Nobuo Sekine’s “Phase — Mother Earth” Reborn

To mark its 40th anniversary, the Mono-ha artist’s seminal artwork is recreated in Tamagawa’s Den-en Chofu Seseragi Park.

In Photo Reports by Ashley Rawlings 2008-11-03

Nobuo Sekine, 'Phase — Mother Earth' (1968)In October 1968, Nobuo Sekine constructed Phase — Mother Earth in the Sumarikyu Park in Kobe. Consisting of a hole dug into the ground, 2.7 metres deep and 2.2 metres in diameter, with the excavated earth compacted into a cylinder of exactly the same dimensions, Phase — Mother Earth was instrumental in the early development of work by the Mono-ha artist group, and has been considered a landmark work in Japanese postwar art history. For more information on the group, read this introduction.

In conjunction with the 40th anniversary of its creation, the work has been for the “Tama Art Line Project” exhibition of outdoor artwork in Den-en Chofu Seseragi Park opposite Tamagawa station (Tokyu Toyoko Line), on display from November 1 to 9.

In 1968, Sekine and some of the other Mono-ha artists — then in their twenties — dug the work up the earth themselves, but today the work is being handled by construction workers with a digger. There is only a limited number of photographs that document the 1968 version of Phase — Mother Earth and its construction. TAB brings you a detailed photo report on the recreation of this iconic art work.

Monday, October 27: It all begins with a white circle on the ground.

The excavation begins. As with the 1968 work, the excavated earth is mixed together with a smaller amount of concrete powder to ensure the convex part of the work stands firm.

Tuesday, October 28: The earth that was excavated on Monday is dropped into the cylindrical mould. Whereas in 1968, the mould used for the cylinder was made out of wood fastened with rope, here a steel mould is being used — by lucky coincidence, this prefabricated mould was of exactly the same circumference as the 1968 work.

A different kind of mould that has its flat surfaces facing outwards, is inserted into the hole to help it keep its shape as the workers compact the earth around it.

Wednesday, October 29: The metal casts alone give a sense of the proportions to expect once the new 'Phase — Mother Earth' is unveiled.

A construction worker adds the final touches to the top of the cylinder.

The compacting of the earth around the hole is complete...

... and with a blue sheet over it, the earth inside the cylinder is left to harden over the next two days.

Thursday, October 30: The construction workers set about dismantling the cylindrical support in the hole.Once the first segment has been removed, we have our first glimpse of 'Phase — Mother Earth'.

The final piece comes out...

... and one half of the work is complete... ... revealing the contrasting textures of the earth's grassy surface and its muddy interior.

Friday, October 31: Work on removing the cylindrical cast begins at 9am. Renowned photographer Shigeo Anzai, who has documented the development of the Tokyo art scene for more than thirty years, is on site capturing the moment.

Over the ensuing half hour, the hardened earth inside gradually comes into view.Rawlings photographing Anzai photographing Sekine.

Sekine paces around the work as it is unveiled...

... and is evidently happy to see it once again in its entirety.

Sekine spends a few minutes inside the hole, studying its walls.

The completed 'Phase — Mother Earth' (2008)

Venue: Den-en Chofu Seseragi Park opposite Tamagawa station (Tokyu Toyoko Line)
Dates: November 1 to 9.

Ashley Rawlings

Ashley Rawlings. Ashley Rawlings was the editor of TABlog from 2006 to 2008. More information about his work can be found at » See other writings


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