Seven Diamonds (interview with Chiaki Sakaguchi)

CS : Your first visit to this Northern forest in Hokkaido was in November 2006. It was a research trip for your permanent work. What was your first impression? DC : A piece of nature in winter. We arrived in the morning and it was very quiet. There was some fog but I could see far out towards the mountains. I'm not very familiar with this sort of place. I'm a very urban person but I really liked it, the beauty and quietness. But my first impression is probably of a walk in the park. It was a long walk and I realized how large it was and saw the topography. To do something there sounded very interesting but also very challenging because of the quality of the space and landscape. Immediately, a work of art there sounded small and unimportant. My first question was, what could a piece of art bring to a place like this?


CS : What was your first approach following on from that impression?


DC : It sounded difficult, especially because I would have loved to do something very sculptural like an object placed in a field or forest. Before arriving I had some ideas, and I was also thinking about artworks in natural sites or sculpture parks. But I realized that this kind of idea was not very interesting. Once you're there, surrounded by trees, forest, grass and rivers this desire disappears very quickly. The landscape is too strong, and placing something there would have been vain. So I came back to France and looked for some ideas. And an old idea of mine came back, which was perfect for Tokachi Millennium Forest. For years I had wanted to design a path in a natural space. A path as a sculpture, where simply walking would be a way to explore it. In fact, my idea was to bring people to walk through the landscape and thus explore it. The path wouldn't have a functional reason to exist, but be placed in the middle of somewhere with a beginning and an end. I had calculated a path of 500m, drawn in relation to the site in which it was placed. It was about creating a dialogue between the site and the path. Its location would have been decided according to the existing site. A particular tree, an interesting view, a ground detail can be enhanced and thus determine the shape of the path.



CS : The idea then changed. Where did the diamonds project come from?


DC : For my second visit we tried to see precisely where the path would be placed. We had started to ask for quotes, and quite honestly it was very expensive to build. It required a lot of material, workers, and it was over the budget that I had. I left Japan with several ideas, but none seemed as clear as the path idea. I had to go back to my first impression and desire: how could I make people explore the T.M.F. (1) landscape? I thought about it for a long time, and finally I looked at it from another angle; I had thought about creating something perennial on the far island of Hokkaido. It felt rather strange, creating something that I might not see again for the rest of my life. And creation is something personal, so I had this feeling that I was abandoning something personal and precious like in Album (2006), where I left my personal photographs inside books at bookshops and libraries. I then looked for something precious that I could abandon in T.M.F. It didn't come to me straight away because I was really asking myself, what is precious to me? And the answer was always really personal. I couldn't see the connection between my own individual story and this place. I then thought about the definition of precious, and I came to realize that it is a totally subjective thing. So I tried to think about something precious in a simple way, and the first things that came to mind were diamonds and jewels. At that point it became as clear to me as the path idea had been. That was a very good sign; leaving diamonds there made sense. From that moment on I knew that the project would consist of secretly leaving diamonds in order to draw attention to the places where the diamonds would have been placed, as opposed to the diamonds themselves. It had to be secret in order to draw attention to the landscape. If you don't know where something is then you look at the big picture. It changes the way you look at the landscape: the T.M.F. landscape becomes a jewellery box.


CS : Why diamonds? Why seven?


DC : For a very simple reason, diamonds are the most famous and popular jewel. The culture and popular ideas around them interested me. They have a clear and obvious meaning for most people: rarity, precious, value etc. Altogether they are rich in meaning and full of memories for everybody. I was also interested in the fact that diamonds are natural stones but transformed by the cut. And cutting is a cultural fact, a human expertise with a history and heritage, from nature to culture. Which is the relation we also have with landscape and the way we look at it. Here is a specific relationship between nature and culture. Landscape would not exist today without all the culture that exists around it and that make us aware of it, from Flemish primitive paintings to photography with Caspar David Friedrich, Monet etc. in between. 

Concerning the number, it was a question of trial and error. I wanted a certain amount that would bring the idea of preciosity but not uniqueness. For example, one would not have been possible, two was not enough, and I wasn't looking for symmetry. Up to six, and each diamond would almost have a specificity; from seven you consider the amount instead of the additions up to six. Then someone told me that in numerology seven meant consciousness and spirituality. It confirmed my choice.


CS : Were you worried about making this really happen as visual art, or your permanent work? Because when it was done, nothing visible remained.

