relations of the artistic act with the transcendence of time, the communicative role of art, and the difference between art and science.

He made a distinction - in relation to time - between the performing arts (performances, happenings, and music, dance and theater presentations) and those called fine arts (painting, printmaking, drawing, sculpture, photography, etc.).

To Edagawa, the performing arts can be called time arts once that the artist and the audience are in direct contact during the artistic act, while in the fine arts the public has contact with the artwork after its implementation.

But even music - considered under the aspect of composition - transcends time thanks to musical notation, although future executions can be distinguished from the original composer's intentions because "many ideas are incorporated by interpreters and passed on to subsequent generations", according to the researcher.

"イザナギ イザナミ" (2012), by
Satoru Kitago

He also stressed that one should consider the relative transcendence of time in aspects of the performing arts made possible by the technological capabilities of image and audio recording.

Cultural differences

The transcendence of time manifests itself differently in the artistic traditions of East and West. In the West, works and artistic procedures are transmitted in time through text, notations and other resources, which is not common in the East, according to Edagawa, citing the set of traditional Japanese arts called gei-do, where there are no records and new practitioners learn to perform from those who master them.

A work of art incorporates aspects of the time when it was produced, but it is understood and appreciated in the future from a new sensibility, said Edagawa. This is the reason to the fact that sometimes a past work of art is considered better than one of the present, which does not happen in science, "because it is believed that it qualitatively progresses with time".

He commented that English poet and philosopher William Hazlitt (1778-1830), when addressing this difference two hundred years ago, said that scientific studies evolve while art does not. Edagawa considers, however, that art can become more sophisticated over time through the incorporation of scientific and technological resources.

Melencolia 1, by Albrecht Dürer

Incorporation of time

To Kitago, each work of art tells a story through spatial and temporal situations, thus expressing its attachment to past, present and future. "Moreover, when presented to the public in different places and times, it gives rise to new stories drawn from the experiences of the observers."

He illustrated his presentation with images of his own work as well as of German painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Swiss sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), and Spanish painter and sculptor Antonio López.

Kitago commented on Dürer's Melencolia 1: "We can see a comet in the sky, a geometric shape, and a character that handles a compass with a melancholic expression. Interestingly, recent scientific articles report the presence of amino acids in comets. Amino acids are components in the origin of life and their crystallographic form is quite similar to the one observed in the picture. Perhaps the character was thinking about the future of humanity and life on Earth."

The sculptor related this interpretation with his concern to express "the question about where people came from and where they go" when producing sculptures with human forms.

Still on Dürer's piece, Kitago showed a picture of Cube (1934-35), one of the abstract sculptures of Giacometti: "It resembles a mask, a face and also the geometric shape present in the work by Dürer. I believe that Giacometti was interested in Melencolia 1."

When showing a photograph of another work by Giacometti, Femme Leoni (1947), Kitago said that he, as the Swiss artist, seeks to emphasize the space, the human figure and the passage of time in his sculptures.

Cube (1934-5) and Femme Leoni (1947),
by Alberto Giacometti

As examples of explicit representation of the incorporation of time into works of art, Kitago cited López's works. The sculpture Hombre y mujer (1968-1994) represents a couple with young bodies and heads of aged people. The painting Gran Vía (1974-1981) shows the changes that occurred in a Madrid corner during the years it took to be painted. The painting La Cena (1971-1980) shows the changes in the face of a woman during the nine years in which the work was made.

Kitago said that the goal of having discussed the works of López and Giacometti in his presentation was to emphasize that the artwork has not only the economic side: "I believe that artists and researchers should not pursue only economic aspects. The main goal should be trying to express and pursue reality. What I tell my students is to create sculptures with a philosophy, so maybe in a hundred, two hundred years, people continue to receive their message."


Commenting on Kitago's exhibition, Edagawa said that "it is possible that the message of an artist is transmitted one hundred, two hundred years after their death, but society will have changed a lot and thus not always the real intentions of the artist will be understood."

He asked the opinion of Kitago on artworks done by teams in studios under the guidance of a master artist, as in the case of the works by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, by Raphael and Da Vinci in the Renaissance or those of when the Buddhist culture emerged in Japan.

Hombre y mujer (1968-94), Gran Vía (1974-81) and La Cena (1971-80), by Antonio López

Despite being a defender of an artist's personal and manual work, Kitago sees no problem in production teams if necessary: "The large works of the Buddhist culture necessarily had to be made that way."

At the time of the workshop a series of exhibitions took place in Japan, including Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). Kitago said that an interesting activity in both exhibitions was to try to find out which works had been produced by the artists themselves and which were of members of their studios.

Edagawa commented that the insight to this requires a certain capacity of the public and asked Kitago how artists could contribute to this. The important thing, according to Kitago, is that familiarity with art begins in childhood. "I do not think art is difficult to understand, but you need to interact with it from an early age to acquire an artistic sense that provides more pleasure with the works"

Martin Grossmann, former director of the IEA and member of the Intercontinental Academia's scientific committee, said that the works by López commented by Kitago reminded him of The Large Glass (1915-23), a work that Marcel Duchamp took a long time to produce, incorporating the passage of time in it.

The Large Glass (1915-23),
by Marcel Duchamp

According to Grossmann, Duchamp has incorporated the viewer, including the non-specialist one, to the art system. "This is necessary in contemporary art. We need to think about the reception of art and how it affects one's sense." He wanted to know the opinion of Edagawa and Kitago on this issue in the Japanese context.

Kitago agreed with Grossmann on the change in the observer's role introduced by Duchamp and said that art has to stimulate the viewer to have new expectations. To Edagawa, the major issue in the artist-audience relationship is communication: "Although contemporary art is often ambiguous about what it wants to express, the artist must make an effort to communicate their thoughts and their philosophy. There must be the intention of trying to communicate."






Photos (from the top): IAR / Nagoya University; Satoru Kitago; Reproduction; Alberto Giacometti Foundation; Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti; Antonio López; Philadelphia Museum of Art.