Why things persist might be a question most relegated to the realm of philosophy, but I think it’s germane to Kishio Suga’s installations at Dia in Chelsea. I think that one of the reasons can be productive tension, which comes to mind looking at Suga’s “Diagonal Phase” (1969/2012) where one long column of wood is balanced against one large rectangle of wood so that seen in profile together they form the body of an “A” without the bridge between. They are held in that suspense against each other, weight and gravity pressing in, by stones bracing them at the floor. The relationship between the two pieces is productive in that it generates drama: one wants to keep watch because one or the other object might slip and the entire operation fail. I walk around that piece trying to gauge its ability to stay in that state of — many words might be applicable — anticipation, antagonism, or uncertainty.
Suga is associated with a group of artists working in Japan from the late 1960s to the early 70s. The Mono-ha movement (literally translated from the Japanese, “school of things”) made work that pushed at the limits of Western Modernism. They used relatively simple materials such as rocks, sand, wood, glass, and metal, treating these material objects as worthy of presentation in and of themselves. What makes “Diagonal Phase” compelling is the relationships: one of tense persistence.
However the other pieces in the show ratchet down that feeling. “Law of Halted Space” (2016) with its nest of intertwined metal rods lain across on top slightly cracked wooden pillars, though a bit architecturally complex seems settled. “Placement of Condition” (1973/2016) with its cut stones leaning away from each other while held in place by loops of wire also doesn’t give me that feel of interdependence, because the wires look slack. But here there is another kind of persistence — one in which the relation is static and the work shifts from producing an effect of anxiety in its audience to one of contemplative awareness.
Kishio Suga’s installations at Dia in Chelsea (541 West 22nd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) continue through July 29