MINEMURA Toshiaki "What was 'MONO-HA' ?"
(from 1986 catalogue of MONO-HA exhibition at Kamakura Gallery)


Having arisen from such a background, it is not surprising that within the MONO-HA of the Lee + Tamabi Connection, especially in their early works, and to some extent in later ones, depending on which artists we look at, we can find a certain amount of intellectualism still present. In particular, the early works of Sekine, Yoshida, Lee and Koshimizu were quite often commented on for being quite similar in conception to Surrealism, especially with the 'depaysement' of Magritte. Be that as it may, they grew up very swiftly and intensified their cognition in quite a short time, and according to the degree of that cognition, some of them went on prospecting and discovering new directions, some deepened and developed the MONO-HA Art and some others, simply for having reached their limits, dropped out of the movement. As we have no time here for disserting on the dropouts, let us try to grasp in a very broad sense the group evolution that took place within the MONO-HA for a relevant period of time after the exhibition of Sekine's <Phase-Earth>. We shall consider for this purpose, the three following steps.

First step: antithesis of allosubstances---

First, there is a method that consists of becoming aware of the reality of existence through the impact caused by the relativization of a 'thing's' accidental quality, aspect, mode, attribute, etc., and reducing these to nothingness, by means of encounters with things that contrast with its heterogeneity. As things were summoned to appear on stage instead of pictures, the former necessity to perform those visual manipulations had of course already disappeared; however, as one kept one's eyes fixed upon the specific characters things have imbedded in term --- for instance softness and hardness, lightness and heaviness --- there is a tendency to trail in a more conceptual manner that manipulative method of separating 'to be' from 'to see' which was prevailing in the previous period. This is a kind of exfoliation though it hardly goes as far as the depaysement advocated by Surrealists. The fact that the Lee + Tamabi Connection MONO-HA made their appearance with this method proved to be the very reason why they were misunderstood. As a concrete example, Sekine's sponge and steel plate, megalith and mirror post, Yoshida's iron pipe and cotton, rectangular timber and lighting, Lee's cotton and iron plates, cotton and stones, glas panes and stones, Koshimizu's paper and stones and so forth, are quite typical of that kind of assemblage. And the fact that Narita and Suga kept away from this method should be worthy enough of deserving attention. The Narita of the early period, as his interest shifted towards space variable structures from things variable structures, briefly kept away from his colleagues' manner. Likewise, the Suga of the first half of 1969, who had just escaped from his period of visual manipulation, however recklessly --- probably due to the fact that he wasn't acquainted enough yet with real space --- engaged himself in such experiments as trying to grasp immediately 'existence' through examining intently the way pillars were standing.

Second step: aspect differentiation from monosubstance or monospace ---

To be concerned only with things that are congenerous (i.e. of the same kind) and homogeneous, thereby depriving the artist of his power to manipulate things on a conceptual basis from a third party's standpoint, he becomes prone to extract the naked truth from things from a mode of positive involvement with them. This was indeed what was regarded as the most characteristic style of the Lee + Tamabi Connection MONO-Has. Again, according to a former example, I'll quote Sekine's <Phase of the Void - Oily Clay>, although the works of this style, being multifarious and prolific, should not be mentioned in the same breath. Very roughly, however, one may classify them as follows; (1) Works emphasizing the relationships through the gestures of man and things (Sekine kneads clay mixed with oil, Terada chops wood, Koshimizu spalls megalith). (2) Jobs involving position and stance metamorphosis in things (Lee juxtaposes rectangular timbers and steel plates, Yoshida suspends a rectangular timber or lays four steel plates laying on a timber, Shingo Honda splits wood. Here the point aimed at was obviously to bring about discrepancies in the positions of things). (3) Jobs involving metamorphosis on a time scale (Narita who makes charcoal), and (4) The ramification of things and the articulation of space (Suga who shows us a phalanx made out of paraffin, or a besiegement out of cement).

Interestingly enough, method (1) in itself, although retaining quite a smack of 'happening', owing to the fact that its structures can't be sustained continuously, judging from its merit to directly associate with genuine material, should be regarded as being the nearest to the art of sculpture. And as a matter of fact, Sekine like Terada and Koshimizu, through their acknowledgment of concepts such as 'object' and 'handiwork', fairly soon worked their way towards sculpture. Quite in opposition stands Suga, who, without caring a bit about concepts of objects and sculptures, extracts the polysemy (viz. Multiplicity of meaning) of space, the aspect differentiation of space, directly from the intervention of man toward things; i.e. monosubstance, which is quite a unique manner to work things out. And from that point of view it should be said that he thrust before us the most meaningful production theory, and the most genuine one at the same time, of the Lee + Tamabi Connection MONO-HA.

