Kanagawa Prefecture Odawara Enoura Observatory

Ocean horizon, sun, and stones

Here is where the work of modern artist Hiroshi Sugimoto continues to be compiled. The “weather station” is a jest of Sugimoto’s; he has clearly named the dominant feature of this facility, where celestial events such as the summer and winter solstices, is fused with the architecture. Certainly, if you visit before dawn, you will understand how readily the entire facility responds to light. The place is a test site, both grand and minute, for the beauty of light, rocks, architecture, the ocean horizon, the movement of celestial bodies, and time, working together.

Sugimoto’s representative work, Seascapes, is a series of photographs in which the sea is observed from above, from a high elevation, with the ocean horizon in the middle of the composition. Sugimoto says that if we liken the human retina to photographic paper, an image capturing the length of human history is continually being exposed there. With this kind of imagination as the context, it could be that Hiroshi Sugimoto is continually recording Seascape as an image of the world that appears to end up in an accumulation of myriad images.

At the center of the Enoura Observatory is a 100-meter long gallery where the Seascape series is displayed. At the very end of the space that stretches straight towards the sea, the current seascape, “trimmed” exactly like the photographs appear. The artist says that he chose this high ground in Odawara because the extremely distinct ocean horizon visible here accords with the awakening of the self that he experienced at an early age. I reckon that, inspired by his childhood experience, he purchased this mandarin grove on a hill rich with nature, and created a space that resonates with the seascape.

Early morning sunlight on the summer solstice appears through the front of the exhibition room for Seascapes, and streams through its 100-meter space in a straight line. Below the gallery is a tunnel made of thick iron designed to bring in early morning sunlight on the winter solstice, marking the precise position of the light’s path. Visitors in this rectangular dark tunnel will once again encounter a living “Seascape”, perfectly framed. Simply put, the basic structure of the facility is predicated on the intersection of the incident rays of the summer and winter solstices.

Based on the central gallery, the observatory is dotted with an outdoor Noh stage of optical glass, a chashitsu, machiai, mon, (tea ceremony room, tea ceremony waiting room, and the small doorway to the tea room) and structures that remind one of archeological remains. In most of these, stone is utilized. They are conceptualized not only as objects through which Japan’s architectural history and traditional construction methods are handed down, but also as archeological art that proceeds with time, bequeathing history to future generations by using the sturdy material that is stone.

Stones and light

“The material of the future is reclaimed material.” So says Hiroshi Sugimoto, who loves stone. In the Sakuteiki (Records of Garden Making), compiled in the Heian Era (794-1185), it is written, “First, erect the stones”. But Sugimoto understands this as “First, lay the stones flat on the ground.” A wide variety of stones are used, ranging from the Kofun period (250-538 CE) to the present, to archeological relics to the Nebukaishi stones collected in the vicinity. If we understand stones or rocks as keeping a record of the Earth’s composition, it becomes possible to understand the consonance between the space in which these are laid flat and the ocean horizon.

The Noh stage laid with optical glass, parallel to the iron tunnel, is aligned toward the sunrise during the winter solstice. The stage is ringed by guest seating, and arranged like a life-size recreation of the ruins of a Roman amphitheater. On this floating glass stage with the sea as background, one never tires of gazing at the reflection of the sky, from sunrise to sunset. In the facility there also sit the mon of a Muromachi-era Buddhist temple as its entry gateway and the Uchoten tea house, a reinterpretation of Sen no Rikyu’s famous tea house, Taian. These suggest Sugimoto’s experience with the samadhi of suki, (the love for elegant aestheticism, such as cha no yu, ikebana and waka (31-syllable Japanese poem). The observatory continues to be developed with the guidance of Sugimoto’s imagination.