REVIEW: “YUTAKA MATSUZAWA” AT MIDWAY CONTEMPORARY ART, 2019
Long, pink ribbons hang from the ceiling, dividing the gallery into distinct spaces. These banners occlude parts of the installation, obscuring some elements from a quick survey of the space. This is Yutaka Matsuzawa’s invitation to see beyond the veil and to move through the work. Many grids comprise the exhibition. On one wall hangs "Psi Corpse", a grid of prints — editions of identical, vertical lines of text arranged in three rows of three. Beyond another banner lies a grid of large, paper squares — "The Nine Meditation Chambers" arranged three-by-three on the ground. On the adjacent walls are several small frames of gridded paper with a title, a parable, and a set of instructions. You must move in close to read the inscriptions. "Contemplate this paper as..." each begins. Earth. Water. Fire. Wind. Now space. Now consciousness. Now time. Then, Nirvana. At the Southeast wall of the gallery is a large, framed print with a poem. It is another contemplation to imagine a white circle. At the gallery’s exit another prompt reveals itself, hung above the doorway where it couldn’t be seen initially. It is the final incantation from the artist: an instruction to imagine his death, to regard it as your own, and to understand it as the same death which has occurred and will occur for every person — past, present, and future.
Yutaka Matsuzawa’s call to action remains delicate and gentle, even with his final suggestion to meditate on death. Perhaps, like all difficult pills to swallow, confronting mortality is a medicine that goes down easier with a spoonful of sugar. The work is commanding, yet in a whisper. The pink ribbons, though dividing and obstructing the work, gently beckon you to move through the gallery exactly as Matsuzawa intended. The spiritual directive of the work is evident in its subject matter, but also in its visual and spatial embodiments. The show’s repetitive grids are reminiscent of mantra, numerology, and mystical diagrams. The thin sheets of paper meticulously arranged on the floor compel you move with reverence. The small graph papers, with their subtle blue grids, have been delicately marked with penciled instructions, welcoming you closer as the work draws you (with)in.
Yutaka Matsuzawa was a poet and architect-turned conceptual artist. As part of the 1960s Anti-Art and Non-Art movements in Japan, he created written works on paper that insist on the invocation of an immaterial artwork. This movement defied art-making as mere market labor and resisted producing artistic objects to be consumed. Detailed in "Psi Corpse", Matsuzawa called his approach to conceptual art "non-sensory painting." Informed by quantum physics, he says non-sensory painting is "thus invisible to the eye. Therefore, even if you try, you cannot find it anywhere. Yet it is positively and absolutely shown in this exhibition." "Psi Corpse" is at once a thesis and a poem.
Experiencing the work is both intimate and imaginal. Matsuzawa’s contemplations, though delicate pencil inscriptions on paper, conjure up vivid internal images and experiences. The work makes clear what is true, though often esoteric, across contemporary art: the artwork is empowered and enlivened by your participation in it. Matsuzawa asks directly for more than a passive, observational gaze and experientially engages his viewers. The minimal installation does a lot with a little, and its interactive intention opens a portal for lush encounters with one’s inner world. Explicit engagements with the mind and imagination create a fourth dimensional, deeply personal space for the artwork to inhabit. I can only imagine that this is what Yutaka Matsuzawa means with the title of his book, Quantum Art Manifesto.