• The exhibition poster contains the time, place and title

    Hisao Hanafusa: Borrowing Nature’s Powers

    Curated by Dr. Tingting Xu


    “Power borrowing,” or jieli in early China thought, homographic to chakuriki in Japanese, is a pan-East Asian philosophical concept. It gestures a spontaneous ease and graceful effortlessness one would enjoy through utilizing others’ powers to achieve desired effects. As an artist and a practicing carpenter, Hanafusa uses natural elements—for example light, shadows, humidity, and gravity—to stimulate and explore his material’s spontaneous happening. However, the experiments are conducted in studio circumstances under his delicate control. He tinkers with the boundaries between action, non-action, and reaction, and brings out the inherent beauty of this process through his enacted, enchanting mediums. Uchuiden Kioku (cosmic inherent memory) expresses his feeling for the obscure memories of the primordial cosmos through which he believes everyone is interconnected. The undefined figures in Fifth Dimension further arouse observers’ psychic resonances with paint, as well as an intensified sense of self-consciousness. Hanafusa collaborates with nature through the material, and with it, attains an alchemy that bewilders materiality.

  • Video Transcript
  • A close-up of a Paint stirring bar

    Hisao Hanafusa: Borrowing Nature’s Powers

    “I didn’t do the work; Nature did it,” repeated Hanafusa throughout our preparatory interview for this exhibition. Decades have passed since his tube paintings first earned him fame as a Minimalist artist in the 1960s and 1970s. From September 14 to December 17, 2022, Fu Qiumeng Fine Art in New York City will showcase the artist’s recent paintings from the Uchuiden Kioku (cosmic inherent memory) series and the Fifth Dimension series, which he has been working on since the early 2000s. Titled Hisao Hanafusa: Borrowing Nature’s Powers, this exhibition re-introduces Hanafusa through the East Asian philosophical concept of borrowing Nature’s strength and making it one’s own. Arguably, the method of using natural elements—light, shadow, humidity, and gravity, to name just a few—to complete a work has been present in his practice since the 1960s. However, it has been overshadowed by the everchanging discourses of past twentieth-century art movements that the 85-year-old Japanese artist took part in, without wholly being part of; or, put retrospectively in Derrida’s term, “a sort of participation without belonging.” This exhibition rethinks Hanafusa as an individual artist at the methodological level. By distilling the mechanism of his engagement with his materials as borrowing from Nature (chakuriki in Japanese; jieli in Chinese), this exhibition offers the audience the intrinsic, and essentially ecosophical, way of understanding Hanafusa. 


    The exhibition is curated by Dr. Tingting Xu, the Arnaldo Momigliano Postdoctoral Scholar in the Division of Humanities at The University of Chicago. An exhibition catalog will be published by Wùgé, including Dr. Xu’s introductory essay and her interview with Hanafusa.

  • “I believe that all humans have uchuiden or ‘universal memory.’ If we access our uchuiden, then we can express it through art, music, and other forms of creativity. Discovering one’s uchuiden is a journey that anyone can make. My work is an exploration of the mysteries of my own uchuiden.”


     — Hisao Hanafusa, c.2012.

    The exhibition begins with obscure memories of the primordial cosmos where, the artist believes, all human beings were once interconnected. In Uchuiden Kioku QM-18, water-and oil-based aluminum paints were brushed on the canvas and left to stratify under gravity. The paints flowed and converged, drying with traces of bubbles and wrinkles upon the canvas, resulting in a flat, smooth, and shining surface. Through the materials’ kinetic organism, we experience the mysterious origins of the cosmos that abides in us and the life-force of the interconnection, quiet and mystical, that exists between us. Exhibited next to these paintings are small timber widgets from Hanafusa’s carpentry studio. Japanese carpenters and woodcarvers observe the surrounding circumstances manifested in the tree’s naturally formed shapes. The organic configuration of the timber and growth patterns in the wood determined the way the widgets were made. For Hanafusa—a painter and practicing carpenter, exploring the spontaneity of Nature under his calculated control was a career-long investigation of both material and medium. He collaborates with Nature through the material, and attains with it an alchemy that bewilders materiality.

  • A silver painting with nine regular dots
    Hisao Hanafusa Uchuiden Kioku (Cosmic inherent memory)-QM18 Aluminum paint on canvas 80 x 104 in 203.2 x 264.2 cm
  • Front of the screen
    The Fifth Dimension re-directs observers’ attention to their psychic resonances with paint. Our notion of the self is suddenly stimulated by undefined shapes—or rather, figures in profile—now appearing in the center of the canvas. This sense of self-projection is molded into a process of self-doubling in the highlight work of the show: a six-panel folding screen (byōbu) placed diagonally in the center of the gallery. In this work, Hanafusa mounted silver leaves onto the screen, applied paint on top, and then folded the screen. The silver particles on each mirroring panel darkened due to oxidization. Unfolded, the facing panels form three pairs of twin images that represent the self and its shadow. Folding generates replication; time finalizes the work; light perplexes it. The memories of the materials are preserved in the finished work. Hanafusa’s labor was restricted as much as it was enforced by Nature, his powerful interlocutor. We indulged in their ongoing conversation.


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