Hirokazu Kosaka’s “On the Veranda,” which opened Sept. 3, marks the 46th installment of the Pomona College Museum of Art’s Project Series.
Founded in 1999 by senior curator Rebecca McGrew, the Project Series celebrates advancements and creativity in contemporary and under-recognized art created by Southern California artists.
Kosaka was born in Japan in 1948, just three years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, according to an essay by McGrew that was published in conjunction with the exhibition. Kosaka came to the United States in 1966 to study at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles.
After finishing his studies, Osaka began to explore body and performance art, attempting to marry modern avant-garde practices with the thousands of years of culture and history derived from his heritage. For Kosaka, the word “veranda” signifies the areas between definitions, the gray between black and white—or, as he put it in an interview with KCET Television in Los Angeles, the “infinite maybes.”
“On the Veranda” selects works from Kosaka’s early artistic years, 1969-1974. Chronologically, the final piece on display is “Soleares,” in which Kosaka played the flamenco guitar for forty minutes with a razor blade inserted into his index finger, before he embarked on a three-month, 1,000-mile journey along the coast of Japan’s Shikoku Island. The photographs documenting his journey form a collage on the back wall of “On the Veranda.“
A major challenge for McGrew and her co-curator, Glenn Philips of the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, was how to deal with performance and body art within the museum setting.
“A lot of these pieces were done with no audience; they were ways [Kosaka] could explore ideas,” McGrew said. “There isn’t any footage of a lot of these performances, so how to convey their meaning was something Glen and I had to think about.”
“Pineapple Juice” is an example of such a performance. In the piece, Kosaka covered himself in pineapple juice to attract moths to his body as he sat with a kerosene lamp. In “On the Veranda”, this performance is represented in a single, striking photo, as the moths flock to Kosaka’s masked face and lamp, conjuring images of a lighthouse and the artist’s continuous search for meaning.
“Buffer Zone” uses video to document one of Kosaka’s works. In a protest of the Vietnam War produced in 1972, Kosaka brought together many of the overarching themes consistent in his art, incorporating movement and spatial reconstruction into one piece. After running through a rope maze, Kosaka would push participant Maggie Lowe, a fellow artist, to the ground and sift dirt onto her body. According to the museum’s description of the piece, he repeated this process more than 20 times. This performance is projected on a wall opposite “Soleares” in the exhibition.
In the center of the exhibit is a small box filled with poppy seeds. Kosaka’s written reflection accompanying the piece informs us that it is a representation of kalpa, the Sanskrit word for an eon of time. In his reflection on the piece, Kosaka goes on to explore the relationship of time, beings, and space.
McGrew is drawn to the complexity of thematic elements within Kosaka’s work. In her essay, she writes that his art looks both to the past and the future, melding seemingly disparate values such as beauty and pain, east and west, or modernity and tradition into a singular artistic expression. She hopes that the exhibition’s visitors will appreciate the depth of ideas and the many elements that Kosaka brings to his work.
“Hirokazu is very spiritual … He’s a seeker trying to make sense of the world,” McGrew said. “He’s bringing his spirituality and upbringing to the avant-garde.”
A few students who stumbled into “On the Veranda” accidentally one night at an Art After Hours event were taken aback at the physically demanding nature of the work.
“You have to respect the dedication to the art,” Hayley Marber PO ’17 said. “This guy sticks razor blades in his fingers [and] runs for five hours straight—all for his art.”
“On the Veranda” will run through Oct. 20 before it is replaced by the 47th installment of the Project Series, “Ret Skuch, Heckle,” by Krysten Cunningham. The Pomona College Museum of Art is open from noon to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday except Thursday, when the museum is open until 11 p.m. for Art After Hours.