Jacob Hashimoto’s installation at SITE Santa Fe seems to hover at the crossroads of painting and sculpture, but it transcends both. The SITElab exhibit, The Dark Isn’t the Thing to Worry About, evokes an experience akin to entering into a pixelated environment, a digital composition in three dimensions, or a geometrical painting exploded into the surrounding space. Circular and rectangular kites of Japanese rice paper, each one framed by bamboo, hang from the ceiling, creating a suspended rain of colors and forms that somehow retains a feeling of two-dimensional balance.
The idea of creating a composition in three dimensions was an evolution for Hashimoto. “When I first started making large-scale installations, I was coming out of a background of painting and drawing,” he said. In the 1990s, he was making large abstractions of what he describes as void space; when you’re standing in front of one, it fills your visual field. “Unless you’re Mark Rothko, you can’t really get away with that anymore.” His evolution into installation work came from a desire to break the elements of painting out of the canvas and, as he put it, “pull them into architectural space.”
The Dark Isn’t the Thing to Worry About is ceiling-mounted, with grids of repeating forms strung together, like a Piet Mondrian separated into its most basic structures and arranged in physical space. It’s situated in the gallery off the lobby at SITE, separate from the main exhibition space, and used for temporary installations that are open to the public free of charge. Hashimoto’s installation takes full advantage of the architectural design of the interior space. There’s a cohesive quality to it, as in a musical arrangement. His installations recall the aesthetics of modernism and postwar abstraction, and he also cites the influence of landscape painting traditions. In a way, The Dark is a critique of the ideal representations of space that are characteristic of landscapes. “The cornerstone of the work has always been the intersection of landscape and abstraction,” he said. “When you’re dealing with landscape and abstraction, you’re playing with the world of possibilities, optimism, and perfection. I think, through my titles, I’m able to convey some of my doubts about the tradition of working that way.”
Ironically, much of Hashimoto’s work has a serene quality and a light, ephemeral feeling. Brightness filters through the rice-paper kites. The repetition of forms should be busy, perhaps even chaotic, but they are tranquil instead. His immersive artworks are also taut, not hanging loose and billowing. The separate components are imbued with a tensile strength Hashimoto achieves by coating the paper in an acrylic medium. Although some papers are colored, most, like the bamboo kite frames, are left natural. “Lots of people are like, ‘The work is so Asian,’ because I use the rice paper,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, even though I’m half Japanese, I am not wedded to the use of rice paper. I use it primarily because of the way it’s made. Its inherent physical qualities allow me to do things I couldn’t do with any other paper. The fibers, especially in the papers I’m using, are incredibly long and they’re incredibly strong papers. When they’re impregnated with acrylic, you can stretch them over surfaces and they remain pliable and don’t crack or buckle.”
Throughout his career, Hashimoto has made meditative, aesthetically pleasing works, some of which have produced a calming effect on viewers. He said that aspect of the work has led some observers to comment on their Zen-like qualities. But he felt that what was lost in these discussions was the contemporary context of the digital age, in which such algorithmic works can be regarded as a product of their time. The rectangular or circular kite form is a recurring motif in his works; he describes them almost as though they were elements of data. “It is a pixel,” he said. “Whether it’s a kite or a baseball or whatever you’re using, you’ve got this object that is the lowest common denominator of your composition.”
Nothing about the installation is particularly dark, and so the title may seem puzzling. “For years I didn’t title anything,” he said. “At some point, I started putting these really long, baroque titles on things, mostly as a foil for people’s expectations. The Dark Isn’t the Thing to Worry About has nothing to do with what you see, but I wanted it to punch up against the light, elegant complexity of the work itself. I thought it was funny, too.”
But more thought went into the name than the artist initially let on. “If you come to this thing that’s beautiful and poetic and bucolic, it almost feels like a celebration of impossibility,” he said. “Then you’ve got this dark title attached to it and there’s something kind of Stepford Wives about the whole thing. It makes you start asking questions about the imperfections of the work, I think.”