Minoru Ohira


Minoru Ohira's Measure

by Hitoyasu Kimura, assistant curator, Nigata City Art Museum
translated by Stanley N. Anderson


     Minoru Ohira begins making most of his sculptures by assembling a frame with boards and pieces of plywood. This is an armature supporting the work from the inside and is not seen by the viewer after it is completed. Ohira builds this structure freehand, by intuition, rather than following a detailed plan. He marks straight lines with a handy piece of wood or bends a thin board to make curved lines, never using a ruler or carpenter's square. There is something pleasing about the resulting structure because it has a natural look that is somehow different from a strictly geometric form. It seems to have been created entirely through the artist's intuition.

     For example, the ruler I have here on my desk is marked in centimeters. This measure is based on the length of the prime meridian, clearly an international standard. Units of older systems of measurement like the inch and or the Japanese shaku all had their origin in the size of parts of the human body. Thinking of this, it becomes obvious most of the things used in everyday life have a scale appropriate to the people who use them. Now that standards rooted in regional life have been replaced by world standards, we may have lost sight of these comfortable standards that are related to the desires of individual people. Ohira is restoring the measure of appropriate relationships between people and things in his work.

Matthias Goeritz #1  the Olmec giant stone heads #2  Black Soup #3

     Ohira lived in Mexico for three years before he moved Pasadena in Los Angeles County where he has his present studio. While still in college, he was attracted to the native inhabitants of ancient Mesoamerica and he began frequenting museums showing their artifacts. His Sleeping Head (#2), a head lying on its side, and Black Soup (#3), which looks like a bowl of soup, may have been inspired by the grand formal beauty of the Olmec giant stone heads and Tlatilco ceramics. However, Ohira's initial interest in Mexico was aroused by a meeting with Matthias Goeritz (1915-1990)(#1), a sculptor who was born in Berlin and experimented with modern art before going to Mexico at age 34. Goeritz;s work aimed at a fusion between Mexican culture and modern art.

     The revolutionary Russian filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1848), declared, "Mexico is the kingdom of death where the past intrudes upon the present. " Even in today's Mexico, where the Christian culture of Spain and huge Coca-Cola billboards from America have an established place, there is a complex but subtly balanced mixture of peoples, including tribes that maintain native life waysand mixed-blood mestizos. Goeritz did not force an outside standard on what he found in Mexico but sought a path of co-existence and harmony, and this approach must have been influenced by the Mexican milieu. Ohira inherited this way of thinking, becoming entranced with the great human history that oermeater the soil of Mexico and developed his own artistic stance.

     Ohira's use of found materials indicates a new development that occurred after he moved from Mexico to Los Angeles. Wood that has been milled, fabricated, used, and discarded offers obvious evidence of the life of human beings in the artificial environment of the city. Ohira splits there pieces of wood into thin pieces with a hatchet or rips them up into small chips, which he then uses to cover the surface of his sculptures. The pieces of discarded wood have different length sandthickness, but he does not cut them to matching size. The resulting textures have a nostalgic effect, like wooden tools that have been retrieved from the back of a storage shed.

     The found materials come from different sources, but they retain memories of their existences before they were discarded. By bringing out the differences in their history and material properties by retaining their history and material properties by retaining their irregular form. Ohira incorporates the traces of the human hand that pervade these materials into his work. Ohira measures the materials that make up his art with his own body and intuition with a harmonious result.