the environmental sculptor

3. Organicity − matter − nature: Kuetani’s “poetics”

Kuetani has a deep and sensitive love for stone. This is immediately evident to anyone looking at his sculpture, whether monumental or on a smaller scale. Because of his love of stone, he experiences sculpture in a wholly personal and direct way, creating it with his own hands, stubbornly and heroically, even it is when very large in size. He never delegates the work to others, as often happens even with famous sculptors. It is only in colossal works, as in the case of the Hill of Hope, that assistance is obviously necessary. His love of stone thus becomes the first evident feature of his sculpture, which is always conceived and experienced by Kuetani not only in terms of form and structure but also as material and an intimate relation with matter. The surfaces of his sculptures therefore possess extraordinary vitality and variety of treatment, which is not a question of the “skin” of the sculpture but its “body”. The surfaces can be smooth and gleaming or hammered, stretched out and relaxed or organically contracted like living bodies. A particular sensitivity is therefore developed in his sculpture towards the varying (also in terms of color) of the stone in ever-new combinations of Belgian black, Persian red, Carrara white, granite, and so on.

I stressed this aspect in a catalog presenting his one-man show in Ferrara in 1988.(3) On that occasion I sought to pinpoint the components of his plastic imagination and pointed out that he always tended in all his sculptures − and even more so in the large-scale environmental works − to create a situation of dialog. This dialog proves both to be structural, i.e. between forms, and to stem from the different characterization of the pieces of stone used as material. In other words, his sculptures tend to consist both in a fundamental relationship between two different forms and in differentiated treatment of stone. This is a dialog between what prove to be the most evident components of Kuetani’s sculptural imagination, both of which are connected with nature but in different ways. The first is in fact of an organic, corporeal, living and at times even soft nature, while the second is more structural, blunt, strong, rough and jagged. And these are components that correspond in his imagination to two active principles or forces of nature, nature itself being seen by Kuetani as a totality in which they are to be reunited in a deep and spontaneous whole that his sculpture is intended to suggest.

The relationship between these components plays a crucial role in Kuetani’s creative imagination, and it is through the achievement of a sometimes dramatic dynamic equilibrium between them that deep reconciliation is attained in the unity of man and nature, of man in nature. Kuetani sees this relationship in a dramatic, exuberant sense as the juxtaposition of two different situations that regard the deepest but opposing principles of life and reality. Glorification of this relationship is ultimately the deep-seated aspiration of this artist born in Hiroshima three years before the explosion of the atom bomb, brought up in a home “surrounded by mountains and near a river”, and sensitive “to the way the play of childhood varies instinctively according to the undulation of a mountain or the flowing and stagnation of a river”. (4)

Dialog is a fundamental component of Kuetani’s “poetics”. (5) Indeed, the dialog between the juxtaposed elements that characterize his sculpture (the organic and the structural, the complex and the primary) is also indicative of the substantial desire for dialog that his sculpture intentionally displays towards the viewer, towards whoever makes use of it in visual and tactile terms. This desire for dialog is naturally expressed above all in his environmental works, where the aim is to create a structured plastic environmental situation whose use, enjoyment and traversal is capable of restoring spontaneity to the relation between the metropolitan man of our day, with his own history and action-oriented energy (the man engaged in dialog by Kuetani’s urban environmental sculptures), and nature as evoked in its remote telluric power. This dialog is proposed by creating plastic situations that bring about a condition of displacement into a different temporal dimension that is somehow slowed down and brought back to the eternity of nature. This is what Kuetani’s environmental sculptures in urban settings are intended to suggest.

In their complex structure, these environmental sculptures thus seek a close dialog with the “user” by involving him or her in different ways in the imaginative dialectical juxtaposition of two contrasting plastic components − e.g. curved volumetric forms and a sharp, direct, brutal slash − hinting at such contrasting polarities of life and nature as male-female, day-night, water-earth. The goal is to restore a universal dynamic and dialectical equilibrium that is equivalent, for Kuetani, to a return to a primal dimension of nature. He recognizes his concern with nature as corresponding instinctively to Buddhist precept, and has specified that his goal in his environmental sculptures is “to give birth simultaneously to form with nature (stone) and human work and then cause it to return to nature like the sea and the mountain”. He is convinced of the need “to create an environment where man, sculpture and nature balance with and understand one another, where children would be eager to leap onto the sculptures, where hurried working people could find a little peace and quiet by being ushered into a time that stands still. Just as modern people also turn to Buddhist or Shinto temples in search of peace of mind, I would like them to feel the same spiritual need of spatial monuments capable of attesting to the human energies making it possible to live in our day.” (6)

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