/ Three Worlds

Otto Künzli

About the exhibition

Three Worlds

The best cameras, so they say, are made in Japan and Germany. As are their lenses. But the fact that these sometimes break irreparably pleases Jiro Kamata, who dissects them like carcasses, guts them, and frees them of all metal and plastic, leaving only their highly precise lenses – made of the best glass.

They lay there, naked, the eyes of the camera. They have seen all the countries of this world. They have taken in the light of our sun, of thousands of stars, and of millions of light bulbs, neon lamps, flash lamps and torches. Suffused by a candle or two, they have seen the beautiful and the ugly, birth, love and death. They have captured laughter, encountered hate, war. They have been to the sea, flown to the Moon, caught fleeting signs of UFOs. They have captured trivial things billions of times, and only rarely the extraordinary. They have turned the naked into art and, when they looked into every crease and fold, into pornography.

Robbed of their black coat, they are now themselves exposed. In their colorless transparency, they appear liberated from their pictures, and yet, without constantly supplying new pictures, you cannot see through them. That is what the observer – the photographer – sees. Here, Kamata carries out his precisely placed interventions. He paints the lenses black on one side (I will comment on the white variant later). And he places the glass lenses in flat containers made of blackened silver. A fine, circular ribbon surrounds and protects the fragile edge. The flat base covers the paint and defines the back, and thus the front. Then, several elements with differing diameters are arranged into a necklace and bound with chain links. Others are bridged with bars and form brooches, which are reminiscent of medals or abstract flowers.

Now the lenses are once again how we know them in front of the camera: black, deep and unfathomable. In this plain, strict form, the eye of the camera becomes an object of silent dialog, of probing observation. A journey into the darkness begins. We are accompanied by thoughts from Tanizaki Jun’ichiro’s In Praise of Shadows, a short book on Japanese aesthetics from 1933: “Smaller rooms are the fashion now, and even if one were to use candles in them one would not get the color of that darkness; but in the old palace and the old house of pleasure the ceilings were high, the skirting corridors were wide, the rooms themselves were usually tens of feet long and wide, and the darkness must always have pressed in like a fog. The elegant aristocrat of old was immersed in this suspension of ashen particles, soaked in it […].” 1 “[T]he fragile light of the candle [was] unable to pierce its thickness, turned back as from a black wall. I wonder if my readers know the color of that ‘darkness seen by candlelight.’ It was different in quality from darkness on the road at night. It was a repletion, a pregnancy of tiny particles like fine ashes, each particle luminous as a rainbow. I blinked in spite of myself, as though to keep it out of my eyes.” 2

Now, what do we see when we look into Kamata’s jewelry eyes? First, the hard reflexes of the light sources impose themselves upon you. In my case there are four bare neon tubes on the ceiling of Jiro’s studio, an optical signal from the world behind, above, outside me. Then, in front, my own reflection. Because of the way the light falls, I see myself only in silhouette. I try to make out details and discover colors. The surfaces of the lenses shimmer in shades of turquoise, blue and green. Orange, yellow, and sand-colored nuances also play along. A dark claret glows on a small lens. The interplay of colors on the coating of the lenses is subtle and yet brilliant, metallic, crisp. Colors like a film of oil on dark water, it drawing us in. We penetrate the surface and sink down into a real, a magical, a metaphysical place.

The way we look into a dark room is also the way the lenses look back at us. We are free to look into the black glistening glass in Kamata’s jewelry, whatever we project into them. What riches has this lens already seen? All the images of this world appear, start moving, become a film, merge, mutate into dreams of the night, fear of the dark broom cupboard. Black holes suck us in, tunnels engulf us. Eyes stare at us. Eyes! Anything is possible. Here’s looking at you, kid. Here isn’t looking at you, kid! Your eyes are the gateway to your soul. I do not want to see myself in you. However, we look into eyes, that is the way they look back at us.

Now about the lenses that were painted white. Almost everything is very different and yet the same. The colors retreat, breaking the harshness of absolute white. We can only make them out fleetingly. My likeness is also ephemeral. We can hardly grasp the depth of the glass body, like gentle swaths of mist over clear water. I think of the white of the eye, which we rarely talk about. It is lovely! Imagine your eyes without it. We would be aliens, strange to ourselves.

If the black in Kamata’s new works corresponds to the Japanese sumi ink used in calligraphy, at the place where it is thickest, then when I look at the slightly broken white, I think of the finest Japanese washi paper from the gampi tree. The empire of light and of shadow, as produced by the relationship of water and ink, would be everything we see in these lenses – or just simply, life.
An early work by the Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher, the small lithograph Drie werelden (Three Worlds) from 1955, shows a pond in the fall with leaves floating on its surface. Three trees, which are beyond the edge of the image, are reflected in the still water, protruding into the picture like black roots. In the foreground, a large carp is swimming through the dark peaty water. It looks at us with wide eyes.

