Towards a New Climate Art: Kei Iwaizumi Aims For a “Data Sansui” – “Kei Iwaizumi Exhibition: What it is I know not…” Reviewed by Miki Manabu

Toward a New Climate Art: Kei Iwaizumi Aims For a "Data Sansui(Landscape Painting)"

Exhibition Image

Kei Iwaizumi Exhibition
“What it is I know not…” 

From Wed, April 21st through Sun, May 2nd, 2021

Kei Iwaizumi is both an artist using, and a researcher of, Japanese painting materials. He did his doctoral thesis on animal-based glue and worked as the director of Warehouse TERRADA’s art materials lab, PIGMENT TOKYO, before teaching at Kyoto University of Arts, his alma mater.

Iwaizumi and I first became friends in 2017 when he and his friend, painter Kengo Nakamura, invited me to give a talk with Iwaizumi at PIGMENT TOKYO. At the end of 2014, I co-edited a book with the photographer and author Chihiro Minato, “Colorscape of France” [1], which is a color analysis of 40 French photographs taken by Minato. After reading the book, Iwaizumi and Nakamura asked me to come and participate in a talk on the relationship between color, geography, and art materials in Japan.

The genre Nihonga(Japanese-style paintings) was created after the Meiji era (1868-1912) by categorizing various schools of Japanese painting, such as the Kanō school, Tosa school, Maruyama school, and Ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints and paintings), as a concept to confront Western painting. Western painting had already been modernized, and as a mobile tableau, it had been separated from the church and specific spaces. Up until the Meiji era, Japanese paintings had been displayed in the tokonoma (alcoves) of reception rooms of temples, shrines, and even samurai houses, where they were incorporated into doors and traditional window frames. The term “Nihonga” was coined to describe the purified form of artistic expression, and what it represented was subsequently replaced by framed artworks instead of hanging scrolls, fusuma (sliding doors) and folding screens. Thus, even if the space in which it is displayed is not as ideal as the typical gallery’s “white cube,” art is generally no longer integrated into the design of a house. At the time of that change, Nihonga can be said to have modernized considerably.

Later, under the guidance of artists such as Fenollosa and Okakura Tenshin, pigments were improved, the Western theory of color harmony using complementary colors was introduced, and finally an impressionist style of drawing known as “Mōrōtai” (obscure body) which captured the unseen essence of a setting, was developed. As the motifs became more and more like those of Western paintings, the only difference from them became the painting materials. The painting medium is one of the few elements that express the identity of Nihonga, and this talk event was an attempt to discover the characteristics of Japanese painting that have been lost through the painting medium.

Exhibition Image

Utilizing the concept of  “Geography of Color” proposed by the French colorist Jean-Philippe Lenclos, whom I introduced to them, we discussed at the event how to reconsider Japanese painting via the geographical perspective of Japan. Lenclos had once gathered soil from all over France and pointed out that differences in the colors influenced various regional color designs used by local artisans. [2] However, there had to be a further explanation. 

In my color analysis of French landscape photographs for the book, “Colorscape of France,” I discovered laws of combining colors that make good use of polychromatic hues and complementary colors. However, I could tell that utilizing a similar color scheme to France’s in Japan would be dull and would not look good. Additionally, I found it difficult for Japanese artists and designers who do not share the French sense of color, even though it is something that people without French art education naturally practice. On the other hand, I thought it was difficult to analyze Japanese art, which emphasizes the importance of materials and textures, using only color as a criterion.

I wondered why is that so? Perhaps climate plays a big role. This is what I have come to believe through my various color analyses and reading of relevant texts. So, I added the issues of climate & texture to create an event titled “The Geography of Color and Texture”.  Thus, the word “geography” here includes the concept of geographic climatology.

In Mediterranean climates, such as Italy (regarded as the birthplace of Western painting), the sun is strong and the air is dry, thus highlights and cast shadows are clearly visible.  Whereas in monsoon climates, such as East Asia and Japan, the light is scattered due to rain and cloudiness (diffuse lighting), so shadows are less distinct. This is directly reflected in each climate’s style of painting, whether three-dimensional or two-dimensional. In recent years, it has been pointed out that the climate-induced lighting environment shapes human cognitive models, which in turn influences painting styles [3].

In particular, color perception is “part of the function of texture or material recognition”[4] in brain cognition. In places like Japan, where the atmosphere makes it difficult to grasp texture, the use of colors that block the perception of texture may be physiologically unacceptable. On the contrary, it seemed to me that the fact that there are many artists and architects who are sensitive to materials and use them to the fullest, or who are obsessed with painting materials, is also due to the Japanese climate.

