Echoes of Home
Each house has its own tune. The echo of the family members’ voices, laughter and cry, small talk and heart-to-heart conversations, arguments and the silence that follows. The house is the sounding board in which these sounds expand and blend with one another, continuing to reverberate in the memory of its dwellers.
Over three decades now, metal has been Yamaguchi’s primary field of action. He began his artistic career in iron sculpture, shifted to creation of metal musical instruments, and in recent years has begun combining the two to explore the affinities between form, matter, and sound. The sculptures in the current exhibition span the various manifestations of metal: rusty metal sheet, wrought iron, and polished stainless steel. The sounds of a soft tune composed or adapted to each of the sculptures make the metal surfaces vibrate, transforming them into amplifiers.
The exhibition route begins with a series of works featuring a down sized archetypal house, where a mysterious dark opening guides one toward a secret interior. The music boxes in the sculptures are activated by the viewer, and their delicate magical sounds generate inner attentiveness to the infinite depth within, which conceals childhood memories and dreams.
The sculpture Empty House, the first in the series, was created following Yamaguchi’s participation in the Nakanojo Biennale (2015, 2017). During his visit to this outlying small Japanese town, he was exposed, for the first time, to a growing phenomenon of houses emptied of their occupants. The experience of a “ghost town” and the entry into one of these vacant houses, where the household altar was empty and bare,1left a profound impact on him: the soul that had dwelled in the house has evaporated. In the resulting sculpture, the roof opens up and splits into ultra-thin metal arms, stretched upward in prayer, reinstating the house with its tune.
In the Mt. Carmel forest fire in 1998, Yamaguchi’s home in Ein Hod burned down, too. The fire dissipated the sense of safety and stability that a house is supposed to provide, offering a reminder that a house, too, is merely a fragile, transient shell. Echoes of Home is centered on the image of a house typified by the simplicity and naïveté of children’s paintings, but the rusty texture of the thin metal layers calls to mind its fragile, ephemeral nature. The sounds accompanying the gaze penetrate its wall, erupting through cracks and tiny apertures in the metal sheets which seem to have been torn and healed again.
In the sculpture Stairs into a Dream, Yamaguchi invites the viewer to transcend the house’s physical essence. It presents a flat metal façade whose entire purpose is to be an opening from which stairs descend into the depths of the soul.2The house appears to be lying on its side, resting momentarily, as it were. While our gaze is turned outward, the sounds invite us to turn our ear inward and listen to the vibrations of the whispers and sounds emanating from the sculpture, echoing scenes from our lives.
Novelist Georges Perec discusses the house as a heart’s desire, a yearning for a corner in the world which forever remains a yearning: “I would like there to exist places that are stable, unmoving, intangible, untouched and almost untouchable, unchanging, deep rooted […]: My birthplace, the cradle of my family, the house where I may have been born […]. Such places don’t exist, and it’s because they don’t exist that space becomes a question […].I have constantly to mark it, to designate it. It’s never mine[…].Space melts like sand running through one’s fingers. Time bears it away and leaves me only shapeless shreds.”3According to philosopher Gaston Bachelard, the house is a place where one may dream and imagine; have daydreams, wakeful reveries. The passion for a home is a search for a place that no longer exists in reality, but is recreated in the imagination each time anew.4
Hints of a dreamlike floating living room are scattered in the gallery’s inner space: an empty grand piano made of rusty steel is suspended in the space (Empty Piano). The sounds heard do not emanate from its keys, but rather from the music box which invites the viewer’s imagination to sail away on its sound waves. The illuminated silhouette of a house in the sea of polished stainless steel is revealed through the piano’s raised cover.A Dreamer’s Chair‘s installed next to the piano, where the viewer may feel “at home” and revel in the sounds. The floating dining table (Breakfast Conversation), with two stainless steel plates at either end invites two viewers to set it in motion by means of a musical dialogue between music boxes. The viewers become the inhabitants of this transient home, which is neither here nor there. Their presence brings it back to life through the sounds.
The gaze gradually draws away, expanding and spreading to another sculpture attached to the wall, Searching for Home. Tiny figures, whose hearts are the image of a missing house, wander around, seeking their home, which is, in fact, an illuminated empty space underneath.
In the exhibition “Echoes of Home,” Nobuya Yamaguchi transforms the gallery into an intimate space, at once real and imaginary. He dissociates the house from its belonging to a specific place. As we move through the exhibition, our vantage point changes from that of viewers tothat of family members. One moment we observe a scaled down image of a house, and the next—we find ourselves inside that house. These transitions elicit contemplations: What is the essence of the home for us?
Yamaguchi turns our gaze away from the eternal search for a physical home, as the sounds guide us to listen to our inner home, the dwelling place of the soul, which we carry within us.
1.In Japanese Shinto tradition, the household altar (Kamidana) is used to worship the deities with offerings and domestic rites.
2.Carl Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious was formulated following a dream he had about a house in which he descended the stairs to the ground floor, through which he ultimately reached a cave.
3. Georges Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, ed. and trans. John Sturrock (London: Penguin, 1997 ), p. 91.
4. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969 ).