The car, air-conditioning unit and color TV

In the beginning, it wasn’t Paradise from which Man was expelled. In the beginning there was a floating sky bridge, upon which stood a divine couple: Izanagi and his wife Izanami. The pair looked deep down below them at the blue sea. They churned the waters with their jeweled spears and let drops fall from its tip; these then formed land. They conceived children, which were islands, and thus the group of islands that are Japan came to be. 3 The sun goddess Amaterasu-ō-mi-kami was also born, and she produced the line of the Imperial dynasty. She once gave the three Imperial Regalia of Japan, which are still revered to this day, to her grandson Ninigi-no-mikoto, who was great-grandfather of the legendary first Japanese Emperor Jimmu: the sacred sword as a symbol of valor, the sacred mirror symbolizing wisdom, and the sacred jewel of benevolence, a necklace made of comma-shaped jade beads, so-called magatama (literally “bent” or “curved” gemstones). 4

Yet before the story could get that far, the great illustrious goddess Amaterasu, shining in the sky, almost blew the whole genesis. Shocked by the unspeakable misdeeds of her brother Susanoo, she hid in a rock cave and plunged the world into an eternal night. A wail broke out among the Kami (countless gods and spirits in Shintō mythology) and they decided to lure Amaterasu out of the cave. They placed a specially made mirror in front of the entrance to the cave and staged all manner of spectacles. Kami Amenouzume 5 performed an ecstatic sacred dance, in the course of which she exposed herself in part with obscene gestures: “Then the Plain of High Heaven shook, and the eight hundred myriad deities laughed together.” 6 Amaterasu, now curious, carefully opened the entrance to the cave and saw in amazement her own gleaming countenance in the mirror. Thus she was ultimately lured out of the cave, light dawned and the world was bathed in brightness once more.

In the first chapter of this text we immerse ourselves in worlds of images and ideas that reveal themselves to us when we look at, in, and through the camera lenses that play an important role in Jiro
Kamata’s work.

Starting from the sun, for whose existence we have a mirror to thank, as we have learnt, we now embark on a second short journey to a number of selected stations in Kamata’s jewelry cosmos. Once again, everything revolves around seeing, perceiving, sensing optical and catoptric manifestations. Matt, dull and shiny; opacity, transparency and translucence; interference, iridescence and dichroism accompany us, without us having to understand the science behind these
phenomena. Now let’s allow ourselves to be seduced by crosshair reticles and shadows, perplexed by desire and luster and the surreal play of colors. Looking in a mirror was always tempting – and dangerous.

2003. At its start, the red thread 7 (the one we are now following) was, seemingly to me, the crosshair reticle. Target 1: Circular, anthracite-colored tube segments hang on a cord against the chest. At their center, the pendants feature one of those cross-shaped compositions of fine lines that help aiming devices achieve lethal precision. A combative, aggressive moment briefly flares up. The courage through jewelry to deliberately seek conflict, to offer oneself as a target. No shot is fired. For it is not aiming with a weapon that is intended, but rather capturing and carefully steering the observer’s gaze. It concerns the wearer’s strategy of achieving dominance of the gaze. This impression is reinforced in the version Target 2 of 2005. Here the crosshairs are engraved as extremely thin lines on curved round disks of colorless optical glass. Consequently, the image moves even more clearly away from the military function, gaining in luster and elegance. With Sunny Pendant, likewise from 2005, Kamata takes the next step, carving the facet lines of cut gemstones into the now colored glass disks in the manner of spider webs. The title references the material, round blanks for sunglasses and at the same time to the suggested sparkling of gemstones in the sunlight.

Jiro leaves the solar system

" Above me, a mirror. In it I saw that I had neither mouth nor eyes. With eyes I didn’t have, I saw that my face was a white wall. Mother’s voice: It’s too bad for him. He never found his face. At that moment the curtains opened. Light glared in through the window. It fell on the white wall that was me, and suddenly I saw, in the mirror, it crumbled, and with it crumbled the four walls of my room. Vast space all around me. 11

From the center of a rather atypical bathroom mirror – a little too small and tall as opposed to wide – my destroyed likeness looks at me. We are familiar with the seemingly random collages of rectangular image sections overlapping at various angles, aerial shots that together provide an overview of the landscape. The principle is the same, but with my face, something is not right.

Ghost 2016. Kamata placed a complex array of extremely thin, rectangular mirror panels in the center of the mirror. A collage that, in turn, itself becomes a brooch. The wall mirror is its resting place, its sleeping place, its home. Mirrors cannot close their eyes. Mirrors are never empty. Without the borrowed, ever-fleeting images, they are not mirrors. They have no choice. They hide nothing. They mercilessly project back into the space even the tiniest deviations in their optical properties. You cannot reconstruct a flawless mirror from fragments. Deconstruction, in contrast, creates a new, a distorted image. Not the image of a hero, a resplendent phoenix. No new order is born here, no new ism. It is the unfathomable image of our future in a difficult, reeling world in upheaval. It is the image of confusion, of doubt, of questions, of searching. It is also the image of diversity, openness and opportunities in the unknown.