At the event, I used color analysis to show that the transition of vivid colors from Impressionism to Post-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism and Fauvism, resulting from the influence of climate on painting since modern times, is proportional to the trajectory of artists’ movement from Northern France to highly illuminated places in the South of France and the South Island of North Africa.

On the other hand, Iwaizumi compared the landscape paintings(Shansui) of the Northern and Southern Song dynasties, and showed via the results of microphotographic research that the difference between the dark and pale paintings was related to the quality of each region’s water, whether they possessed hard or soft water. If you grind ink using hard water, the middle to dark black will come out clearly and strongly, but the lighter colors will not come out beautifully. Additionally, if you grind the ink with soft water, you will get a pale, transparent black. In other words, there are different painting methods for landscape painting depending on whether the water is hard or soft. Japan is a soft water area, influenced by the landscape paintings of the Southern Song Dynasty, which was located on the Pacific Ocean side of China and had a lot of rainfall. The Japanese preferred Chinese painters like Muqi, whose painting style influenced Hasegawa Tohaku’s folding-screen painting “Pine Trees” (1592).

He says that it is not only the ink, but also the ability to make thin and flexible supports for media such as Japanese paper which is influenced by the soft water. In Japan, where there are drastic differences in temperature and humidity depending on the season, it is difficult to maintain the condition of the works without having the ability of the medium itself to adjust to the humidity appropriately. Additionally, Japanese paper and glue seem to have the ability to adjust to changes in humidity by absorbing and discharging water. Iwaizumi was thus able to quickly realize that  water could act as a mediator between the atmosphere, the earth, and painting.

Afterwards, in order to continue these discussions and reflect them in our work, Iwaizumi, Nakamura, myself, and Mai Miyake launched the Art Color Study Group. Through a series of dialogues, the concept of “climate art” and “weather art” emerged. Japanese art, in particular, has been established in the context of the relationship between architecture and the ever-changing climate, and thus may be considered as “climate art.” It was presumed that this concept would be an attempt to reorganize Japanese painting, which has subsequently lost its relationship with the climate and has continued to this day to be autonomous.

The New Testament: Sun, Moon and Mountains Landscape 2019 – The First Day of Winter

The New Testament: Sun, Moon Mountains and Water Landscape 2019 – The First day of Winter (Segment)

Iwaizumi took the concept and continued to search for a way to make it work. Since moving his base to Kyoto, Iwaizumi has been measuring climate data such as temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, and the movement of the sun and moon in order to understand the characteristics of the local climate and visualize biorhythms. Also, a graph consisting of multiple layers of data was drawn in ink as a landscape, in a painting method that Iwaizumi had invented. It can be said to be a kind of data visualization, but by copying the graphs by hand, he is attempting to reproduce a feeling that cannot be represented simply by data.  That is to say that it is a depiction of the grace and elegance that is most important in landscape painting, which is the unique energy of the land.

The Divine Realm Landscape – Tamaki Shrine (2020/11/17)

The support is made utilizing glass organdy, an extremely thin polyester fabric. Different data is depicted on the both sides of two sheets of transparent glass organdy, which are then stacked in four layers.   As changes in weather data are recorded over an extended period of time, such as a day, it is not an instantaneous measurement, but rather a depiction of the temporal flow of that space, and the flow of its energy.

Later, Iwaizumi even went in person to sketch Mt. Tamaki in Totsukawa Village, Nara Prefecture, following the style of landscape painting(Sansui), which combines real-life scenery to depict an ideal world.  However, in this case, “sketching” does not mean actually drawing or taking pictures of landscapes, rather it means measuring meteorological data and feeling the presence through physical experience.  The origin of landscape painting can be traced back to the Chinese belief in the Taoist conception of immortality and mountain worship, whose closest Japanese equivalent is likely Shugendo (“the way to spiritual power through discipline”). Mt. Tamaki and the Tamaki Shrine at its peak are located at the southernmost tip of the Omine mountain range (the Omine Okugakemichi), which connects the Yoshino and Kumano regions, and is where Shugendo still lives on. There are 75 sacred places called Nabiki along the range, including “Junbu,” where one enters from Kumano and heads to Yoshino, and “Gyakubu,” where one enters from Yoshino and heads to Kumano.  Mt. Tamaki is a sacred mountain that is the tenth Nabiki (sacred worship place) along the Omine mountain range counting from Hongu Shosei-den, which is located in the Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine. This journey taken by Iwaizumi was the inspiration for the “Divine Realm” series.

