past exhibition

The rain of blessing - Rinko Kawauchi

Weekdays 11:00 - 20:00

Weekends and Holidays 11:00 - 18:30

Mondays and Tuesdays Closed

Entrance Fee 800 yen for over 18


Photographs as a medium for the memories of strangers
Kenji Takazawa (photography critic)

Last year, Rinko Kawauchi held an exhibition at the KUNST HAUS WIEN in Austria. (1) On the page introducing the exhibition on the museum’s website, Kawauchi is described as “one of the most innovative artists in contemporary photography.”

Looking back at her career to date, it is clear this description is not an exaggeration. Since publishing three photobooks simultaneously in 2001 (Utatane, Hanabi and Hanako), she has exhibited work at galleries and museums both in Japan and internationally. She has published a total of 20 photobooks. Even in global terms, she is one of the most influential photographers alive today. So what is it about her work, then, that is so “innovative”?

This latest solo show is a perfect vehicle for understanding her artistry. Of all the exhibitions of her work held in Tokyo it is second only “Illuminance, Ametsuchi, Seeing Shadow” (2012, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography) in terms of scale, comprising four series ranging from older photographs to some of her very latest work.

Upon entering the gallery. The exhibition begins with works that beckon the viewer into an underwater world. This series, which serves as a kind of introduction to the show, is included in the eyes, the ears, a collection of photos published in 2004. For we humans, water is a necessity, and while the world of water is something that is extremely familiar, both light and color are different from on land. One of the distinguishing characteristic of Kawauchi’s work is the way she brings to the surface and enables us to discover things we normally take for granted because they are too ordinary by turning them into photographs.

Streams of water eventually turn into rivers, around which various plants and creatures gather and settlements where people live form. Rivers both large and small continue to sustain the lives of people. This is why many people have memories of rivers and why rivers sometimes form part of their unforgettable landscapes. The second series featured in this exhibition, “The river embraced me,” was first unveiled at the exhibition of the same title that opened in January this year at the Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto. It was created based on a request from the museum that Kawauchi present work shot in Kumamoto, in response to which she suggested photographing scenes of Kumamoto in the memories of the people who live there. The method used to choose the shooting locations involved asking people to submit texts of around 400 Japanese characters each on the topics “Places/place names that hold memories for me” and “My memories of Kumamoto.” (2)

However, the reason Kawauchi photographed the memorable places people submitted was not to describe them. That being the case, what was she conscious of when she photographed them? There are hints in the texts that were presented together with the photographs. These texts, which look like psalms, were put together by Kawauchi by extracting one or two lines from each of the submitted texts. As one reads the texts, one senses that they are not the words of one person, but that various “voices” are sounding together and that these reverberations are echoing. In the photos, too, it is as if on the strength of the memories fixed in the minds of strangers, something in Kawauchi’s own consciousness was made to respond, as a result of which the images became fixed in the photographs.

To consider the processes behind the creation of her work like this is fascinating, but more important is the fact that Kawauchi’s works have the ability to touch the memories of each individual who views them. Kawauchi’s photographs – and this is something not limited to the works here – hint at the possibility of photos serving as a medium for “memories” that transcends the places where people were born, grew up and live, and possibly even cultures and generations.

This “ability” of Kawauchi’s work is suggestive of the concept of the “collective unconscious” advanced by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. In addition to psychology, Jung studied mythology and folklore, discovering “archetypes” common to all of humankind and suggesting that the subconscious is collective. Drawing on Jung’s theory, it is possible to explain part of the reason why Kawauchi’s works that touch on the “collective unconscious” have proven so popular internationally.

The works in the third series, “Search for the sun,” were shot in Austria for her exhibition at KUNST HAUS WIEN. Among the subject matter are the glaciers of the Alps. Water evaporates and turns into clouds and then rain. This is a symbol of the logic of this world in the form of the unstoppable passage of time or the repeated cycle of transmigration, but glaciers also stop time by freezing continually flowing water. Other photos were shot in a limestone cave deep underground where there is no light and where rocks eroded over time by water take various forms, and in a mint where coins are made from gold dug up from under the ground. These subjects chosen intuitively by Kawauchi appear to be disconnected but the title “Search for the sun” is a bridge connecting the three. According to Kawauchi, while researching gold she found out that in astrology gold represents the sun. “I was taking photos of a glacier surrounded by snow-covered mountains and of a limestone cave underground where there was no light. And I realized that maybe I had been searching for the sun all the time.” (3)

The sun is a mighty presence that is the source of light and also what enables us to “see,” to say nothing of photography. Kawauchi’s works touch on this magnificent, primordial presence in a casual manner, as if holding out a hand and feeling the warmth of the sunlight.

The finale of the exhibition is “The rain of blessing.” It represents the “title piece” of this show made up of four series.

