Kazuko Enomoto at the Satani Gallery

by Monty DiPietro

When Kazuko Enomoto first saw "Melencolia I," an engraving by the artist Albright Durer (1471-1528), she was spellbound. The attraction went deeper than the cuts and hatches Durer had chiseled into a copper plate to create the work - a printmaking technique, also used with pear wood, which was to later be refined by Utamaro and a legion of Japanese ukiyo-e artists into one of this countryís most traditional artistic mediums. No, what drew Enomoto into Durerís work was not form, but content - specifically a strange, eight-sided object in the left side of the composition. The octahedron, at the base of a wooden ladder, falls under the resigned gaze of a winged female figure and below a bat in flight. The picture is loaded with other iconography - a compass, a purse, keys, a diadem, an hourglass, a set of scales, and a jumble of carpenterís tools to list only a few - but nothing in the frame is as distinct as the weird eight-sided object. Recall the monolithic black slab encountered by the space travelers in the film 2001, and you can begin to appreciate the power that geometry can possesses when placed in juxtaposition with a seemingly unordered environment. This is the power that caught Enomotoís interest when she first saw "Melencolia I" 20 years ago.

"I had never seen anything like the object, and when I encountered it, I felt two mysteries - What is its geometric basis, and what is it doing in Durerís engraving?" recalls Enomoto, whose exhibition "Infinite Vision: The Octahedron," now on at the Satani Gallery on Tokyoís Ginza art strip illustrates the artistís continuing fascination - some might term it an obsession - with a single compositional element found in a 24x17cm work of art that was created almost 500 years ago.

Enomoto is presenting models in crystal and plexiglass, mathematical calculations and plans on paper, Op Art-style acrylic rhombus paintings, hands-on paper and cardboard cut-outs, a bronze, and a couple of video monitors showing short films that combine to make an exhaustive study of the object. Many of the works are new, but there are also several pieces that Enomoto made at the beginning of her foray into Durerís world of symbolism 20 years ago.

Among the early paintings, "Function" (1982), is particularly impressive. The 171x186cm work consists of two canvases, one triangular and the other a parallelogram, mounted side by side and covered with a perfect field of red, blue, and green triangles and rhombuses. It doesnít take long before the visitor realizes that everything in the show is based on the rhombus and the triangle - basic geometrical elements in Durerís object. The 171x186cm "Function," whose contrasting colors seem to undulate - holds the rear wall of the galleryís L-shaped basement exhibition space, while one of the original "Melencolia I" prints hangs nearby. If Durer were to walk into the Satani, it is a safe bet that the German artist and art theorist would feel honored.

So, what is the message amid all this geometry?

"It took me about one year to solve the mystery," smiles Enomoto, a casual and personable woman who relaxes by listening to J.S. Bachís canons. "I suddenly realized, instinctively, that the answer lay in the pentagram, Iíve written an essay that explains everything."

The crux of it is, writes Enomoto, that Durer was dealing with both infinity and physicality. Luckily, for those get bitten by the octahedron bug but lack a Japanese-language reading ability, Reiko Tomii has translated the artistís treatise into English, and the Satani has published it as a 16 page illustrated booklet, available at the gallery.

"The octahedron has continued to hold my attention," says Enomoto of Durerís object - which rather resembles an elongated cube that has had two of its opposite corners sliced off - "because it is so beautiful."

"Infinite Vision: The Octahedron" is a show so incredibly unique that it is bound to intrigue anyone with an inquiring mind. Enomotoís work, while at times rather technical, never digresses into the world of scientific dissection - rather she keeps things very visually engaging. The fine balance between passion and precision that characterized Durerís oeuvre is recreated here, and lives on in a complex but accessible tribute to one of Europeís most influential artists of the late-Renaissance era.

notes: Until Jul 25, 1998 (3564-6733).
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