NARAHA AND DIABASE
Powerful industrial machines chip slowly away at the immense rift in the earth, which disappears into a dark forest reaching back as far as the eye can see. Human beings are newcomers here. For untold ages the rugged fir tree has ruled this land, the fir tree and the snows of the long Swedish winter. We are in the extreme north of Europe, in Scania, on some of the planet’s most ancient ground. At the end of the Precambrian era, one to one half billion years ago, magma surged through cracks in the earth’s crust and solidified to form these granite veins, which branch out like buried ramparts for hundreds of kilometres, towards Småland and Blekinge, where they can attain a depth of 800 meters. The exploitation of this stone began at the close of the last century, and the quarries of Hägghult became a kind of dark Carrara. Little by little, sculptors and architects were drawn here, to the hardest and purest of all granites, the black diabase – black above all, but also grey, green, or rose. Even Noguchi heard the call. In 1984 the Norden symposium brought a group sculptors here, to work at the site itself. The event had two distinct phrases. First the artists choose their materials in the wild grandeur of the quarry, searching among the variously sized heaps and piles of cast-off debris (only 2% of the stone extracted is finally used). Then they moved to a nearby factory, where the tools they needed had been made available: the challenge of the diabase would be met with human hands.
Among the participants in this symposium, which took place from winter to spring, was Naraha, a Japanese sculptor who had been living in Scania for several years already. He had come from so far away for just this reason: the diabase! Naraha is as inseparable from diabase as Ubac is from slate or Dodeigne from stone of Soignies. Others are drawn to wood – like Gérard Voisin, whom I met last summer in the dockyards of Nantes, sculpting an entire tree trunk, an acoma perhaps, felled in some Caribbean jungle – others to plastic, and others to marble, the perennial sculptural stone.
Diabase is in a certain sense the exact opposite of marble. Even the proudest marble, marble that only cedes in shattered fragments, can finally be brought under the sculptor’s control and mastered by his will. Marble’s destiny is to come ever closer to human forms: Bernini’s voluptuous Saints tremble on the limit between life and stone. Diabase is completely different: it is haughty and rebellious, as befits one of “the eldest of Nature’s children” (Novalis). It could be called hostile, or violently indifferent: O most inhuman substance! Like all stone, it is weighty with negative values – for the Westerner, at least. Tradition records Michelangelo’s cry: “How I hate this block that hides my statue!” It is not so in the Far East, where humility and even reverence are the prevailing attitudes. “Still today,” recalls Roger Caillois – our greatest dreamer of stones – “merchants in China and Japan sell elegantly shaped, harmoniously curving stones, mounted on finely worked stands made to their measure. They are equivalent to works of art and can bring very high prices.”
It is clear that a sculptor like Naraha, when confronted with diabase, will seek to establish a relationship that is not antagonistic but participatory, founded in cooperation. A union of wills, man and stone. Exterior, interior? Animate, inanimate? There is no opposition, but rather dialogue. Naraha rarely states his intentions in words; but in the little he told me, in our brief exchanges in Swedish, was that his work is linked to the great system of Yin and Yang, which conceives the universe and its life of Yin and Yang, which conceives the universe and its life as an incessant flux ordered by the interplay of two primordial forces that pivot on Emptiness. What is Emptiness? It is difficult, even impossible to grasp in our vocabulary. Perhaps it is another name for pure Being, or Space as living energy at the heart of matter. And there is also KI, cosmic force; MA, the natural interval or pause, written with a character containing the signs for door and sun (or door and moon, in ancient times), making the admiration we experience in glimpsing heavenly bodies through an opening above; and there is KUCHI, the wide-open mouth, the transcendental door; and there is RI, environment or endless movement.
Naraha points out that the character for ISHI, or stone, includes the sign for sonorous exchange, the dialogue of stone with stone. To complement these fundamental notions, he offers a simple observation: Stone is full of space.
To that, I’ll presume to add the very subtle concept-image of the Montagne Vide (“empty mountain”), as developed by P. Carré and Z. Bianu in their study of classical Chinese poetry. In the quest for “the being of the landscape and the landscapes of being, ”one must give up “the vegetation of the mind, to finally attain, through an exterior and an interior ascent, to the stones of the spirit.” The shadowed side of the mountain is yin, while the sunny side is yang. And doesn’t the sculptor see every rock, every piece of diabase, as a part standing in for the whole – and thus as a mountain? An empty mountain?