Like “Search for the sun,” this series has three central pillars. The first is the Great Shrine at Izumo. Kawauchi began photographing the shrine during its periodic rebuilding, which takes place once every 60 years, covering such events as the Kami-mukae festival during which all of the gods are welcomed to Izumo. The second consists of photos of flocks of birds, which Kawauchi has been photographing since she did so for a commissioned work for the Brighton Photo Biennial 2010. (4) These works depict a phenomenon in which during a certain period in winter birds flock together at a fixed time in the evening and repeatedly circle around in a group. The third consists of photos of the dashuhua ritual in the Chinese province of Hebei. This is a form of fireworks that originated when scrap iron was melted at a high temperature and flung against the old city walls, producing a display of sparks. A sacred rite in which humans and gods come together, a dance performed by birds that appears to be a metaphor for the collective unconscious, a fireworks display suggestive of the two contradictory elements of festivity and work. These are the latest works by Kawauchi from a photobook currently in production.

In looking at Kawauchi’s works, and trying to put them into words, I experience a pleasant sense of fulfillment, as if I have been on a journey to some place that is not here. Looking and thinking. Perhaps it is because the repetition of this process takes our consciousness somewhere far away from this place we currently inhabit.

When we look at photographs, we are activating the database of our memory and our imagination. When they prompt us to check with our memory, bring our imagination into play, and move us, photos become part of the personal experience of the viewer. One aspect of the innovativeness of Rinko Kawauchi is that she has made manifest this kind of sharing of memories using photography, or in other words the existence of the collective unconscious. And this point is precisely the reason why Kawauchi’s work has been able to go beyond the framework of Japanese photography and gain such a strong following internationally.

This new way forward for photographic works is closely related to the universality of the themes taken up by Kawauchi. The unconscious that she seeks to touch on through her photographs lies in the absolute reality that we “are living” and “going through this time.” Common to all of Kawauchi’s works are “life” and “time,” and her observer’s eye, which is focused on the passage of time that is afforded equally to all living things, never wavers.

“The rain of blessing.” While viewing the photographs, take a moment to savor the joy and evanescence contained in these words. The birth of new life, blessed and filled with light, is also the beginning of the unstoppable passage of time. Kawauchi’s works quietly inform us of the truth common to all things in the universe.


artist statment

Underwater, no sound penetrates from the world outside, and one can surrender to the silence and escape from the minutiae of everyday life. Just keep moving your body silently, taking a breath every now and again, turning and turning again, then get out of the water when time is up. Muffled sounds become clear, your body feels a little faint, and you return to the real world, and gravity.

Asthmatic from early childhood, on medical advice I took swimming lessons from about the age of seven until the end of elementary school. Initially I was far from keen, and would invariably fall into a funk when it came time to go. Once I got used to swimming though, I began to experience a pleasant sort of tiredness afterward, and as I gradually improved, a sense of achievement too. Before I knew it, I was enjoying swimming. So it was only natural that going to live in Tokyo as a freelancer, I started to frequent the pool. I now realize that living by myself in the city, as a freelancer- – an inherently unpredictable existence- – was very destabilizing, and going to the pool was probably just what I needed to maintain my equilibrium.

The act of taking photographs is somewhat similar. Go to some place, find something and concentrate on it, hold your breath, or hide, and click the shutter. The moment you snap out of that state of extreme concentration, the surrounding noise returns. Just like getting out of the pool.

Thus my works emerge from a repetition of this process, but when studying the finished work, I inevitably notice various things not obvious before. Not dissimilar to grasping an object blindly under water, bringing it on land into the sunshine, and seeing for the first time, as it reflects the light, what it really looks like. These things I notice act as guides for affirming the world I am in now, and where I ought to proceed next.


Rinko Kawauchi

Born in 1972 in Shiga, Japan. In 2002, Kawauchi was awarded the 27th Kimura Ihei Award for her two photo-books UTATANE and HANABI. Among her other published photographic series are AILA (2004), the eyes, the ears, and Cui Cui (2005), Illuminance (2011), and Ametsuchi (2013). In 2009 she received the 25th Annual International Center of Photography (New York) Infinity Award in the art category, and in 2013 both the 63rd Minister of Education Award for New Artists and the 29th Higashikawa Awards, Domestic Photographer Award. Major solo exhibitions include “AILA + Cui Cui + the eyes, the ears,” (2005, Foundation Cartier pour l’art Contemporain, Paris), “AILA + the eyes, the ears,” (2007, Hasselblad Centre, Göteborg), “Semear” (2007, Museu de Arte Moderna de Sao Paulo), “Cui Cui” (2008, Vangi Sculpture Garden Museum, Shizuoka), “Illuminance, Ametsuchi, Seeing Shadow” (2012, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography), “Rinko Kawauchi - Illuminance” (2015, KUNST HAUS WIEN GmbH, Vienna), “The river embraced me” (2016, Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto).


The rain of blessing
Rinko Kawauchi

Date : 20 May - 25 September, 2015
Time : Weekdays 11:00 - 20:00 /
Weekends and Holidays 11:00 - 18:30
Closed : Mondays ( Except for Holidays)
Entrance Fee :
Adults 800 yen / College students or over the age of 60 500 yen / High school students 300 yen / Junior high school students or younger Free (Gallery916 & 916small)

Rinko Kawauchi, the photographs For enquiries regarding
the purchase of the photographs, please contact the gallery.
TEL: +81-(3)-5403-9161 / FAX: +81-(3)-5403-9162
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