Art as self-expression has been already over-exploited by former generations. I think we're heading for a different type of art.
Visually captivating and enchantingly ethereal, PixCell - Deer No. 27 features the most iconic subject of Nawa Kohei’s widely acclaimed and most celebrated PixCell series, in which he covers the entire surface of an object with resin and clear glass beads – transforming it, in the artist’s own words, into a “shell of light”. Ensconced in glittering orbs, the taxidermy deer is transformed into an exquisite otherworldly creature that seems to hover weightlessly like an ephemeral mirage. To source subjects for the series, Nawa scours the internet for large toy or taxidermy animals. He then acquires the object and adorns it in crystal beads of varying sizes, painstakingly planning and mapping out the specific location of each individual sphere. “There is no arbitrariness to this method”, the artist notes in a catalogue for his exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo in 2011. The different sized orbs reflect, morph and mutate the textures of the animal in enthralling ways, resulting in infinite magnifying and distorting lens that create an alluring visual experience.
The deer – the most representative and coveted animal in Nawa’s PixCell series – embodies a significant symbolic role in Japanese cultural and historical contexts. Since ancient times, the animal was believed to be a sacred messenger from the Shinto gods, and ancient scrolls known as the Kasuga Mandala or Shika Mandala appoint them as beings of worship. During the Edo period, painters of the Rinpa school often depicted deer as companions of ancient sages or as creatures with poetic associations. By encapsulating the deer in a matrix of large and small glass spheres, Nawa creates a new organism that deconstructs the deer’s colour, texture and form, interfering with a precise reading of the subject. At the same time, Nawa invites viewers to interpret reality with a new awareness, prompting a new attitude towards mystery and uncertainty.
Nawa’s internationally esteemed PixCell series was developed over the course of more than a decade. The series’ name ‘PixCell’ is an amalgamation of the words ‘pixel’, which describes digital image resolution, and the biological ‘cell’—the simplest forms of both the digital and organic worlds. Finding inspiration in life’s tiniest building blocks, Nawa puts forth a shrewd commentary on the contemporary world’s obsession with viewing and filtering the world through pixels—via cameras, smartphones and surveillance technology—which both distorts and illuminates the world we live in. The fact that he first encounters the objects he eventually works on as an image on the internet is significant; as the artist explains in an interview: “At [the initial] stage I first encounter the motif as an image (a group of pixels) appearing on the computer screen. I then acquire the actual object and give it a skin of a large, indeterminate number of cells” (Nawa Kohei, quoted in “Kohei Nawa: A Japanese Artist Beyond Cultural Stereotypes”, Digicult, 2015).
Re-constructing virtual image as actual skin, Nawa’s PixCell series interrogates the binaries between form and content, interior and exterior, vision and touch and illusion and truth. The aesthetically and conceptually sophisticated sculptures seek to destabilize the phenomenon of human sense and perception, reminding viewers of the ambiguity that underlies their relation between truth and reality. At the same time Nawa engages critically with the nature of taxidermy: according to the artist, when we doubt our realities and find cause to question it, we struggle to ‘possess’ truth and certainty much in the same way taxidermy ‘possesses’ or ‘captures’ movement. In equal parts contemplative and iridescently mesmerizing, the present work constitutes a truly iconic magnum opus in 21st century contemporary art.