The Divine Realm Landscape – Inner Shrine of Ise Shrine.(2020/12/20)

In search of new “divine realms,” Iwaizuma continued his “sketching” by going to Futamiura in Ise and the Inner and Outer Shrines of Ise Shrine. The title of this exhibition, “Nanigoto No Owashimasukaha Shiranedomo (I Know Not What Kind of Gods Are Here, But…)”  is taken from a famous haiku poem which includes the line, “Nanigoto no owashimasukaha shiranedomo katajikenasani namida koboruru” (“I know not what kind of Gods are here, but in gratitude to them I am moved to tears”), which is said to have been written by Saigyo, a poet in the late Heian period (794-1185), when he visited Ise. When you enter a Shinto shrine like Ise, a “divine authority” from the overall atmosphere can be felt, even by today’s modern people who have been steeped in scientific thinking.  Some people may feel it more concretely, but most will likely only get a hint of it.

The Divine Realm Landscape – Inner Shrine of Ise Shrine.(2020/12/20)

Saigyo felt the authority of the gods there, but if one breaks that feeling down into concrete data, you will find there are simply natural elements such as temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, solar movement, etc.  Of course the technology of the time did not allow for such scientific measurements, and we are not looking at it from an analytical point of view, but we can imagine the environment through the data taken at the sanctuary. In addition to such objective data, the paintings depict an unknown “something” that Iwaizumi felt.

To begin with, the modernization of painting was accompanied by the development of cameras and other optical devices. As David Hockney points out in The Secret Knowledge, the advent of primitive optical instruments such as convex mirrors gave rise to accurate depiction and perspective [5]. In Japan, it is known that Maruyama Ōkyo, who emphasized sketching, created “spectacle paintings” using one-point perspective to create a three-dimensional effect by looking through “spyglasses,” a device fitted with a convex lens [6]. The human sense of sight conveys a great deal of visual information, and when optical devices are utilized to create the visual art form of painting, their influence is especially great. However, it can be said that this technology has transformed Eastern painting, which originally did not focus exclusively on depicting a specific moment, into an art form that captures a more precise time, space, and visual imagery.Furthermore, in recent years, the impact of digital cameras and smartphones has been immeasurable.

Iwaizumi pioneered a modern method of landscape painting, which was developed to depict an Eastern utopia, by incorporating various non-visual data that could be objectively measured, while utilizing equipment other than a camera. In particular, the original graphs were formed by lines, which would have made them suitable for line drawing in ink. People who have seen Iwaizumi’s paintings feel as if they are depicting some specific  landscape, and it causes them to look at things in a new way and to use their imagination. An additional feature of landscape painting that has developed over time is the practice of “entering” the painting while lying on the floor, an act known as “gayu” (“reclined viewing”). In the modern world, “gayu” can be compared to “entering” role-playing games or utilizing virtual reality.  In fact, Iwaizumi has said that he had a similar experience during gayu as when he used to play such games.

Iwaizumi cites the National Treasure, “Landscape of the Four Seasons Screens” from Amanozan Kongouji Temple in Kawachinagano City, Osaka Prefecture, and “Sitting Alone by a Stream” by Fan Kuan, a painter of the Northern Song Dynasty in China, as examples of paintings in particular that he has referenced in his work. In “Landscape of the Four Seasons Screens,” different seasons and times are depicted on a pair of six-paneled screens.Fan Kuan, a landscape painter of the early Northern Song Dynasty in China, incorporated various locations into a single environment in his painting “Sitting Alone by a Stream”.The viewer can “gayu” (“recline and view”) and enjoy the changes of place and season while moving their eyes to various places on a single screen. In this sense, the technique of arranging various times and spaces on the same plane, so that viewers can enjoy them merely by moving their eyes to look at a different location, has been traditionally practiced in landscape painting.  In particular, Iwaizumi feels the digital nature of Fan Kuan’s painting method of layering ink when viewing his work.

Additionally, gold and silver mud, as well as luminescent and special effect pigments are used to create a feeling of movement in the painting with changes in light. Typically, Japanese paintings are placed in rooms with no lighting, and are naturally illuminated by outside light which bounces off the tatami mats and onto them.  At night, this outside light is replaced by candles. To compensate for that small amount of light, glossy painting materials such as gold or silver leaf are utilized.  Such interactions with the changing weather is inherent in Japanese paintings.

Who is there at dawn? Who is there at twilight?(2021) closeup view

Who is there at dawn? Who is there at twilight? (2021)

Kumagusuku, the renovated machiya (older house used as a shop) in Kyoto where the exhibition was held, has a courtyard with an atrium, and the gallery in back has high ceilings with few walls and many windows, so the outside light and atmosphere can enter directly. I think it is important to note that this is a reinterpretation of Japanese paintings, not only in terms of what they depict, but also in terms of how they respond to changes in the weather. In particular, the work created as an acrylic panel titled “Who is He, Twilight” (2021) takes as its theme the time of day when it is most difficult to distinguish the subject, when neither the sun nor artificial lighting can aid in seeing, and was created to be interactive with the environment.

