Courtesy Art Asia Pacific magazine
SET ADRIFT IN THE PRECAMBRIAN SEA
By Eric C. Shiner
Sakagami Chiyuki’s intricacies are not only found in her masterfully honed works on paper and canvases, for they define her soul and explode forth in a dynamic blast much like the fateful collision of atoms that, she recalls, gave rise to her birth exactly five billion and nine million years ago – or at least to one dimension of the artist, that is, whose human form entered this world in the early l960s. And so it has been, since she embarked on a quest to recall her distant underwater home, that Sakagami has created some of the most chillingly detailed art work our human world has ever seen.
Gifted with a complex imagination spanning billions of years, Sakagami’s mind is a wellspring of scientifically detailed creativity set off by ordered chaos. Her work is an extension of this fertile ground; lt is steeped in remembrances of days spent languishing in the precambrian sea peering up at deep blue skies. And it is from the color palettes derived from these distant memories that Sakagami’s signature use of blue has emerged in her attempts to recapture the Silurian- not cerulean − brilliance that she recalls from her underwater home. Having swum with the ancient fish that today line the walls of natural history museums, Sakagami becomes an archaeologist charged with the task of excavating the rich deposits of her own multifaceted mind.
Indeed her anwork is intricate, for the artist’s images suggest microscopic close-ups of a Petri dish or layers of the sea exposed for the viewer’s consumption. Populated by incalculable life forms, from protozoa to sea plants, Sakagami’s works are both seascapes of waters traversed in her psychological youth and mindscapes of the artist’s inner thoughts in the here and now. A sense of violence, perhaps brought about by colliding continents and human warfare, resides in the work; Sakagami recalls the topic thus: “Though the Paleozoic Era was a peaceful time, the Mesozoic Era was an age when the war for survival was very fierce. it was a world where the weak were the victims of the strong. Some 65 million years ago, I witnessed the death of the last surviving ammonite. It was so sad. The ancient fish taught me how to survive in the water and thus I moved to live with them in the deep sea.”
Thanks to these perceived memories rooted in distant seas, Sakagami is able to construct a body of work that is emblematic of the world it inhabits today. Referencing contemporary Japanese society – and her position within it – Sakagami recalls waking up from a nap and being “on a volcanic island. There, the ‘society’ where human beings are the dominant power was established.” Against this backdrop of economic and cultural power, the artist produces and exhibits her lush work for the world to examine, and perhaps less obviously critiques that very society and its taboos against those that don’t tow the normative line.
Sakagami creates her own visual code as a means of expression. “Human beings,” she says, have a weapon called ‘language.’ But I dare not use such Language now.” Based on a system of patterns, as she calls them, her drawings and paintings communicate a cornucopia of emotions and conditions: fear, claustrophobia, vast intelligence and daydreaming, to name a few. Most essential in these dense works is The possibility that the skeins and systems that warp and weave within and without one another are the visual embodiment of the artist’s position in Japanese society – and in her own multi-dimensional psyche. For Sakagami, both are places populated by hope, fear, skeletons and mental fossils of epic proportions.
Mislabeled at times as an “outsider” artist, Sakagami and her oeuvre might be placed under the rubric of “insider” art, for it is the artist’s interior world that becomes the locus of creativity and main influence on her artistic production. Beyond this, in her position as intermediary between a number of imagined roles, Sakagami, the artist, acts as the sounding board to disparate voices, each clamoring for attention; the works she creates might simply be an extension of these conversations, coded in the language of another world. Lastly, in response to mainstream Japanese society, Sakagami’s works become iconographic symbols of the stigmatism that alternative souls in Japan often face. Far from charting a voyage adrift on muddled seas. Sakagami’s hand more closely replicates the complex workings of a mind engaged in a life-long quest for a Past shaded in ancient blue. END