This second step, owing to it's superficial distinctive feature of being only concerned about monomaterial, and perhaps also because it brought about the MONO-HA to the zenith of it's influence, engendered swarms of imitators, plagiarists and followers. Typically representative of that trend was the earnest and rapturous fascination the artists had for using lumps of material of singular composition, such as wax, earth, lead, tar, slag, and so forth, and for using them in a way that would exhibit as much as possible their minimal form.

By the way, the MONO-HA aspect Haraguchi started offering then corresponded more or less to the 'second step' of the Lee + Tamabi Connection MONO-HA. Before this, amidst the turmoil of campus agitation at Nihon University, Haraguchi, then a student there, had the opportunity to change his course from a pictorial art that was crudely realistic and brutally materialistic, to a plastic art that was three dimensional, and he acquainted himself with the sophistication of plastic applications of industrial materials of a new kind. In those days he was steeped in an environment that bore no relation to the somewhat passionate and ethnic movement that purported to raise things to the dignity of subject that was then prevalent within the Geidai Group. Nor was he familiar with the traditions of intellectualistic visual manipulations that prevailed within the Tamabi Group. Toward the end of 1969, however, or at the latest, in the middle of 1970, materials that seemed more to suit his tastes, like steel, tent canvas, oil, water and clay, came to be displayed almost without transformation by the artist. And this came about, not out of sensuous quality of those kinds of things. The artist's eyes that were examining things at that time, were extremely sensuous, voluptuous even. Unlike the MONO-HA's minor followers, Haraguchi certainly possessed plenty of mental strength to conceptualize the sensual osmotic powers of matter, as if they were spatial occurrences.

Third step: genesis of place ----

Not things, but the existence of things, and further, toward the modes of connection between things and man: This was the travel diary of the MONO-Has as they went deepening their cognizance, to be ultimately confronted with the problem of deciding the mode of existence in which such things are confined i.e. ' in the field of what do they exist? ' (situation/ location), or 'according to what do they exist? '(causality). And here we can find the theoretical and ideological groundwork of Lee * Tamabi Connection MONO-HA taking shape. That such a Question was immanent in the entire MONO-HA School from it's very beginning, goes without saying. This notwith-standing, it took a Lee or a Suga to establish the MONO-HA School as an independent art full of possibilities, by starting a conscious quest for it.

It is true that looking at the works themselves one could say that such an attention directed by Lee to the field, which stressed the positional relationship rather than things, was highly liable to somehow become a schematic expression. But it gradually developed toward those sculptures out of steel plate and stone of the late seventies (in which rather than any inspiration from the Western tradition of statuary or sculpture, one can ascertain a re-exploitation of a highly condensed far-eastern landscape gardening art), to finally culminate in a fine achievement of a very peculiar efflorescence.

On the other hand, Suga; having comprehended, through his <Paraffin>, the art of mingling with space, and in or after 1970, comprehended circumstances and co-subjective events, etc., as determinants to existence, proceeded to produce a quite unparalleled and unique form of art. Above all, that attention directed toward "face" and "border", as an ambivalent point of contact between things and space, (i.e. towards the face's obverse and reverse, this side of the border and the other side, which are the articulations of space and play the role of a spring that triggers phase commutations), appeared as absolutely trailblazing, as it afforded a methodic system that made possible the revelation of the pluralistic aspect of existence. 'According to what do things exist?' and ' According to what do we see them? ' are questions that usually lie dormant within Suga's works. This is opposite to Jasper Johns, who tends to closet tightly and with sheer intellectualism thesesame questions into abstruse pictures or objects, Suga, more flexible to things and space to the point of playing himself with them, performed out this philosophical drama with an altogether physical and spiritual cheerfulness. There is, of course, no reason why the answer to the question of existence should be found within the things, the works or the concepts; Impossible to grasp with the static concept of 'relation', the question of existence of structures and man's articulation upon things and space, his demeanor, etc. That is the great teaching that one learns from Suga's works. Commenting on Suga, one can say that with him the MONO-HA truly acquired flesh.