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Ren-Shiki-Tai 1973 is an installation consisting of a series of wooden planks tied together with wire. Six cement blocks support the conjoined planks, which are configured in a shape with four roughly equal sides. Seen from above, three of the lines correspond to the sides of a square while the fourth line is positioned slightly off centre, providing a small opening into the enclosure mapped out by the structure. Bricks rest on top of the construction at the corners where the lines of planks meet or overlap. At certain points in the construction there is an ambiguity as to which parts of the installation are supporting each other.
Much of Suga’s early work no longer exists as it was site-specific, ephemeral and performative. This work is a reconstruction made by the artist in 1987 of his original 1973 piece. The artist’s gallery has provided the following description of the materials used in the work: ‘According to the artist, some parts of the work – pedestals, bricks, cement blocks – are ready-made articles. Six pedestals were used in his original work in 1973 and he reused those to remake one in 1987 … Two of the six pedestals had been signed by the artist in 1973.’ (Terumi Takahashi, email to Tate curator Frances Morris, 23 February 2010.)
The work was first shown at the 8th Japan Arts Festival at the Tokyo Central Museum in 1973. Following its remaking in 1987, it has been included in a number of exhibitions including Art in Japan since 1969: Mono-ha and Post Mono-ha at the Seibu Museum of Art in 1987; Matter and Perception 1970: Mono-ha and the Search for Fundamentals which toured to a number of venues in Japan in 1995; and Mono-ha: Search for Art at the Fukuoka Art Museum in 2006.
Ren-Shiki-Tai is an important early work by Kishio Suga, who was one of the major proponents of Mono-ha, the Japanese art movement of the late 1960s and 1970s that focused on the physical and material qualities of objects. Suga’s work is characterised by the use of simple, everyday materials to create particular physical and conceptual structures. In 1970 he propped open two windows in the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto with pieces of timber. This work, entitled Mugen jokyo (The Situation of Infinity), drew attention to the connection between inside and outside. Ren-Shiki-Tai extends this interest in interiority and exteriority by presenting an enclosure with openings that suggest routes of transit between two realms.
Suga frequently examines the notion of the ‘boundary’ in his work. In addition to the physical distinction of spaces and the perceptual differences between materials, this idea of ‘boundary’ relates specifically to the distinction between the material world of objects and the intellectual and emotional world of the viewer. An important aspect of Suga’s work is the interaction between these two zones, one physical, the other cerebral and emotional. Ren-Shiki-Tai is one of the first articulations of this interest in ‘boundary’ in the artist’s practice, and is regarded as one of the major pieces of his early career.
In keeping with the artist’s intention, the work’s title is a phonetic transliteration of the original Japanese title, which can be roughly translated as ‘Related Cognitive Piece’ or ‘Related Cognitive Body’. In a text describing the work, the artist has stated:
The thing (mono) cannot exist as an isolated single body. Each singular piece is related and must rely on each other, then the reality of the thing appears. When the related objects are put in sequence, the value of each is realised. Cognitive ability recognises and specifies the thing. The sequentiality of each individual piece expresses the state between the things and also between the thing and cognition.
(Kishio Suga, unpublished text, December 2008.)
Kishio Suga, exhibition catalogue, Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo and Tokyo Gallery 2006.
Kishio Suga and Toshiaki Minemura, Kishio Suga: 1968–1988, Tokyo 1988, reproduced p.161.
Mono-ha – School of Things, exhibition catalogue, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge 2001.
January 2009; updated February 2010