But nothing is totally yin and nothing is totally yang. Every physical body is yang at its centre and yin at its surface. Nothing is neutral. Universal ambivalence, order and disorder, emptiness and fullness, continuity and disruption… The Law is only the energy-balance of all the differences, as it appears for example in the installation that Naraha made at the site of the Ubbeboda symposium 1974. From chaos of quarry debris, he raised a conical pile that begins to teeter some two-thirds of the way up, leaning slightly out of line with the angle of the cone. Or again his Pyramid, about four meters high: the edges are cut along the tautest of straight lines, but the blocks that form the pyramid do not join perfectly together. Only the horizontals are rectilinear; vertically, the blocks remain irregular. Through the gaps we see the interior, the emptiness of the mountain. Yin holds a hidden yang.
Naraha is a virtuoso of Emptiness, that is to say, of the Rift. It can be the simple mark of the saw (a heavy circular saw or a precise diamond-blade saw, both of which he commands with equal dexterity): yang in the substance of yin, a thrust to the Centre. Often the rift is only the trace of a cut: it doesn’t separate, because the blocks are placed back into contact one against the other, as though they had never been split apart. The rift can also take the part of a natural fracture unifying the heterogeneous parts of the work, the black, polished wheel of the centre and the grey, irregular pieces in which it is set. In such a work, born of single piece of diabase, Naraha has sculpted the inner enigma: for the sculptor, every stone is a questioning Sphinx.
Naraha has given the title Mandala to many
district works of highly varying form. A Sanskrit word meaning circle, the mandala is an emblem for that which incorporates everything into its own substance: subject and object, the sculptor and his material, human and natural will. Human will imposes forms that do not exist in nature, the forms of geometry, for example. You see them at work in the Stele of Seoul’s
Olympic Park: from raw diabase. Naraha has conjured a trihedron that splits the stone like a ship’s prow. Or again, the Stele of the Centre Régional Informatique in Nevers: a parallelepiped emerges incompletely from its rocky matrix. The duality of yin and yang is complementary, as indeed it must be.
Certain pieces that seem to have a more directly
religious or cultural significance are also called Mandala, for example a powerful black ring through which two long stones have been passed, as if by
force; the stones have been left rough outside, but their inner faces are polished, so that they fit almost perfectly together. I’m also thinking of a kind of
great circular reliquary in yellow and green Japanese basalt perhaps a receptacle for one of the Yamato gods – unless it is an archaic symbol, one of
those, as Ubac said of his Chemin de croix at the Maeght Foundation, “that the artist can rediscover within himself, in order to give it new live, at least in plastic from.”
The group of the ring and the stones attains a
monumental scale, in a site behind the provincial administration building of Kristianstad, in Scania. Four upright stones, some two meters high, support the
central ring. It is very important to Naraha that viewers realize this was all carved from a single block of diabase. As for the reliquary mentioned above, in
other works it grows to the size of a hut or an igloo; one dreams of the very first temple, that is, the first consecrated space, no doubt a shelter for fire.
Except for Mandala, Naraha uses no titles. His
works are simply designated as structures, each with a date and a number. Some seem to be the lineage of the stone lines scattered throughout southern Sweden.
No one knows their origin. One of the most mysterious is found on the small Island of the Blue Virgin, in the Baltic; the Romantic poets came on pilgrimages here, and it still draws dreamers of all kinds. But we should not forget that in Naraha’s homeland there are many sanctuaries built around a simple stone. In Shinto belief, every stone can become shintai: the receptacle of a divinity, and its mediator on earth. And Japan is also the land of those masterpieces of meditative art which are the Zen gardens of sand and stone. The most famous of them, Ryoanji in Kyoto, is dedicated to Mu, or Nothingness. In Naraha’s Nordic gardens, sand is willingly replaced by snow. But the feeling is just the same.
Naraha’s art is in the juncture of primitivism and
technology, the two poles of the modern spirit. He allies the inspired rhythm of the hand-held chisel with the whistling, high-precision speed of the sophisticated machine. He exalts matter in its very substance, in its chaotic natural state, and at the same time he imposes an arbitrary, artificial order that is totally human. Without giving up the immemorial craft of the stonecutter, Naraha “raises the dreams of the human will to the level of today’s techniques,” in
fulfilment of Bachelard’s ideal. The block torn free from the earth is rich with all our inner labyrinths; but it is also a cut and polished mirror that reflects the stars.
Original text in French by Jean-Clarence Lambert
Translated by Brian Holmen