Belinda Grace Gardner: The Play of Light and Shadow. Giving shape to the ephemeral: Naho Kawabe’s visualization of the invisible

„When rays of sunshine fall obliquely onto the pattern of a lace curtain, the perforations of the fabric are condensed into a graceful shadow image for a moment, its delicate structure gaining visual substance. Stylized blossoms stand out against surfaces, walls, or the floor as dark negative inversions: a brief reflex of light that manifests itself on the margin between presence and absence, substantiation and dissolution. This phenomenon has inspired the Hamburg-based Japanese artist Naho Kawabe to begin an open series of fragile floor pieces that is still in progress. In her reinterpretations of the evanescent play of shadows, she renders the ornamental structures of curtains through the no less ephemeral medium of coal dust. Permeable drapes from second-hand shops, which Naho Kawabe has collected over the years and through which she gently sifts the coal dust, serve as stencils for these works. Like black snow or pollen, the powdery material collects in the fabric’s interstices, leaving scrolling floral contours on the underlying surface. The slightest breeze would instantly obliterate the image and make it vanish. Yet, for the duration of an exhibition or in the photographic document, in which the artist additionally captures it, it has permanence(…).

In principle, Naho Kawabe uses mass produced draperies ‚that tend to be ugly, kitschy, and of lower quality‘ (Kawabe) as templates for her delicate coal prints, which, however, through aesthetic translation, transformation, and sublimation — the artist speaks here aptly of a ‘metabolic shift’ — permutate into mysterious (dream) visions: an effect that is still enhanced by the specific illumination of the works through natural or indirect artificial light, which at times lets the motifs glow as if by means of an autonomous internal source. The immaterial phenomenon of light is concretized, as it were, without which the perception and recognition of the visual, object-related reality is impossible, and simultaneously addressed in its intangibility (…).

Indeed, the coal works’ ethereal, black-and-white negative images also reveal visual parallels to the media film or rather photography. Naho Kawabe’s diaphanous adaptations of the incidental shadow play of a curtain pattern on the wall are like snapshots of briefly appearing ‚traces of the encounter with light‘ (Sadovsky 2005). Roland Barthes has defined photography as ‚an image that has been revealed, has ‘emerged’, ‘arisen’, been ‘squeezed out’ (like the juice of a lemon) through the effect of light’ and gives that, which is effervescent and has long been absent, duration as an “emanation of a bygone reality.“ The ephemeral is thus inscribed in the photograph, which according to Barthes represents “an image that has been rubbed off of reality,’ (Barthes 1980) in an essential manner. In her shadow images that bear witness to light, Kawabe subtly gives palpable shape to the idea of an image ‚rubbed off of reality.’ However, in doing so, she also implicitly questions the stability and reliability of this reality. In her potentially ephemeral coal prints, in which the gaps in the texture of the ornamental fabric become perceptible, her objective is not least the ‚visualization of the invisible’ (Kawabe): an aesthetic leitmotif pervading her work oscillating between light and shadow.“

in: Naho Kawabe. Observer Effect, Berlin 2013, p 15-24.