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Being towards nothing | Claire Robertson

“When I was little I thought that everyone had that desire… to be dead”

From a young age artist Haruka Sawa has been curiously aware of her own mortality. In the vein of Freud’s ‘death drive’, she experiences what she describes as a conflicting “desire to both experience death and continue living”. At age seventeen Sawa encountered a near death experience. Like in the movies, she recalls her memories unraveling backwards through time, moments from her life flashing before her eyes. If we understand the accumulation of such moments, strung together through time as life, then the concept of ‘forever’ seems somewhat absurd. Freud claims we have two basic instincts, life and death. As soon as we experience life we are capable of experiencing death. Sawa develops her creative practice around a formulae “death wish + physical experience towards the death + death experience from others = Death in everyday life”. This exploration of existential themes of time and temporality lie at the conceptual core of her art practice.

Formally trained in photography, Sawa approaches her installations as though they are photographic images. Rather than framing with a camera’s viewfinder, she uses lighting and the walls and floor of the gallery to compose what could be interpreted as three-dimensional images. Sawa works with a somewhat minimal, pared back aesthetic. Her installations employ everyday objects in a way that address a variety of formal and humanistic concerns, contrasting function and dysfunction, familiar and strange. For her first solo exhibition at Boxcopy, Sawa presents ‘Being towards nothing’ an installation of everyday objects and moulded candle wax. Banal everyday objects are posed awkwardly, their dysfunctional presence evoking a sense of unresolved circumstance or suburban surrealism. At the centerpiece of the installation stands a wooden chair with one leg replaced by a wax candle in the shape of a human foot and leg. This use of inanimate objects exhibiting human attributes evokes a fragile and surreal sensibility reminiscent of Robert Gobers’ readymade incarnations.

The title of the exhibition ‘Being towards nothing’ makes reference to the writing of German philosopher, Martin Heidigger. Heidigger writes that our existence is a temporary event that reflects the course between birth and death. However if temporality is the way we see time, he points out that it is not a linear view. Possibilities are essential to our understanding of time as we project our lives onto the horizon of our death. This somewhat liberating awareness of the transiency of being is what Heidegger calls “being-toward-death”. Sawa’s installation acts as a shrine to the everyday and this sense of transiency.

In a ritualistic manner Sawa invites visitors to light and or distinguish the candles until the wick burns out and the chair collapses into a pool of melted wax. In this process, the viewer becomes performer or instigator prompting a shift in the artwork. However we are presented with two conflicting motivations. Do we to preserve the candles, prolonging the process of the artwork? Alternatively do we accelerate the process in a desire to be present for the anticipated moment when the chair falls? The depleting wax candle literally signifies the passing of time, playing out a metaphor of life’s impermanence.

In this sense not only do Sawa’s installations explore concepts of transience and the everyday but they also touch on ideas concerning the permanency of the art object. Sawa toys with the idea of the death of the art object, questioning its definition as something to be protected and conserved. Her work facilitates this death, inviting viewers to partake in its execution. Like life, ‘Being towards nothing’ is temporal and indeterminate. While we can anticipate an end, we cannot predict how the process will play out or exactly when the end will come.

Within Sawa’s understanding of life and death as an accumulation of repetitive actions, objects trigger both actions and memory. However unless they are related to the consciousness of individual human beings, these objects have no inherent value or meaning. Sawa states “every action and object becomes a conduit to form our life”. In her previous installation ‘Conduit’ 2009 Sawa composed a continuous link of everyday objects joined by medical tubing and pieces of garden hose. The installation was carefully framed on pieces of wood print linoleum. A telephone, shoe and books were poised as though their movement had been frozen in time. Photographic documentation of the work gives the illusion that the objects are moving and have been captured frozen in time by the camera.

With such an interest in time and transience, it is significant that Sawa has based her art practice in photography, a medium that is concerned with capturing a moment in time. Sawa often describes her work as having a Fluxus approach where experimentation is evidenced in the documentation of art as an event. In ‘Still Motion’, a series of photographs from 2008, Sawa documented herself running through various everyday locations such as the parking lot or library. She states “if the extreme stillness in our life is the death, then the act of running is the extreme representation of life”.

Throughout the duration of the exhibition, Sawa will video record the process of audience interaction and the different states that the chair structure passes through. This footage will then be played back in the gallery space. This replaying of moments that have passed is reminiscent of Sawa’s personal experience of memories flashing through her head when confronted with death. In this way the installation is in a continuous state of near death, the moments of its life being replayed over and over.

At first Sawa’s outlook might seem morbid or destructive. However through her photographs and installations, Sawa highlights the complex beauty and fragility of human nature. In the artist’s words, “being is time and time is finite”. Thus if death is our only certainty, everything else is an endless possibility. In anticipating our inevitable death, we cannot know exactly how the chair will fall, however perhaps it is the journey that is just as, if not more fundamental.

by Claire Robertson

© Copyright 2010. Boxcopy and the writers and artists. Not to be reproduced without permission from Boxcopy.