A cascade of isosceles triangles falls from the sky. In the Shell pendants made in 2018, the mirrors, now represented by wafer-thin mother-of-pearl plates, are cracked, splintered, fragmented. We think we can still hear the echo of the break, the strike, like thunder and lightning. We can already see the shards flying and are waiting with bated breath to hear the loud bang. The moment of detonation unites the beauty of fireworks with the horror of destruction. We cannot always rely on the mirror to be an amulet. Sometimes the evil eye is the last to leave a place.

The pattern of fine boundary lines pervades the shimmering fields like a trigonometric puzzle. Mother of pearl. The garb of the mother of all pearls shimmers seductively, captivating us. Soft bodies, shaped in the rolling lap of the tides; ground and polished with the finest sands of the seas. Lusters. The unmistakable glow from deep within the nacre, yet it is not a result of processing; it is the reflection and refraction of the light at the crystal boundaries of the calcium carbonate and at the water molecules embedded there, and is ever more delicate the thinner and more numerous these layers are. It sounds neither romantic nor poetic, but that’s what we learnt in our vocational training. With nacre wallpaper, the shell creates for itself a truly luxurious home. Yet in so doing it also encases and gives this gift to any foreign bodies that have infiltrated it, transforming them into valuable, highly praised pearls and making them shine.

Mother, the brooches that Jiro Kamata has been making from mother of pearl since 2018, are not only artful intarsia works. Indeed, to me they seem much more to be lovingly created, billowing creatures, dedicated to the sea, where everything ends and repeatedly begins again anew.

1. Quoted from: Tanizaki, Jun’ichiro, In Praise of Shadows, Thomas J. Harper & Edward G. Seidensticker (trans.) (Stony Creek: Leete’s Island Books, 1977), p. 34, (original Japanese edition: In’ei-raisan, [Tokyo, 1933]).
2. Ibid.
3. Wagner, Wieland, Japan - Abstieg in Würde, (Munich: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2018), p. 110. Note: The Japanese story of the creation of the world and the beginnings of the rule of the Tennō dynasties, the “Age of the Gods,” is recorded above all in the two 8th-century chronicles Kojiki and Nihon shoki. There are additional versions of many episodes in existence, some of which differ markedly. Here I quote the shortest of all compact versions I could find.
4. The Japanese terms for the Three Sacred Treasures in Shinto: Kusanagi-no-tsurugi (sword), Yata-no-kagami (mirror) and Yasakani-no-magatama (jewel).
5. Also Ame-no-uzume-no-kami or Ame-no-uzume-no-mikito.
6. Quoted from Kojiki, Part III: B.H. Chamberlain (trans.) 1882, http://www.sacred-texts. com/shi/kojiki.htm.
7. Unmei no akai ito, the Red Thread of Fate, is the Japanese name for the unbreakable bond between two souls that fate has destined for one another, an invisible red thread tied to the left little finger of every person from birth. When Jiro Kamata was born in Hirosaki in the north of Honshū, Japan’s main island, in 1978, it seems two thin red threads were tied around his finger – for his father had a jewelry store. Thus Jiro was born into a jewelry family, into a world of jewelry. He does not hesitate to say that he hated jewelry in those days. Yet fortunately, this second red thread also proved to be unbreakable.
8. Yin and yang mean more than simply feminine and masculine. A more general definition is provided by Roger T. Ames in “Yin and Yang,” in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Any comparison between two or more unique particulars on any given topic is necessarily hierarchical:one side is yang and the other is yin.” https://www.rep. routledge.com/articles/thematic/yin-yang/v-1 (öast retrieved Feb. 11, 2019).
9. One could of course wonder where the sacred sword has got to in Kamata’s world of jewelry. Think of the interplay of lights in his works, the reflections, the bundled rays, the precisely set, hard highlights. Think of the fire sword, the lightning sword, the lightsaber (light/laser sword), the plasma blade. Think of the sun’s rays. And if that doesn’t help, only the movies will, science fiction and the good old myths, or Google.
10. Wagner, Japan - Abstieg in Würde, p. 127.
11. Quoted from Flašar, Milena Michiko, Ich nannte ihn Krawatte. (Munich: btb Verlag, 2014), p.109

"Three Worlds", 1955, by Maurits Cornelis Escher Drie werelden © Jiro Kamata

Momentopia, 2008-10 © Jiro Kamata

Target, 2003 © Jiro Kamata

Target 2, 2005 © Jiro Kamata

Sunny ring, 2005 © Jiro Kamata

Sunny, 2005 © Jiro Kamata

Sunny brooch, 2005 © Jiro Kamata

Palette, 2015 © Jiro Kamata

Flare, 2016 © Jiro Kamata