Book Review: The Last Cosmology
By Isabella Weiss
Telephone antennae, construction cranes, and electrical wires break the horizon in dark, geometric silhouettes: these man-made electrical units stand in direct contrast to a lightning bolt’s rivulets of white above. The human figure is a small feature of this scene, and yet he is not isolated from it. He is an aspect of the network that Kikuji Kawada has constructed, a single point in a nexus of energy that binds the celestial and terrestrial realms.
The humans in Kawada’s book The Last Cosmology 1980-2000 are translucent reflections---they appear indirectly, as mirrored images upon the spaces they inhabit, spaces that blend with the objects they contain and obstruct. In Thunderbolts (1992) the reflection of a man and his entire indoor environment are superimposed upon the industrial space outside of a mediating glass barrier. This natural collage contains the perspective from both within and without; it flattens domestic and industrial space onto a single plane and aligns external lightning with a mirrored row of ceiling lamps in dichotomous proximity in the sky. Human energy (coal and oil) reaches its electrical fingers towards the sky while the sky’s energy (sun and lightning) trends towards the earth.
Kawada’s book is a highly personal defense of the universal. Images of nature tend to transcend a sense of temporality, and the images in this book surely do have that effect. However, Kawada’s title and introduction insist that these are Showa Period images and that the solar eclipses they depict are highly specific late twentieth-century historical events. Kawada does not only periodize these images; he personalizes them as well. As these photos are an amalgamate of Kawada’s career, the book functions as space with which he can explore meaningful connections between his own experiences as well as between his personal experience and the world he photographically engages with. He discovers parallels and recognizes patterns within images he took years apart and contrasts them on parallel pages. For instance, In Cumulonimbus (1986) and Sky Watcher (1996), a mushroom cloud and a tree’s reflection in the water are printed as mirror images and on another page the curling tentacles of Jellyfish (1991) are shown to evoke the same gesture as the blurred branches in A Sal Tree and Cumulus (1980).
This book is Kawada’s personal “proof” of cosmology, of the existence of an ordered and meaningful universe of which he feels he is an essential yet unremarkable constituent. Kawada’s primary subject, the solar eclipse, is perhaps the ultimate cosmological event. It demonstrates visually the interaction between distant bodies. As the moon obstructs our light source, the sun becomes ocular in appearance, and, for a brief moment, our eyes can meet.