Memories of Play

With Christmas coming up I’m a bit prone to nostalgia, thinking back to a time before I was aware of the rampant commercialization of the holiday. The arrival of the Sears Wishbook that officially kicked off a season of acquisitiveness, the anticipation of Christmas eve, tearing open the presents on Christmas morning, a time when toys were the order of the day. I never really thought about the meaning of those toys then. How toys for boys generally centered around construction and war while girls’ toys often were about child rearing. Katsushige Nakahashi, on the other hand, has spent quite a lot of time thinking about his childhood and the things he played with.

Katsushige Nakahashi: Zero
from the University of Hawaii Zero Project, Katsushige Nakahashi

Nakahashi is a sculptor who uses photography to generate the building material for some of his projects. In 2006, at the University of Hawaii he built a full-size replica of a WWII Japanese Zero out of roughly 25,000 photographs. The photographs where taken of a 1:32 scale model, a toy. Nakahashi constructed such models as a child, so the work is partly about the memory of those times and the sense of play, but the objects represented are so loaded there are bound to be multiple readings. It seems Nakahashi has run afoul of these multiple readings and has the following to say about his work.

My memory of war was making a plastic model of a Zero fighter, and playing with it. I am not a historian, nor am I a politician. I am frequently asked to clarify my status, whether I belong to the right or the left. The fact is that answering these questions is not what I am asked to do as an artist. Judging right from wrong doesn’t make any sense to me either. On the contrary, questioning people from a lot of different dimensions through my work, bringing those questions to light, is what I am aiming at. Through the process of doing so, I sincerely believe that by looking back at the past, a spirit of forgiveness, intelligence, and respect for a better future will emerge.

In the past few weeks I spent two separate occasions taping together photographs for his upcoming show at SF Camerawork. This time Nakahashi has photographed a 1/30th scale model of a WWII suicide sub (kaiten) in minute detail. When the photos are taped together they will create a 3D replica at actual size (roughly 15 meters). Unlike past projects, where he has photographed commercially available models as a connection to his childhood, he had to have this model custom made. I don’t know that this fact changes the tone of the work because, to me, the whole project is a replication of that sense of construction as play. In this case the materials are not plastic parts and glue, but photographs and cello tape. The show opens January 3rd and runs to March 22nd with an opening reception January 15th.

For more information on the upcoming exhibition, including volunteer sign-up for the construction of the project, click here.

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