April 6 - June 15, 2018
It isn’t necessary for a work to have a lot of things to look at, to compare, to analyse one by one, to contemplate. The thing as a whole, its quality as a whole, is what is interesting. The main things are alone and are more intense, clear and powerful.1
Donald Judd, Specific Objects, 1965
My drive to make is in my DNA.2
Niho Kozuru, 2018
Niho Kozuru—Monocasts & Multipours is the fourth and final exhibition in the With Eyes Open exhibition series—a series created to celebrate New England women artists in acknowledgment of the lack of parity for women in the history of Western art. In each of the four exhibitions, the series explored different senses of its title. The first exhibition, Cynthia Atwood—Alphabet of Weapons, opened our eyes to psychological, emotional, and interpersonal ways that doing harm is socially learned. The second exhibition, Naoe Suzuki—Dreamcatchers, overlaid artistic inquiry with scientific inquiry, visualizing the similarities of insight between those disciplines. The third show was a 35-person group exhibition showcasing the National Association of Women Artists, founded in 1889 and formed to “empower, promote, support and encourage” the visions of women artists. And in the final exhibition, easily overlooked architectural objects are recast in a new light by CSW alumna Niho Kozuru ’86.
Niho Kozuru (b. Fukuoka, Japan 1968) comes from a family of ceramic artists who have made Agano pottery on the island of Kyushu in Southern Japan for generations, and who are active to this day.3 She spent her formative years living in Massachusetts, surrounded by early American architecture, crafts and decorative arts. Kozuru attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa as a glass student and left as a rubber caster4:
While in sculpture class, we used rubber for mold making. I took up the practice quickly and started using it to create the artwork itself in rubber. Later, on the recommendation of Pat Hickman, head of the Fiber Department, I went to visit the Mission House Museum. I was surprised to learn that the House had been shipped board by board from Boston in 1821, yet was utterly stunned by the way it closely resembled the one I grew up in near Boston. I was inspired to make my thesis about New England Colonialism in Hawaii through the lens of my own personal experiences living in Massachusetts. To describe and comment about my concept, I used the qualities of polyurethane rubber metaphorically, such as flexibility, translucency, changeable color, capturing details and reconfiguring the objects.5
Regarding the vessel-like shapes of the materials she is attracted to use in her sculptures are not dissimilar to the vessel forms she grew up surrounded by, Kozuru notes: “I view New England architectural turnings in the context of my family heritage.”6Kozuru’s unique set of experiences led her toward the appreciation of architectural elements and mold-making, and in turn, she evolved a studio practice that pushes at the mediums she explores in unusual ways. During the past two decades, she has been making sculptures that involve the casting of various “turned” objects in a variety of materials, including glass, metal, clay, beeswax and rubber.
Monocasts & Multipours highlights a select overview of Kozuru’s brightly colored, translucent rubber sculptures from the last thirteen years of her studio production. The undulating forms that comprise Kozuru’s vocabulary of stacked and poured rubber forms are derived from the objects she collects: turned wooden objects and common architectural elements that have been made on a lathe. Kozuru obtains her source material from antique shops, architectural salvage businesses and flea markets.7 In several cases, Kozuru has made castings of historical architectural elements from places such as the Charlestown Navy Yard, Paul Revere House, and Longfellow house—her Longfellow Tower is on view in this exhibition. She then casts and makes individual molds of her reclaimed forms. Her casting process also affords her with the possibility of reusing molds to produce new casts, which she colors in varying degrees of opacity, using a variety of colors depending on the needs of a given project.
Mold-making provides the practitioner with a tool to make a precise replica—in either a single or serial form—of an extant object. Kozuru typically does not create editions of her castings, let alone copies of the conglomerate forms she assembles. Rather, Kozuru often reuses the same molds to produce component parts with a great deal of variety of hue, opacity and translucency, which she then joins with other castings into new configurations for uniquely combined totemic structures.
Cast making involves surrounding an object with a material that can conform to the exact curvature of the object being cast, which requires creating surrounding walls to keep the casting material from draining away. The casting process results in the production of a mold, which is typically reusable, and the original object is recovered. Kozuru creates both positive and negative casts of her turned form collection—pourings inside of molds yield positive forms, while pourings outside of the original objects yield negative forms.
