Photo by Hirofumi Kariya
Size: 11 x7x 2 ft (335x213x60cm)
tar, plastic trashes, wood, metal
Rests of energy are floating and staying
They are lost
Nowhere to join
They are looking for a place
Catch the ancestors
Let the creek release from us
Let the fossils sleep
Coal is born of a sedimentary rock formed from dead plants that accumulate over million of years. Composed mainly of carbon and hydrocarbons, this abundant combustible lives ubiquitously in Earth’s crust. While coal consumption produces energy and life at a global scale, its extraction from the ground transforms landscapes and generates detrimental environmental outcomes. In his exhibition, Kohira references this paradoxical dichotomy that the world continually addresses, but have yet to resolve.
A 12ft high monolith made of plastic and bitumen erupts from the cemented ground. The rectangular cuboid’s viscous surface glistens through fluorescent lights suspended in mid-air. “The monolith is an assemblage of impenetrable spirits,” explains Kohira. By embodying the estuary’s geological phenomenon that borders The Chimney, the sculpture directly addresses the history of its surroundings. The Newtown creek became the 19th century industrial revolution’s cradle, with oil refineries and chemical companies dejecting their wastes in the waterway at a rate unrivaled in contemporary American history. In erecting a monument that celebrates the Earth’s extracted energy, Kohira transforms the gallery space – originally part of an abandoned distillery – into a shrine for the bleak history of the creek.
The movement of the visitors is an essential aspect of Kohira’s installation. Drawing on Maurice Merleau- Ponty’s phenomenology, the artist empowers his work with a diversity of sensuous realities. Visitors’ apprehension of the work is dictated by their bodily movements in space and infused with the smell of asphalt, both mild and stifling.
Six bitumen-paint drawings are installed in the excavated windows of the space, all connected with a 100- foot electrical cable that powers the exhibition. This wire is a borderline referencing the sacred cord in Shinto religion known as Shimenawa. Made of hemp or rice, the twisted straw delimits a sacred enclosure to ward against evil spirits in shrines. Inside The Chimney, the cord connects the past and present of The Newtown creek, all enmeshed in the Monolith. The lines, reminiscent of the first human cave markings seem generated by electricity.
Kohira apprehends coal as living memory, one compressed by gravity. The physical energy released through combustion, is concomitant to a spiritual journey. In Kohira’s installation, matter is perceived as complex, paradoxical and in a state of becoming, unobstructed by human agency.