Moon totem is part of a suite of sculptures in which Noriko Nakamura considers the influence of the sun and moon on seasonal and diurnal rhythms of food production. This dynamic, curving limestone sculpture is crowned with a crescent moon and textured with rope-like patterns to suggest sheaves of wheat. The artist’s poetic rumination on agricultural cycles sits within a broader interest across her practice in the way that humans live within and as a part of nature rather than separately to it. The sculpture’s texture is also reminiscent of pottery produced during Japan’s Jōmon period (c. 14,000–300BCE), named after the distinctive cord-like pattern (Jōmon) found on everyday earthenware objects. The earliest scientific evidence of plant domestication and management in Japan has been dated to this period.
Nakamura is interested in transformative processes and how the manipulation of materials can imbue an object with significance, changing its meaning as well as our relationship to it. The Shinto animist belief that everything contains life, from geographical features such as mountains and rivers, to natural forces such as the wind, is a central tenet of the Japanese-born artist’s practice. In particular, the idea that ancient materials hold a stronger lifeforce than the contemporary provided the initial inspiration for the artist to sculpt with stone.
Nakamura works primarily in limestone because its relative softness lends itself to traditional hand carving techniques with hammer and chisel, allowing for greater sculptural freedom. Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed of an accumulation of fragments of marine organisms, which requires the artist to carve with a responsive spontaneity as, throughout the process, she discovers surprises such as shells and coral deep within the stone. While she starts out with sketches, Nakamura can’t always execute her carvings exactly as planned: ‘I have to intuitively change the form during the carving process. I see it as a collaboration between myself and the material.’
Noriko Nakamura,Moon totem 2015, installation view. Photograph: Peter King
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