Tsuyoshi Ozawa’s installation “Jizoing” consists of 18 photographs and a large pile of futons. Stacked in a corner a capacious gallery at Blum & Poe, the futons form a mountain one must climb to see the images.
This playful piece is a highlight of the large, two-part exhibition “Parergon: Japanese Art of the 1980s and 1990s,” which also takes place at the L.A. gallery Nonaka-Hill. The show is named for Gallery Parergon, a Tokyo space influential in the 1980s for supporting experimental art.
It’s fun to take off your shoes and attempt to scale the wobbly mountain. (The gallery warns that you climb at your own risk.) There’s no other way to see the photographs, which were taken all over the world, from the Japanese city of Osaka to Tehran, from the Tibetan capital of Lhasa to New York City. The images are printed in soft blue tones, which complement the light blue floral pattern of the futons. The overall impression is of a pillowy, dreamy landscape.
“Jizoing” began in 1988, when Ozawa started photographing statues and drawings of the Buddhist deity Jizo on his travels. In Japanese iconography, Jizo is the guardian of travelers and children. Sculptures of him routinely appear roadside throughout Japan, and worshipers often dress them in red bibs that symbolize childhood, or hats to protect them from the elements.
As a child, I first learned of Jizo from a folk tale in which an old hat maker, unable to sell his wares at market on a snowy New Year’s Eve, gives them to stone statues of Jizo instead. He and his wife are rewarded when the statues come to life, bringing them a large rice cake on New Year’s Day. Kindness and generosity are repaid; Jizo will take care of you.
Some of Ozawa’s Jizos are small statues, but most are schematic drawings — just a circle atop a rounded body — which he photographed in front of tourist attractions, street scenes, open fields. Some of the Jizos are rather difficult to spot, especially while trying to keep one’s balance atop the mushy mountain.
But this experience of searching, of being off balance, is akin to traveling: You may not know exactly where you’re going or how you’re going to get there, but you venture out nevertheless. Jizo, like the futon mountain, will provide a soft landing should you fall.
Blum & Poe, 2727 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. Tuesdays-Saturdays, through March 23. (310) 836-2062, www.blumandpoe.com