Kouji Ohno's works

Kouji Ohshima
Art critic

The forms of the wood sculpture of torsos by Kouji Ohno are not only all too unique, but they also send a shockwave to the viewer for the density of the thinking behind them.

The torsos are not only carved out of the raw wood of Japanese cinnamon and zelkova, but they are carved out on the inside, chiseling out the skin of the human body as it were. The skin of the torso that is about 5mm to 1cm in thickness expresses a texture unique to dry wood. The energy required in carving such a piece alone is astonishing, but the torso is sometimes pierced with a metal rod, wrapped in thick wires, hung by chains or enclosed in a square metal cage, giving it a tense and aggressive expression which conjures images of some sort of catastrophe.

Some of the pieces represent the muscles of the human body stripped of the skin by using thin wires to represent the muscle tissues. The inside of those pieces are of course hallow and vividly constitute only the muscles under the skin.

Why is Kouji Ohno fixated on such an intense representation? I am intrigued by the thoughts Ohno has in the creative process where he uses an astoundingly enormous amount of energy. In Ohno's pieces, different phases blend together to present a distinct theory of "presence". I want to decode the symbolic meanings that his work sends out by sorting out the phases.

The first phase is his approach, which is referred to as being phenomenologically reduced.

The reason why he Ohno does not just produce a lifelike representation of the human body is that if he gives a piece a description like "a woman's nude", the piece that is existential which will never be replaced would turn into an abstractly universal human body, and the impact or the excitement of the woman's nude in front of us will disperse like mist.

To face existentiality itself before it is given a description is the method that is called the phenomenologically reduced approach, but Ohno stubbornly refuses to let the viewer feel at ease towards a piece as a familiar subject by giving it a description.

However, it is not that Ohno is fixated on existentiality that has not yet been given a description. That is probably just a starting point. There is a type of Platonism there and I think it gives the nude torso a dignified nobleness. We were all inhabitants of the celestial world. But now that we are caged in a prison called the physical body and by having a physical body, we have lost spiritual tranquility by being at the mercy of appetite, sexual desires, the lust to dominate, etc.

Even if we are at someone’s wake, our stomachs rumble from hunger or we think only of rushing to the toilet due to a sudden urge to urinate or defecate.

To be born into this world and to have a physical body means to lose the superiority of the soul as we are besieged by such physiological phenomena, and in order for us to return to the celestial world by overcoming our pitiful and sorry existence, we must face eidos itself... I believe that is how Ohno represented the skin as a prison that tries to cage our souls inside. In Ohno's work, I see the sadness of the "soul" within the skin that has been locked inside it and the eyes that stare at the sin of being born into this world. This is the second phase.

But that is not all.
It is certain that Ohno feels something like karma in the human existence. But I see a third phase from the fact that I sense a kind of strong will in his work that affirms that it "exists". That is the attitude of questioning the essential sociality of the human existence and the concept of its intersubjective existence.

From the powerful torso that seems to proudly affirms its "existence" while being pieced by a rod and restricted by a metal cage, which seems to symbolize the "outer world" itself, I sense that this space that is separated by the skin, in other words, the hollow outer body and the outer world themselves are what Ohno is trying to express.

When I look at Ohno’s work, I sense how human existence is; as it creates a skin that is the "ideal self" on the outside, while one internalizes the gaze of others, the sin and the sadness.

In other words, the Ohno's skin is formed both externally and internally.

Just as an actor performs a given role while being aware of the audience’s reaction, betrays their expectations and then exceeds their expectations to exhibit his skills as an actor, one's surface=skin that is presented in front of others must be fuseably flexible, otherwise it would just be the source of self limitation and a self trap. If the skin has become dry and hardened like that of a mummified corpse, the "self" that is closed inside can have no choice but to cry self-abnegation; This is not who I am!

The reasons why Ohno's work is pierced by a metal rod, wrapped in trapped in a metal cage are perhaps because it is the representation of the gap between the "self" that is self-directed and the truth of the "self" within, and self-alienation.

However, I cannot ignore the fact that such observations about the human existence are only one side of Ohno's thinking from the fact that the look of a piece that has a head is something contemplative, which maintains serene silence in the extreme. This is where I see a fourth phase.

The torsos by Ohno sometimes look a Buddha's statue. That is probably the primary image that indicates his indigeneity. However, the torso holds its left hand in the Abhaya (Fear Not) position, unlike traditional Buddhist sculptures which hold their right hand in that position, and because of that, his is only an elaborately schemed parody.

There are roughly six schools of Indian philosophy. Brahman, which is the absolute reality that fills the universe in general, points out that we harbor the awareness of "self" as the result of various confrontations. That is why we have the awareness of "self" and from that "self", we will see that there are many "selves"=atmans in this world.

The uniquely inalienable and vastly continual plasmic thing that originally fills the universe suddenly recovers the senses and develops the awareness of "self". In Hindu philosophy and in Zen meditation, one contemplates the mechanism of this "sudden recovery of the senses" and tries to assimilate into or return to the consciousness of the universe through meditation, but Ohno's work fixates on the physicality of the "self" in contrast. The skin is somehow created and although its interior and exterior are similarly "vacant", we notice the skin which separates the internal and the external - I see that he is battling to discern the moment physicality=skin which creates the awareness of "self" is born.

Ohno probably thinks that this skin is a type of fictitious entity. That is likely to be why I see that he is not expressing the role of the skin, which becomes visible from the third phase, in such an affirmed manner.

The awareness of "self" is created by the skin and as a result, we are plagued by the anxieties of life as we can neither return to the universe’s consciousness = Brahman, nor overcome the limitations of our existence of living and dying without solving the dubiousness of the existence called "self".

The body's skin establishes the "self" while these four phases blend together... Ohno is probably chiseling out the very thin skin of the human body out of the raw wood of Japanese cinnamon today in an attempt to distinguish this boundary.

I like the dignity of the Platonism Ohno presents. I would also like to see him expand the fourth phase and create an expression, which positively sings the praise of "life" itself, including the joy of sensuality from it, and I would also like to see him develop a theory of agreement of the intersubjective self and the theatrical human existence. It is my hope to observe how the bodies sculpted by Kouji Ohno continue to vividly capture people and ravel the critical plane called the skin as a thrilling present progressive incident in modern art.