By: Catherine Damman
The work of Japanese artist Koji Enokura comprises a veritable taxonomy of stains. Enokura’s first solo exhibition in North America featured two bodies of work: documentation of ephemeral “interventions” from the early 1970s, when he was affiliated with the Mono-ha group, and large-scale pieces from the 1980s and ’90s that meld painting and sculpture. The evasive logic of the stain is evident in both facets of Enokura’s practice, as his works frequently index past actions while offering a meditation on the invasion of one material by another.
The interdependence of different substances was a central concern of Mono-ha (roughly, “school of things”), a group of artists active in Japan in the 1960s and ’70s known for their stark arrangements of organic and industrial materials. The artists’ diverse works have recently received recognition stateside, notably in the 2012 exhibition “Requiem for the Sun: The Art of Mono-ha” (also at Blum & Poe).
Enokura’s canvases are elegantly deceptive variations on a familiar theme: the visually provocative high-value contrast between raw canvas and deeply saturated fields of inky black. Amid these extremes, closer inspection reveals subtler gradations of indigo, ocher and ecru. In Intervention (Story-No. 30), 1991, a wood plank is pitched at an angle between the upright painting and the floor. At some point the beam had been pressed against the canvas, leaving a dark rectangular pool of pigment. Suggesting the labor of unseen bodies, the repetition of the form—as a stain on the canvas and as a literal presence in the gallery—dramatizes the relationship between a mark and its maker.
Anxiety about the influence of Minimalism is evident in Enokura’s untitled 1970 leather-covered version of Robert Morris’s 1964 Corner Piece from the famed “Plywood Show” at New York’s Green Gallery. Despite this allusion, Enokura’s sculptures, through their emphasis on texture and process, are more aligned with the varied field of Post-Minimal art. Indeed, works like Intervention (Story-No. 30) suggest absent bodies rather than the resolutely present viewers that Minimalist artists cherished.
Indices of absence are also central to a series of photographs documenting Enokura’s early “interventions.” The small-scale black-and-white images take on an elegiac tone as they detail puddles of water or denuded surfaces, presented as the banal artifacts of abandoned spaces or the consequences of decay. Enokura’s Wall, an impenetrable slab of concrete wedged in the gap between two trees, first installed at the 1971 Biennale de Paris, seems to mark a physical and conceptual impasse, a refusal of sorts. Installation (1974) depicts an oil-soaked swath of fabric in an otherwise empty room; the sheet appears to float from the ceiling’s edge only to pool on the floor. Enokura placed his own body on another such threshold in Symptom-Sea-Body (P.W.-No. 40), 1972. Lying on a beach, the artist positioned his spine such that it followed the curve of an incoming tide. Here, the human body is present as a kind of material, subject to corrosion, stains and inevitable disappearance.