By Andrew Berardini
Kōji Enokura was a maker of symptoms and stories. His symptoms, fleeting performances captured in photos, became, with time, stories: sizeable wall pieces blackly hanging between painting and sculpture. Nature always shaped his work, defining its presence and tension between body and mind, even as the artist switched from evanescent events to permanent objects. A founding member in the late 1960s of the Japan-based Mono-ha (School of Things) group, Enokura emerged alongside artists Lee Ufan, Kishio Suga, Nobuo Sekine and others, from this kind of homegrown Minimalism, which collectively took on the elemental quality of thingness but with a shift of emphasis to nature (an elemental antidote to the testicular industrialism of Judd and the gang).
Symptom – Floor, Water (P.W. – No. 50) (1974) is only a snapshot of some vinyl tiles, gridded out and flecked just so, just another mass-produced petroleum derivative only perfected last century, likely lining your kitchen right now. These tiles have an institutional aura, a pattern easily recognised from sundry hospitals and street- corner sanatoria. Whatever might heave or spew, splatter or smear across their waxed surface can be easily wiped away with the janitorial swoosh of a bleachy rag mop. In the background, solid sunlight pours through some hidden window, the light angled by its shape.
In the foreground, water puddles shapefully – an imperfect spill line made by the weight of water splashing itself thinly against the force of gravity, its ancient and elemental irregularity broken by the hard edge of the square tile, the puddle caught and reformed into a perfect straight line. The shimmer of the water catching the light, the variable shape on one side momentarily angled into the tile’s abstract, manmade geometry. Though the tiles are industrial, it is the natural structure and behaviour of water that stars in this performance.
As it’s not all form, it’s also time. The water hangs there on the edge, precariously, ready to spill over and be done. A quiet moment of common suspense, but common only because of the materials, which are so everyday, found anywhere. Distinctly modern and the essence of ancient, here they appear peculiarly potent, dramatic. Nature seems poised to wash over the angle, to flood over this tiny edge. A complex tension understood in a glance.
What Enokura called stories stage his ephemeral symptoms into setlike paintings, more scenes or sites than things. In Intervention (Story – No. 63) (1991), black paint stains one side of the canvas, the spill some ancient seepage passed through colour field with its oozing oil-dark flow. Across the raw cotton hangs a simple black curtain, running the height of the canvas, mimicking the stain of the paint. Against the stasis of the object, something active, human, theatrical breathes out of the draping fabric. The curtain gives the work a weird expectancy. Twenty-two years after its crafting and 18 since the artist’s death, the soft darkness of paint and fabric flowing down, it still feels like something’s about to happen here.