“I was drinking my coffee on a Sunday morning, idly watching TV with my head still half-asleep, when I was surprised to suddenly see the image from that dream reappear,” Rinko Kawauchi once said. “It was a scene of many people and horses together in a green meadow before a large mountain—a place called Aso.” The renowned Japanese photographer traces the genesis of her series “Ametsuchi” to this moment, one that led her to the city and volcanic mountain region in southern Japan known as Aso. There, the locals practice a 1,300-year-old tradition of annual controlled-burn farming (noyaki in Japanese), a process of cultivation that is both destructive and revitalizing.
Currently on view at Galerie Priska Pasquer, “Ametsuchi”—a word comprised of two Japanese characters meaning “heaven and earth,” taken from the title of an old chant—intersperses photographs of this ritual with images of distant constellations, minute figures in expansive landscapes, and religious ceremonies. Kawauchi’s awe-inspiring photographs capture the grandeur and drama of human rituals, which she approaches as emblems of our larger relationship to time and the natural world.
Like Hiroshi Sugimoto before her, Kawauchi harnesses the elemental and the universal—the solar system and phenomena in nature—but through a more human lens, suggesting the mystical energies that communities have perceived in the physical world across centuries and generations, and issues of mortality, creation, and destruction. Capturing the spectacular and the poetic, she offers a glimpse at the world that is at once humbling, melancholic, and deeply life-affirming.
“RINKO KAWAUCHI | Ametsuchi” is on view at Galerie Priska Pasquer, Dec 5, 2013–March 7, 2014.