Where the soul is


The underlying concept of my art work is based on the interaction between human beings and nature. I am interested in the ideas to do with recycling in Western culture, which is not very developed in Japan, yet. Human beings are only a small part of complex natural life-cycles.

In the 2Oth century human beings have tried to control nature for the construction of their societies. They have based their civilisation on the material exploitation of their environment. People have begun to suffer from the negative effects of their material progress as can be seen in the destruction of nature, the contamination of the environment, global warming and the impact of endocrine disrupters on animals.

Heading into the 21th century, we have to think about how human living can benefit and coexist with nature.

I am mainly working with the natural material, paper. Paper has been used for recording memories and history and as a medium of communication between people. Now there are many different varieties of paper for a number of specffic uses, for example for printing or for doors and windows in Japanese houses. Paper took a very important part in the development of human civilisation over the last thousand years.

I am interested in fusing the most primitive way of making paper using fibre from trees and plants with technologies of recycling paper. All over the world many distinct and original ways of making paper have developed from ancient times. These original and primitive methods of making paper coexist with highly technologically advanced methods of paper production and recycling processes.

In my work I would like to combine recycled paper and natural materials such as fibres from trees and local plants. Then I would like to place the sculptures outdoors and to let them decompose in the natural elements. I would like to express that my art work is just as much a part of nature as our human existence.


Part I: Sculpture

The human body is only a vessel for the human soul. When people die, there is no meaning left for the body, the vessel returns to nature.

I started to make life-sized figurative sculptures but I was never satisfied with making figures, because I felt that I was just making a container without spirit. One cannot compare the beauty and energy of living people with the man-made sculpture or statue of the human figure, even if it is a highly skilled representation. I believe that there is no soul in figurative sculpture; it is only a vessel. I wanted to express that idea with very simple forms, which I created from recycled paper pulp.

Part II: Drawing

The drawings complement the sculptures. The sculptures are empty vessels of the spirit but the drawings are of crowded people forming part of the landscape. I hung drawings in the room facing the sculptures. They were based on sketches which I drew while participating in the Indo-Japanese Sculpture Symposium in Kerala State (India) in 1997.

I visited the city of Kanniyakumari in the Tamil-Nadu state which is situated at the very southern tip of India and which is one of the most famous holy places, especially for New Year's day. It is a crossing point of the Arabian Sea, the Sea of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, called Cape Comorin. Thousands of pilgrims travelled there by bus, walked into the water and prayed to the sunset. It was a beautiful scene with people forming part of the landscape.

I discovered very simple facts of life and death in the life of Indian people and their coexistence with nature.

A Vessel of Soul

"The Human body is after all a vessel of soul", Reiko Nireki says. The word "soul" rather than "mind" sounds somehow solemn and nostalgic. I am not so concerned about the naming, but I am sure she also has a reason to say simply "vessel" Nireki has abandoned figurative sculpture which would he empowered by imagining a soul residing in the figure. Her idea of a body and a soul also differs from the concept of soul as the master of the body in ancient Greece and that of the body as a graveyard of the soul or a shell which protects the soul.

Although the Ancient Greek philosophers considered an invisible soul more realistic than the vanity of a visible body, the comparison of reality and vanity is not important in as tar as both body and soul are used as metaphors for a human being. However, the theory of a human body as a mechanism might still have some significance. According to the theory of Descartes, the body as an accurate clock might experience a death somewhat like the stoppage of its clockwork.

I happened to see such samples of death at the exhibition "Human Body World " in the National Science Museum. The epoch-making installation using a human body with its fluid taken out and filled and hardened with a kind of plastic, revealed the mechanical device packed under the skin in the body so vividly. It made me realize that there is an intimate relationship between the theory of the human body as a mechanism and the human organ transplants of today. No matter how much La Meltrie following Descartes tried to connect a body with a soul hy modifying the clockwork into a machanism which works by itself, the body remains a mere function until we deal with the primary cause of life.

Contrary to the ahove mentioned human specimen, Nirekis "vessel" is empty without the inner mechanism, and is literally a mere Vessel or a surface skin, neither moving nor heing still belween existence and non-existence. Her vessels has the content ot a soul or a substance which is inseparable from the body, or the body itself. However, Nireki has never refered to the word "body". For Nireki, who is a formative artist, to think means to create figures which are extending and spacial. The vessel where a soul resides is not a mere signal but rather the suhstance itself.

The artist has departed from figurative sculpture hecause she could not find a meaning in the skills which merely imitate the human body. Later, she moved to Europe and resumed work on figures with organic materials, which she had previously intended to do. At that time Nireki again encountered nothing hut human beings. Now, she is encountering human heings constituents of nature and society, who inevitahty get involved in their environment and repest the cycle of birth and desth. A human being who is an individual is also a part of a herd at the same time. Nirekis expression is not a single figure nor does she indicate its condition. She questions the way it IS rather than the reason for its being.

You might imagine the works of Abacanowicz, especially the group of human backs, made mainly of linen. These figures apparently carry the grave history of the artist's home country, Poland. Recently, a more severe and delicate theme called "war game" has been added to her works. However, Reiko Nireki has not experienced the war. She was born and raised in Japan after the war. Recently, she returned to Japan from England and also Germany. Nireki has looked into the material of her own language in order to express her personal experiences in various places. She recognized it directly in the form of her works.

She encountered jute linen in London and developed that encounter in India. In Germany, she worked with cast recycled paper, modeled on an iron structure. In Japan she engaged in the time-consuming task of pasting recycled paper onto a bamboo model shaped like a bomb. These acts have nothing to do with so-catted ecology. Rather she has been searching for the common wave length among the souls of different histories and cultures.

In the end, the soul takes on the style of a metaphor. However, at the same time the style is a structure of the mind which has been taken out (said Shuichi Kato), then the soul of a different structure takes on a new style. The vessel made by Nireki is a visible style of a style-less soul. There is no doubt why the artist calls it a mere vessel ot a soul based on her feelings shout the limited life span of human beings. It might also reflect upon the hastiness in Japan. Nireki's rest wish for her vessel of a soul is a natural being which tills the space like an echo from a distance, regardless of life and death.

Keinosuke Murata
Art Critic
Director of Taro Okamoto Museum