Tadashi Kawamata’s Monumental Wooden Artworks


WordsClémence Leleu

Tadashi Kawamata, Les chaises de traverse, 1998, Centre d’art contemporain - la synagogue de Delme, ©Leo van der Kleij

Tadashi Kawamata is a man with a material, wood. With this he builds cabins, observatories, nests and monumental frescos that are at home both in galleries and in the heart of towns and cities. While you might think that the artist, educated at the Tokyo University of the Arts, would use only high quality woods, the reality is rather different. Kawamata instead uses recycled wood from furniture from junk shops, old crates and other left over materials. These recycled materials have been elevated by art, both make for beautiful creative objects, and have a low environmental impact. 

The artist works between Paris and Tokyo and began attracting global attention in the 1970s with his in situ works entitled By Land. He installed wood cabins in the most inaccessible parts of New York and Tokyo, such as Madison Square. A few years later he created Les chaises de traverse, a huge pile of wooden chairs suspended between the floor and the ceiling in the Delme synagogue. A few miles the artist also filled the Saint-Livier Hotel in Metz with a wall of chairs. In a short film by Gilles Coudert, the artist explains how each of the chairs represents a different person with a different history, and the wall is as if each of these people were linked together. In 2010 the artist scaled up, setting up a cabin in front of the Centre Pompidou before his chef d’oeuvre at the Renaissance Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. 

Engaged artworks

Tadashi Kawamata, Wave, 2016 Installation in situ. Éléments de mobilier en bois récupérés. Vue d'exposition "Tadashi Kawamata. Under the Water - Metz", Centre Pompidou-Metz, 2016 © Tadashi Kawamata © Centre Pompidou-Metz / Photo Noémie Gotti

In 2011 the work of Kawamata took on a new dimension following the tsunami that hit Japan. In Tokyo during the earthquake, he soon left for Paris, while people at home were on the front line helping one another, the artist wondered how he could maintain a link with them. He soon made one of his most emblematic works Under the Water a huge wooden wave recreating the tsunami that ravaged the Japanese coastlines. The work was exhibited at the Centre Pompidou Metz and at the gallery Kamel Mennour where the artist often shows.

Some would like to categorise it as an activist project, but Kawamata firmly rejects the appellation, I’m not an activist, he says, preferring instead to think about the political and social aspects of an issue in a different way. His work would be better described as Land Art, a name given to him when he was appointed the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2014. The contemporary art movement however also uses natural materials but is more oriented towards work that uses nature as its canvas, whereas Kawamata is more at home in the urban or public spaces. 

Ephemeral artworks

Tadashi Kawamata Under the Water Metz 2016 Installation in situ. Eléments de mobilier en bois récupérés. Vue d'exposition Tadashi Kawamata. Under the Water Metz, Centre Pompidou-Metz 2016 © Tadashi Kawamata © Centre Pompidou-Metz Photo Noémie Gotti

The work of Tadashi Kawamata is marked by its ephemeral nature. His monumental wooden creations both infiltrate and accompany buildings, but are easily dismounted and given a new artistic life.

Nothing is recurring, nothing is permanent states the artist. No material can survive for eternity, everything is temporary. It is just a question of time, even a building that lasts 1000 years is temporary. Nothing is resistant to the wear of time, not men, not walls. 

Destruction n°32 ©Archives kamel mennour

Destruction n°20 ©Archives kamel mennour

©Photo archives kamel mennour