“I always think about how I could express an idea in book form,” says artist Yasutomo Ota. Hailing from Japan, Ota lives and works in Germany, where he employs ancient bookbinding techniques to create artworks that challenge the very nature of the book as an object, a topic of interest now more than ever, when obsolescence threatens the physical book. Applying a refreshing degree of craftsmanship and a conceptual approach, the young artist—not yet 30—develops one-of-a-kind works of art, which are grounded in and informed by an age-old tradition. Inspired by the “virtually endless pool of terms” that Conceptualism offers, the artist combines natural skill and technical principles to create his works, which are garnering attention; one of Ota’s works was recently acquired by Munich’s prominent Staatliche Grafische Sammlung.
The theme of the death of the book is at the fore of much of Ota’s works, including Das Aufnahmevermögen von Weiß, in which a blank white book with frayed pages stands ajar atop an open pool of dried black ink. The pages’ edges are drenched in pigment, which ascends in a monochromatic gradient along the sides of the book, as though the words formerly contained within the book have bled out. In this age of internet and digital tablet-induced information overload, the tangible hardcover book has become a kind of artifact. Ota’s work raises questions about how we interact with textual information through creating objects that are traditionally beautiful and hand-bound.
An oft-debated topic concerning conceptual art involves how to create works with intellectual significance without sacrificing traditional aesthetic appeal. Simultaneously decorative and understated, Ota resolves this debate in his works, which, in his words, “are always created with two very important criteria in mind: concept and the beauty of craftsmanship.” His books hold the esoteric near-occult allure of another era despite being the recent creations of a young artist. For an art object to accomplish innovation and also have an innate physical beauty is a feat Ota accomplishes with a seasoned self-awareness. We’re reminded the physical beauty of the book as well as the potential mystery of what’s inside.