A piece by artist Kazuo Kadonaga looks like a log that has simply been shorn of its bark. Closer inspection, however, reveals that the timber actually has been sliced into infinitesimally slim, horizontal strips — the thinness of veneer — and carefully glued back together into its original shape.
The slices of the work — titled “Wood No. 5-CI” from 1984 — are like the rings of the tree, albeit running lengthwise instead of crosswise. Instead of marking the passage of decades, these layers were created with the speed and precision of industrial machinery.
All six of the sculptures in this spare, elegant exhibition at the Nonaka-Hill gallery explore the intersection of industry and nature. Created between 1977 and 1999 in Japan’s Ishikawa prefecture, they invoke the process-driven art of the 1960s and ’70s, with its emphasis on action over aesthetics. Kadonaga sets the work in motion and lets nature do its thing.
“Wood No. 8-D” from 1977 is another long wooden log resting on the floor, except this one has been incised at regular intervals. As the cuts were made, other cracks and fissures opened up, creating a rhythmic pattern across the surface that resembles the score for a player piano. It’s human logic in counterpoint with the logic of wood.
On the other side of the gallery, “Paper 1-BF” from 1983 is a pile of more than 3,000 sheets of handmade paper. Stacked while still wet, one side of the pile was compressed so the papers formed a solid block. On the other, the sheets were peeled apart, creating a swelling mass with soft, feathery edges. We see, quite dramatically, how the same material behaves differently depending on how we intervene.
The most impressive pieces are two large, pale green sculptures from 1999 made of recycled plate glass. For each, Kadonaga had the glass melted down and poured in a thin stream from a height of 10 feet for two days straight. (You can watch a video of the making of a similar piece.) Amazingly, the glass forms almost perfect, stupa-like domes, whose form and spread is defined by the limits of the glass’ liquidity. Left to harden and cool for three months, each piece weighs more than 1,000 pounds.
Although their creation was engineered, they ask us to contemplate the innate properties of glass, its transition from solid to liquid and back and how something so fragile and luminous could also be so dense and intractable. They look like spun sea foam, hardened into giant rock candy.
Kadonaga’s interventions engender a deeper appreciation for the beauty and logic of nature. But they’re also a metaphor for letting go. We may initiate a process, but then it unfolds beyond our control, in undulating, unpredictable ripples.