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Acts of Revealing: Nobuo Sekine's Phase—Mother Earth

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Nobuo Sekine, Phase—Mother Earth, 1968 / 2008, Earth, cement, Cylinder: 220 x 270 (diameter) cm, Hole: 220 x 270 (diameter) cm, Installation view, Tama Line Art Project, Den-en Chōfu Seseragi Park, Tokyo, November 1 - 9, 2008. Photo: Ashley Rawlings.

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The most beautiful world is like a heap of rubble tossed down in confusion.
– Heraclitus, Fragment 124

The earth’s surface is yielding; things can sink through and permeate it. It can be sculpted, divided and redistributed at our will. Humans make a habit of digging below, to bury, discover, examine, or extract. We disrupt layers of stratum that record the earth’s time and generation.

In 1968, Nobuo Sekine began to dig a deep hole at Suma Rikyū Park in Japan. The upturned matter was fortified with cement, and compacted into a cylindrical mould. After a week of curing, Sekine loosened the mould’s binds to reveal a monolith of compressed soil.

The 2.7m cylinder of packed earth stood by the void created by its absence; one form could not exist without the other. The revealed layers of sedimentation, both above and below ground, were akin to stratums of time; past, present and future compressed upon one another.(1)

Phase—Mother Earth marked the beginning of the Mono-ha movement, through which artists facilitated sensitive encounters between objects and site. Sekine’s temporal interventions draw attention to things as they are, harnessing the potential of ‘not making’. Akin to the process of digging, his practice responds to the physicality of matter at hand, turning it over until its inherent poetics are revealed.