'Ever-lasting Nature, Ever-changing Cities'
On March 11, 2011, Japan experienced a natural disaster of an unprecedented scale. The coastal towns, built over many years of hard work, were engulfed in an instant by gigantic tsunami waves. Many of us came to realize that, instead of fighting nature, we must find ways to live with it.
Artists Naoto Tanno and Masato Shigemori grew up in the same generation but in contrasting environments in Japan. With artists’ sensitivity and perceptiveness, they offer important insights into the relationship between cities and nature and how that affects our lives.
Tanno, who grew up amidst the vast nature of Hokkaido, finds warmth even in man-made, cold objects and structures in urban cities—which some may consider the exact opposite of nature. Shigemori, who lives in an urban environment, constantly feels the presence of nature all around him. He has great respect for the resilience of nature to revitalize itself after great destruction, asserting its eternal presence.
Tanno captures and expresses through his art the quiet, almost unnoticeable humanity hiding in man-made objects and the energy it emits. His initial encounter with a metropolis—of seeing the bright city lights against the dark sky of Tokyo for the first time—had a great impact on him and it has been a driving force behind his art. Having lived surrounded by the great nature of Hokkaido, Tanno appreciates not only the beauty of nature but also its destructiveness. People typically perceive only coldness and artificiality in city lights and other man-made structures. Tanno believes, however, that city lights bring people together and give them warmth—a different kind of warmth than from nature.
Tanno depicts urban landscapes using semi-monotone colors and a style that, on first glance, appears minimalist and metallic. But his true intention is to bring out the warm, organic presence that he subliminally perceives in the city environment. This exhibition features Tanno’s trademark style: a mechanical, urban landscape drawn in a single stroke—the single line representing the humanity connecting nature with urbanity. Tanno asks each viewer to visualize his or her own personal landscape through his art. Both cities and art, Tanno believes, are created by us through our imagination.
Masato Shigemori, on the other hand, questions the destructive impact of urban development on the environment. If humans did not exist, the world’s animals, plants, and other wildlife would be thriving, facing no threat from human activities. Shigemori argues that people, animals, and plants are all living creatures with a common origin: the earth. Cities developed by man should be viewed as equivalent to nests built by animals; the juxtaposition between urban and nature is merely a human concept. The purpose of Shigemori’s work is to celebrate the beauty of harmony and coexistence between nature and human creation.
Many of the motifs in Shigemori’s art are elements of the natural environment, such as plants and vegetation. On a closer look, however, one may notice that most are a product of his imagination. Shigemori uses his art to create imaginary plants and characters and to voice protest against the world in which the environment is on the brink of losing the battle against human civilization on some fronts—an otherwise difficult act to accomplish in real life.
As a way of paying respect to all creatures on earth that go through the cycles of life and death, this exhibition features Shigemori’s works that use nature as a motif.
While plants and flowers appear vulnerable and frail, the power of nature is far beyond what we humans can even begin to imagine. In contrast, cities are far more fragile—they simply wither when neglected or abandoned. This exhibition features two contrasting views of Tanno and Shigemori, as expressed through their art, on how humans can coexist with nature.