On the one hand Kozuru uses the molds of her turned forms to create her totemic sculptures, and on the other hand she uses the turned forms themselves as the molds, or rather, as barricades, to form her low-relief sculptures. In all of her sculptures, each visible color is a separate pouring of liquid rubber. When the rubber is poured into a mold of one of her turned forms, it conforms a copy of the exact density and profile of the original object; when the liquid rubber is poured around the original objects, however, the resulting cast is essentially a mold left as the final sculpture—molds as works of art. Because of the differences between each casting, Kozuru always creates monocasts, or one-of-a-kind objects, when she is casting—but of course, the artist always has the option to make an edition of any of her sculptures, so long as her molds are all still viable.
Kozuru organizes her turned form barricades to create wall-mounted, low-relief works with highly established patterns, which she mounts on paper or wooden supports.8 In a sense, she paints with rubber as it engages with the wooden barricades she carefully places into rhythmic arrangements, establishing repeated patterns of segmented and repetitive components. Once the rubber has cured, Kozuru collects and combines the individual segments to form larger fractal organizations. Kozuru’s aggregates reveal replicated patterns in a variety of colors, typically in medium to large-scale installations. In her artist’s statement, she writes:
My recent two-dimensional work is developed from unique arrangements of oval and gear-shaped segments derived from my sculptures, which I reconfigured to create new patterns. I pour vividly colored translucent rubber in or around their silhouettes to create pure, bold, positive and negative patterns and super patterns. Foregrounds and backgrounds appear to flip, while lines merge, blur and shift, creating new dimensional surfaces and spaces. Sculpting in 2D, this work makes an unexpected connection between dimensional and flat planes. Lines, colors and forms blend, react, and vibrate while invigorating the surrounding space, bringing vitality and optimism to the whole.9
Kozuru’s totemic columns and her wall-mounted work follow an aesthetic of repetition reminiscent of Minimalist sculptures and music of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. However, Kozuru’s minimalistic inclinations both align with and deviate from certain established trends of the (at the time)-avant-garde movement. For example, while Kozuru’s objects often consist of “modular and repeated units” and “serial geometric abstractions,” Kozuru’s minimalism does not shy away from being referential; in contrast, Minimalist work of the 1960s and 70s “does not allude to anything beyond its literal presence, or its existence in the physical world.”10 Kozuru counters that aspect of the movement in her work in order to celebrate and rediscover overlooked forms and motifs:
I use rubber molds because they have a perfect and exact impression of the antique objects that I collect. Unlike industrial mold makers, I relish to capture evidence of the maker and the age of the piece, which at a factory would be considered flaws. For example, a larger old finial may be put together in sections; I like to capture the hand of the unknown craftsmen that built the original objects and show evidence of their work, such as pieces of wood pegs and nails. Once I have a mold, I often cast in segments and reconfigure the pieces into my own sculptural composition.11
Furthermore, Kozuru’s titles often call to mind pleasant associations with flora, natural phenomena and various worldly things:
Since my artwork is abstract, my titles can be also abstract and/or contain intentions, wishes or hints to keep a viewer along and spark imagination. I come from a long line of artists in Japan surrounded by art; we were brought up to make and communicate through art.12
And, instead of making “anti-compositional methods of symmetrical division and repetition,”13 Kozuru’s symmetry embraces decoration and renders the invisible music of architecture visible anew. As Kozuru describes, she “recontextualizes these often forgotten classical forms, giving them new life and renewed spirit.”14
Niho Kozuru—Monocasts & Multipours closes the With Eyes Open exhibition series with a call for cultural transformation: to raising up the unnoticed and undervalued cultural force of women artists, and bring them toward wider public awareness, greater cultural parity, deeper cultural appreciation, and thereby allowing for, in Kozuru’s words, “new life and renewed spirit.”
Gallery Director, Curator
1. Donald Judd, Specific Objects, 1965, appears in Minimalism, (Themes and Movements), Ed. James Meyer, Phaidon Press Limited, London, 2000, p. 210
2. Niho Kozuru, March 26, 2018 email
3. Niho Kozuru, Email Interview conducted by Todd Bartel, March 25, 2018
4. Kozuru, Interview
5. Kozuru, Interview
6. Kozuru, Interview
7. Kozuru, Interview
8. Kozuru, Interview, the artist notes: “I had been working extensively in cast rubber sculptures and relief panels. I was invited to show wall pieces in ICA/Boston’s 75th Anniversary show in 2011. There was a size limit, and it needed to be framed to hang on the wall. These stipulations encouraged me to work smaller which led me to fuse rubber onto paper and later to wooden panels.”
9. Kozuru, Interview
10. James Meyer, Minimalism, (Themes and Movements), Phaidon Press Limited, London, 2000, p. 15
11. Kozuru, Interview
12. Kozuru, Interview
13. Meyer, p. 47
14. Kozuru, Interview