Interaction with climate and weather was a critically important element of Japanese painting, but it has been lost in the process of modernization. Currently, climate change due to global warming and other factors have become a major issue, and people are feeling the effects of it all around them. The average temperature rises year by year, and graphs displaying it can rapidly turn into what resembles a high mountain. Feeling threatened by those mountains may be part of the experience of “Gayu” (“reclined viewing”). The steep mountain-like graphs caused by climate change will naturally be reflected in Iwaizumi’s works. In this sense, Iwaizumi’s work is not only a continuation of the lineage of Sansui(Landscape Painting), but also a contemporary expression of confronting the harsh natural environment of today’s “Anthropocene” [7]

※The origin of the word “Sansui” (Landscape Painting) derives from the Chinese “Shansui”, a genre of painting that originated in China and used ink to depict landscapes. It was then introduced into Japan and further developed in its own unique way.

[1] Chihiro Minato and Manabu Miki (eds.), Colorscape of France: A Journey through Photography and Color, Seigensha, 2014.

[2] Jean-Philippe Lanclos collected soil and building materials from all over France, analyzed colors using colorimetry, sketches, and photographs, and organized the exhibition “La Géographie de la Couleur” at the Centre Georges Pompidou. He also published the book “Couleurs de la France” (Moniteur, 1982). Later, he published Couleurs de l’Europe (Moniteur, 1995) and Couleurs du Monde (Moniteur, 1999). In 2004, the English version of Colors of the World, W.W. Norton & co, New York, London, 2004. was published.

[3] Isamu Motoyoshi, “Texture in Art,” in The Science of Texture: Perception and Cognitive Mechanisms and Techniques for Analysis and Expression, edited by Hidehiko Komatsu, Asakura Shoten, 2011, pp. 191-193.

[4] Hidehiko Komatsu, “Brain and Mind Movements to Recognize Color and Texture,” in Hisato Kondo (ed.), Art and the Brain: Brain Science in Painting and Literature, Time and Space, Osaka University Press, 2013, p. 212.

[5] David Hockney, The Secret Knowledge, Popular Edition, translated by Tetsuo Kinoshita, Seigensha, 2010.

[6] Ryo Yoshida, What Was Nihonga: A History of Modern Japanese Painting, Kadokawa Sensho, 2018, p. 26.

[7] It (the Anthropocene age) has been proposed as a new geological age following the Holocene, and is an era in which human activities have left a significant impact as well as traces on the global environment and geology leading up to the current day.

This paper was also provided to the Kei Iwaizumi collection archives.

(Translated by Todd Goldman)

三木 学
評者: (MIKI Manabu)

共編著に『大大阪モダン建築』(2007)『フランスの色景』(2014)、『新・大阪モダン建築』(2019、すべて青幻舎)、『キュラトリアル・ターン』(昭和堂、2020)など。展示・キュレーションに「アーティストの虹─色景」『あいちトリエンナーレ2016』(愛知県美術館、2016)、「ニュー・ファンタスマゴリア」(京都芸術センター、2017)など。ソフトウェア企画に、『Feelimage Analyzer』(ビバコンピュータ株式会社、マイクロソフト・イノベーションアワード2008、IPAソフトウェア・プロダクト・オブ・ザ・イヤー2009受賞)、『PhotoMusic』(クラウド・テン株式会社)、『mupic』(株式会社ディーバ)など。

Manabu Miki is a writer, editor, researcher, and software planner. Through his unique research into image and colour, he has worked in writing and editing within and across genres such as contemporary art, architecture, photography and music, while creating exhibitions and developing software.
His co-edited books include ”Dai-Osaka Modern Architecture ”(2007, Seigensha), ”Colorscape de France”(2014, Seigensha), ”Modern Architecture in Osaka 1945-1973” (2019, Seigensha) and ”Reimaging Curation” (2020, Showado). His recent exhibitions and curatorial projects include “A Rainbow of Artists: The Aichi Triennale Colorscape”, Aichi Triennale 2016 (Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, 2016) and “New Phantasmagoria” (Kyoto Art Center, 2017). His software projects include ”Feelimage Analyzer ”(VIVA Computer Inc., Microsoft Innovation Award 2008, IPA Software Product of the Year 2009), ”PhotoMusic ”(Cloud10 Corporation), and ”mupic” (DIVA Co., Ltd.).


Amazon プライム対象