Saturday, March 02, 2013

'Message to Basho', Kiyosumi Garden

Thomas Joshua Cooper, Ritual Object 
(Message to Donald Judd and Richard Serra), Derbyshire, 1975
©Thomas Joshua Cooper, Courtesy Haunch of Venison 

This is one of eighteen Thomas Joshua Cooper photographs currently on show at the Haunch of Venison gallery in London.  The pervading darkness and silvery highlights on every blade of grass are typical of his work, but the subject here is unusual.  Normally the foregrounds of his more intense close-up landscapes feature rocks, trees or dense undergrowth.  Here we have an enigmatic (found?) object, illuminated in such a way that the light seems to emanate from within.  Nevertheless it fits with what Thomas A. Clark said about the third step in looking at a Thomas Joshua Cooper image, as mentioned here before. 'First we admire its scale and intensity, the 'deep blacks and velvety whites' of its surface.  Secondly we penetrate to the place itself - not some famous site, just an assemblage of trees, foliage, water.   Finally the viewer starts to feel the spirit of the place, which ‘will always be alien, unhuman, beyond our preconceptions.’'

Thomas Joshua Cooper, A Premonitional Work 
(Message to Caspar David Friedrich and Francis Frith), 
Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, Wales, 1992
©Thomas Joshua Cooper, Courtesy Haunch of Venison

Whatever the Ritual Object is, the title of the photograph refers us to the minimalist sculptures of Donald Judd and Richard SerraThis whole exhibition is based on Cooper's 'ongoing conversation' with predecessors and contemporaries: a Message to Paul Strand and Agnes Martin found in New Mexico, a Message to Minor White in Derbyshire, a Message to E.S. Curtis in The Trossacks.  The way these cultural reference points emerge from the interface between art and landscape reminded me of an artist Cooper has often shared gallery space with in Scotland, Ian Hamilton Finlay.  It also made me think of the way artists and writers stimulate Alec Finlay's work, as in his Scottish reworking of Basho's The Narrow Road to the Deep North. There is a small photograph of light filtering through leaves in the Thomas Joshua Cooper exhibition: 'Message to Basho', Kiyosumi Garden.  This late nineteenth century garden in Tokyo contains a monument with Basho's famous frog poem carved into it, but Cooper makes a more subtle connection with the poet in his haiku-sized image of an ordinary moment stilled, so that it seems at the same time transient and timeless.

Thomas Joshua Cooper, A Premonitional Work, The River Findhorn
(Message to Timothy H. O'Sullivan), 
Morayshire, Scotland, 1992
©Thomas Joshua Cooper, Courtesy Haunch of Venison

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