Noriyuki Haraguchi

Bussei III


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Not on display

Noriyuki Haraguchi born 1946
Steel and oil
Object: 180 × 4908 × 3692 mm, 5120 kg
Presented by the artist and McCaffrey Fine Art, New York 2013, accessioned 2016


Bussei III, meaning ‘Character of Matter’ or ‘Character of Materiality’ in Noriyuki Haraguchi’s native Japanese, is an oil pool contained within a rectangular steel frame; the surface of the oil is opaque and highly reflective. Used oil has played an important role in Haraguchi’s work since the early 1970s and can be found in many works including his oil table titled Matter and Mind 1971. Haraguchi made his first large oil pool for documenta 6 in 1977. The works have since been exhibited in different venues and contexts worldwide, including P.S.1, New York in 1987, the National Museum of Art, Osaka in 1990, the Atami Biennale, Japan in 1999 and the Kunst Station Sankt Peter, Cologne in 2008.

Despite the often monumental scale of these installations, they employ a simplified formal language of mostly geometrical forms. Nothing distracts the viewer from the primary material, oil, which appears overwhelmingly vast, deep and dark and yet has a fine, shiny surface. The title Bussei has been used by Haraguchi for a number of oil pool works. The Japanese word is composed of the Chinese characters ‘butsu’ for ‘thing’ or ‘object’ and ‘sei’, which can be translated as ‘character’ or ‘essence’. This title, along with the fact that Haraguchi has used it for different types of works, emphasises his continuing interest in the essential material quality of objects. He has defined his artistic aim as one of ‘objectivity’, commenting; ‘My aim is to objectify horizontality, verticality, materiality, reflections, fluids, containers, physical phenomena of all kinds including myself (body, feelings and thoughts)’ (quoted in Friedel 2001, p.9).

The space surrounding the oil pools is also an important part of these works, as their shiny surfaces reflect the architecture of their venue – be it a church in Cologne or a bamboo garden in Atami. Curator Helmut Friedel, who authored a catalogue raisonné of Haraguchi’s work in 2001, compared these works to the tradition of highly reflective lacquer surfaces used in Japanese architecture (Friedel 2001, p.7). Both Haraguchi’s oil pools and the lacquer architecture can be viewed as manifestations of the Japanese philosophy of space as ‘ma’, literally the ‘in-between’: the works come into existence through an interaction between form and non-form. This perception of space is intertwined with the work’s temporal character. The oil pools are in constant flux due to the changing conditions of their surroundings, not least the light. Furthermore most of the Bussei works are transient insofar as they are dismantled after being exhibited.

The impermanence of the Bussei works reflect the tradition of Japanese Shinto and Buddhist culture. Unlike the Western conception of architecture as durable and permanent, in Japan spaces and buildings are constantly changed and reconfigured. This might achieved through the use of sliding doors and screens, or like Shinto shrines, by regularly demolishing and re-building even the most sacred structures.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, Haraguchi was involved in the Japanese movement ‘Mono-ha’, which translates as the ‘arrangement of things’. Using raw and often industrial materials, such as steel, aluminium, glass and oil, Haraguchi’s wall works, sculptures and installations are centred on the essential character and presence of their material and the viewer’s perception of these.

Further reading
Helmut Friedel, Noriyuki Haraguchi. Catalogue Raisonné 1963–2001, Munich 2001.
Noriyuki Haraguchi: Society and Matter, exhibition catalogue, BankART 1929, Yokohama 2009.

Lena Fritsch
May 2013

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