Article by Judith Vallette // Aug. 13, 2020
Kunsthalle Rostock, located two hours by train from Berlin, is currently showing Leiko Ikemura’s ‘From East to East’. The exhibition focuses on the influential Japanese-Swiss artist, who has lived in Germany since 1987, and her 44 exhibited works from the last three years. The exhibition is complemented by several other artists handpicked by Ikemura from the Kunsthalle’s collection as well as some loans in order to bring East German and Eastern European art into dialogue with the so-called “Far East”. Participating artists include Marina Zwetajewa, Katee Diehn-Bitt, Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, Sabine Moritz, Christin Wilcken, Tanja Zimmerman, Magdalena Jetelova, Alicja Kwade, Edi Rama and Gert and Uwe Tobias. In collaboration with her architect husband, Philipp von Matt, Ikemura has created a harmonious exhibition layout, with each room focused on a specific theme. There is an ease in the flow of movement from one room to the other, as the artworks remain interconnected, despite being grouped based on their shared provoked emotions: there are rooms that captures horizons, landscapes, the notion of time passing, love poems, portraits.
One of the last rooms of the exhibition presents the intermingling of two artistic minds: Ikemura finds herself inspired by the Russian poet Marina Zwetajewa’s love poems and realizes accompanying illustrations, creating a symbiotic product of the text and watercolors. Ikemura has also invited the participation of artist Edi Rama, who—besides being a fellow painter—also happens to hold the position of Albanian Prime Minister. Ikemura herself was surprised to discover this, after she had already selected his works to be part of the exhibition.
Ikemura’s art has soothing, meditative qualities, whether this be in her paintings of changing seascapes, like her oil painting ‘Mare e Monti,’ influenced by the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami, or her bronze sculptures of horizontally resting figures. One of the largest rooms in this exhibition is centralized around the theme of decay. The phrase ‘Memento Mori’—a reminder of the inevitability of death—captures the works presented. In this room, Ikemura shows her sculpture ‘Lying in White,’ a female figure peacefully reflecting on time, with the physical repercussions on display on the wall adjacent in the form of photos of drying roses. In line with the exhibition’s title ‘From East to East,’ Ikemura rejects Westernized conceptions of time and hierarchy. Rather than conceptualizing time as a matter of accumulation and dissipation, Ikemura sees the past as coinciding with our present: she exemplifies this by emphasizing the continued importance of artworks made thousands of years ago. Surely, Ikemura’s work will also conserve its potency well into the future and the artworks in this room reflect the cyclical nature of life and time, as never truly ending but rather a continuous process of transformation.
Another major theme of Ikemura’s work presented in this exhibition is the notion of humanity’s increasing disjunction with nature. Yet, when asked about her take on our current relationship with the environment, she is hopeful that we will not lose our once-held proximity to Mother Earth. She sees the wounds of our planet acutely, the disastrous effects of which, due to Western and class privilege, we are not often directly confronted by. While Ikemura does not claim to be a frontline activist, she hopes that through her work she can urge reconnection and reconsideration of our currently destructive relationship to nature. Through her ongoing practice, she reveals a subtle message, calling for a tightened bond between humans and the natural world.