Koji Yamamoto | Garden of Emptiness

Japanese sculptor and Zen monk Koji Yamamoto invites us to delve into the hidden nature of things, into the transformations that take place between form, matter, and energy.
The series Phlogiston, which he began creating upon becoming a monk and is currently on view at the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale in northern Japan, consists of sculptures of organic forms carved in wood, reminiscent of internal organs or plant structures. Its title refers to the invisible substance believed by early scientists to be released during combustion. Firing introduces unexpected changes in Yamamoto’s sculptures, which may seemingly damage their integrity. In practice, however, the beauty of the charred cracked sculptures is only enhanced.
In the Garden of Emptiness, a site-specific installation created during the artist’s stay in Israel, fragile shells of white flowers hover in the air on round plates, floating between heaven and earth, alluding to the theme of disappearance. Yamamoto braids flowers from straw. He covers them with a thin layer of porcelain, which in the firing process turns into a white glaze, consuming the straw flowers. The resulting shell preserves the traces of the flower, whose previous form of life turned into ashes.
Another space features hung glass works, with paper cuts interspersed between them, simulating a microscopic view of plant cells. Here too, the firing continues the act of creation. The heat of the fire browns the paper, leaving its imprint around the images like a halo, and echoing their transience.
In Zen-Buddhist philosophy, the dualistic notion of life and death, form and emptiness, is replaced by observation of the constant, endless transformations of living organisms in nature. Yamamoto, too, practices non-attachment when he fires his sculptures in a kiln at a temperature that takes them to the limit of their previous formal and material existence, as a reminder of the decay awaiting all forms of life over time. Do they cease to exist or rather assume other forms of being?

Shir Meller-Yamaguchi, curator