In early 2011, I received a translation assignment from Artcourt Gallery for a small book on the work of Osamu Kokufu. It was only a long time later that I realized I had actually seen his work, and even been inside one piece with Yosuke when he was about three. On starting this project and looking at images of Kokufu’s creations, I was struck with a feeling of uncertainty – it didn’t feel like what I was used to calling “art”. There were these upside-down cars covered with moss, tiny circular gardens with antennas and wheels, and a sailboat-like contraption that reminded me of Don Quixote for some reason. I was attracted to the playfulness, the structural beauty and the combining of greenery with mechanical things, and at the same time confused by the lack of conventional artistic qualities. It made the work harder to pin down.
Partway through the project, Osamu Kokufu contacted me through the gallery and said there were a few points in the text that he wanted to go over with me. A few days later, we met in the airy cafeteria at Kyoto Zokei-dai (Kyoto University of Art and Design). I rarely get to meet with the person whose writing I am translating and actually be able to take the time to discuss things, so I welcomed the opportunity.
He seemed a little shy at first, but I realized soon enough that he was just very focused. There was no hint of the discomfort I’ve felt from many Japanese men when first meeting, but he wasn’t standoffish or overbearing either. He was simply intent on the matter at hand: how would his written ideas come through in English? There was one phrase in particular that he had been concerned with, from a comment he had made in the interview in the book. I had already made several revisions of the phrase before our meeting, and after discussing the various connotations for a while, I think he decided that his thoughts were not going to be conveyed properly from the original comment (at least by this translator), and a few days later sent me an altered version. Looking back at it now, though even after all the revisions the final published version feels stilted, I do think that this statement refers to one of the basic elements of Kokufu’s art: the will to become more aware of how one interacts with the things one creates and the natural world.
“…I could begin thinking anew about ways of being that might contrast with such wavering workings of life that are brought about through one’s own actions.”
(The Work of Osamu Kokufu, Artcourt Gallery, 2011, pp. 20-21)
Osamu Kokufu died one year ago, in an accident while preparing for an exhibition of his largest-scale work to date. He was only 44. He was a wonderfully challenging, forward-looking artist.
I would love to see his work again. Until I do, I think it will always be harder to accept that his no longer here.
To those in Japan, now is your chance to see his work: Artcourt Gallery has just opened an exhibition, Osamu Kokufu: His Work and His Circle (May 1 – 30), featuring 15 pieces by Kokufu and numerous contributions from people he knew and worked with, including Kenji Yanobe, Sadaharu Horio, Chu Enoki and many other artists and writers.
Artcourt Gallery artist page
PingMag has a great article with many pictures and videos.