- Beyond Being and Nothingness:On Sekine Nobuo (1970–71)
One day, Sekine packed up a truckload of oilclay from a mud store and after many wrong turns finally arrived at an art gallery. With the help of a large number of friends, he transferred all the oilclay from the truck to the gallery.
A tidy rectangular room of some 70 square meters2 with pure white walls and a gray floor, the gallery was immediately filled with lumps of black and pasty oilclay. The smell of oil, expounded by a raw sense of materiality, made the room feel stuffy. Masses of oilclay, with a typically expressionless “oilclay”-like character, were thrown about here and there. Oilclay seen at the gallery barely differed from that at the mud store. There in the gallery was a lump of a thing, which to anyone’s eye was simply oilclay. An everyday thing that speaks of nothing other than mere “oilclay,” a noun connoting a certain kind of matter. Somebody murmured: “Even when delivered to a gallery, oilclay really just looks like oilclay.”
Sekine’s friends looked at each other and then watched Sekine, as they all wondered what he would do with these 4 tons of oilclay. Walking slowly around the piles of oilclay, Sekine suddenly stopped, sighed a mysterious sigh, and grinned. How much time had passed since then? Finally, he began to touch these expressionless, wordless piles of oilclay.
He linked one lump to another next to it and caressed them softly. As the soft oilclay submitted itself to his touch, two lumps completely merged as one. Sekine then picked up another lump and threw it 2 meters forward. The thrown lump stuck to an almost life-size pile. He approached it, caressed and slapped it, made an undulating rectangle and extended it to the center of the room, where larger piles lay. Noting a lump the size of a head, he quickly lifted it. After taking a few steps, however, he suddenly [End Page 238] looked around and stalled. Finally, when he noticed a gigantic pile near the entrance, he slowly placed the small lump on top of it. He then gathered the small chunks scattered around it and piled two or three of them together. Several lumps left in the rear corner of the gallery were also brought there—one after another. However, when he lifted the last chunk, he unexpectedly looked back, returned it to where it had been and quietly put it down. Some of the masses he had just moved were also returned to their original locations. Having completed this process, he then walked to an area hidden behind the gigantic pile. When this pile grew in size similar to the one in the center, his hand somehow began to remove the chunks from it, instead of piling them together. Thus, there emerged another small assembly between the center pile and this large pile.
It seemed that the piles were finally thus sorted into five or six groups. However, what then happened completely betrayed the expectation of those watching. Five piles became four, four became three, three became two…. The oilclay was eventually turned into one huge mound in the center of the room. Not a single small chunk was left astray as masses were put together as a whole. The view of piles in complex configurations placed at certain distances from each other was erased all at once. Instead, there arose a distinct, condensed, grand figure near the center of the rectangular space.
Sekine paced around the room over and over again, lighting up a cigarette and occasionally gazing at the mountain of oilclay. Inhaling and exhaling deep puffs of smoke, his face appears a little flushed.
“So is this the end of your act?” A friend asked him. However, he continued to silently smoke the cigarette down to its butt. Constantly looking at the mountain of oilclay, he finished his cigarette and slowly shed his jacket and running shirt. He then approached the oilclay.
A huge pile of oilclay, torn and kneaded bit by bit, began to be dispersed again, chunks placed...