Kazumi Tanaka


Communion; The Circle Series

Kazumi Tanaka was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1962; she lives in New York. She first visited Sabbathday Lake from November 17 to 19, 1995 with France Morin, Janine Antoni, and Nari Ward. She returned the following summer.

During her stay at Sabbathday Lake, Tanaka, like many of the other artists, was deeply influenced by the structure of everyday life in the community. Its complex simplicity engendered an intense registering of the passage of time, which, as she observed, seemed to pass "more carefully" there than in other places in which she had lived. This experience of everyday life is the subject of Communion (1996), an installation that distills her memory of meals in the Shaker dining room. The installation consists of two rectangular pine tables and a tall walnut clock, which she made herself. The two tables evoke the separate tables for men and women in the Shaker dining room. Embedded into the surface of each table is a shallow metal tray filled with water, on which six white plates float. The number twelve, which suggests the twelve hours that constitute a half-day or the twelve months that constitute a year, evokes the presence of time; and the plates function as abstract portraits of the Shakers. Supported by the tension of the water, these plates exhibit the stillness that derives from the equilibrium of opposite forces. Standing between the two tables is the clock. The face of the clock is made of plexiglass, so that one may see its interior mechanism, but the clock has no hands. The repetitive ticking of the clock and the swinging of its pendulum punctuate the passing of time, just as the peaceful regularity of the ritual of meal-taking does. It also embodies one of Tanaka's memories of her experience at Sabbathday Lake: the moment of silent grace that preceded each meal in the Shaker dining room, when she would close her eyes, pray, hear the ticking of the clock, and feel what she has described as pure happiness.

Tanaka also produced a series of twelve framed drawings entitled The Circle Series. To make each drawing, she brushed melted wax onto the surface of a sheet of lutrador. She did not, however, brush the area where she wanted the circle or circles to be. She then dipped the sheet into a mixture of coffee and milk. Next, she placed the sheet in a dark place for a couple of weeks to allow mold to grow. After she achieved the effect she desired, she removed the sheet from the darkness and stabilized the surface. She was originally inspired to make the drawings while reflecting in the Trustees' Office—a space in which the Shakers display photographs of members of the community who have died, among other works. This space reminded her of a room in her home in Osaka, where her family displayed photographs of ancestors. The drawings themselves evoke not only portraits, like the ones in the Trustees' Office and her home, but lives, in that they emerged through an organic process, and the circle of life itself.