This temporary public art project featuring Jun Kaneko’s monumental ceramic sculptures is on view through November 3, 2013 at Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois. A must see if you are in the area!
Here is a new body of work by Kaneko, drawing upon the myths and legends of the Tanuki figure. From ancient times, the Japanese have expressed the Tanuki in a variety of ways, for it is said to be a mischievous shape-shifter able to take many forms. In our modern era, however, the figure is most commonly portrayed as a large, stout badger. The Tanuki is not only a creature found in mythology, but a small, nocturnal mammal native to East Asia. The Tanuki, or “raccoon dog,” is a type of canidae that bears resemblance to a North American raccoon. Similarly, it can live in close proximity to humans and ecologically walks a line between civilization and nature.
Jun Kaneko is known for pioneering the field of monumental ceramic sculpture. Throughout his artistic practice, Kaneko has played with scale and proportion. In 1996 he wrote, “If everything in the world was the same size, we probably would not need an idea of scale. Nothing exists by itself. Everything is influenced by the other things next to it or close by or the environment which the object is in.”
The Tanuki is considered to be a trickster who causes trouble and mayhem in both the human and supernatural worlds. In many tales, he takes on a variety of manifestations, and has the power to reshape landscapes. He is a symbol of fertility and in present day Japanese consumer culture, often represents prosperity and economic growth. The legendary Tanuki features special traits that are believed to bring good fortune, including big eyes to perceive the environment and help make good decisions, a big belly that symbolizes bold and calm decisiveness, and a friendly smile.
Kaneko’s signature Dangos (meaning “rounded form” or “dumpling” in Japanese) are feature, too. These ceramic steles, covered in a variety of vibrant shapes and patterns, allow viewers to examine their environment and focus on a sense of scale and place. Standing next to these monolithic structures, one can feel the tension between size, material, location and aesthetics.
The glazed patterns appear to be draped like fabric, in a manner that is specially attuned to the surface of each individual sculpture. The Dango form links Kaneko’s work to minimalist sculptors who played with simple and large forms, while at the same time, the pattern overlays show formal concerns – in repeating geometric shapes – similar to those of minimalist painters. Kaneko sees his work as both painting and sculpture, with the key geometric patterns acting as rhythm and tone.