DC : I found this much more interesting than a standard visible work. This idea was exciting. I had no hesitation, I loved it, and this was something I wanted to do. To accept that your work will be almost invisible is something I'm used to, from as far back as the needs series, where my works disappear. Only the photo document remains. Of course when you have the chance to build a permanent work you naturally want to leave something perennial and visible, as a sign of yourself that will remain in the future. This is very human, and to leave something is probably one of the most powerful things for an artist. I'm the same as everybody, I'd love to leave something, but it seems that I'm not here to leave something obvious and gigantic. This is probably a part of my work and something characteristic of it. What is the difference between having a huge piece of stone in front of you and something that you know is there without seeing it? Kachimai, the producer and commissioner, has spent a lot of money for something that he cannot see precisely, but he knows that he's got it. I think they were very brave to accept this idea, and it was courageous of P3 (2) to introduce it. I'm very glad we have been able to do it. I would also say that, although the diamonds don't appear, there is a granite monument that introduces the work. This is of course not the work itself but the way to access it. And at least it's visible. This monument is about providing information but it is also a specific way to access the work. It's precisely situated in association with the path that leads to the panoramic viewpoint, it has specific dimensions and material quality. As in the needs series, what you see is not the real work: the work itself is missing. And I like that. It's a way of bringing forward the idea of missing which is important to me.


CS : As in needs, your action is anonymous. What is the connection between your action and the "making-of" document?  

DC : There's a strong correlation between what I show and what was done. In the needs series, no one can see the action itself. This would have made it more like entertainment, with its spectacular dimension. I prefer to show photographs which place a certain a distance between the work and the person who did it. No one can see how I was that day, what I said or if I was tired and so on. The work is at the forefront, and not the person who did it. I like to focus on the action rather than the person. My work is not autobiographical. 

I don't look at the Seven Diamonds in the same way. This is an action that has been set in a specific space, T.M.F. To see the work you need to see the monument but it make sense when you have the landscape in front of you. That makes an important difference. In the needs serie you don't need to be physically where it was done; on the other hand Seven Diamonds is strongly linked to the site. Seeing the work is an experience. It couldn't be documented in the same way as needs.


CS : From the edge of this field your monument is very far away. As we get closer, it looks like a tombstone. Is that intentional?


DC : No, not really. But I was aware of it from the beginning and I have nothing against it since this is something that comes up quite often in my work. Think about the flowers I use in the needs series. You can see those flowers as decorative, but on a pavement or attached to a light pole they become a tribute to a person who died there, like in Mediterranean cities. I like that, something between light-heartedness and total drama. This is also something that is common in old gardens, especially the English gardens of the XVIII century where you find a lot of stone monuments that have been erected as memories or tributes to people, philosophy, poetry... I really like this connection. Closer to home there's Ian Hamilton Finlay who created the fabulous See Poussin Hear Lorrain


CS : The granite monument bears the inscription: “Seven diamonds secretly left in seven different locations of this landscape.” It is a mysterious key to the landscape in front of us. A monument and invisible small stones bring the entire gigantic landscape into your work. But it could be viewed as cynicism to the artists who make big monumental art works, and also an ironical look at man's obsession with treasure. How ironical is your work?


DC : I don't know if I would call this irony. Confronted with such a gigantic and beautiful landscape, it is only natural to ask oneself what is the proper way to work there. Today I don't believe so much in monumental artwork. This is something that we have got used to seeing for some time now, and it has increased with the biennales and other large scale contemporary art events. But if you think about Serra, Smithson, their large scale pieces are a quintessential part of their work. They make sense. Today, what does it mean? I don't see the point of it. I love Serra and Smithson, but also Bas Jan Ader and Jan Dibbets Robin when he does Redbreast's Territory / Sculpture (1969). Today we have this space in between them to work. There is no obligation to do monumental. And if I wanted to do something monumental I'd rather design a space instead of a sculpture, like my square project in Annecy.

But again, I feel that placing a sculpture in T.M.F. would have been too much like placing a Jewel in a beautiful green box!!!! Think about Henry Moore's sculptures, they are so well placed in parks, surrounded by green... It's like hanging a painting on a crisp white wall... I think the context is very important. As for human treasures, what is value? What is precious? This is a question of context. I read recently something about the Marginalist economy of Jevons, Walras, and Menger. There's this example of the glass of water that doesn't have the same value in a country where you get drinkable water from the tap or if you're in the desert. With diamonds this is the same. Depending on your culture, desire and interest, what is their value?


CS : Like placing sculptures in the park or putting brush to canvas, you may have your own map of diamonds. How did you decide where to leave diamonds that no-one would see in such a vast field?

DC : Actually I didn't think much before doing it. But when coming to T.M.F for the setting it became an interesting question. And in order to decide the best way was to walk around. I could see different places but I didn't want to leave them by chance. I tried to find places where one would be lucky to find them.

They are not obvious places, but rather specific places which could almost be named. They are not left, I'd rather say they are carefully placed. I have tried to imagine whether rain or melted snow could wash them away. So really, most of the time they should stay where they are because I have placed them carefully with regard to the possibility of disappearing.


CS : Tokachi district is a place where the many legends of Ainu – the native Japanese still live on. Their history is a life of conflict and cooperation between man and nature, and primitive beliefs have been kept alive over the centuries through vivid mythology. And coincidentally, there’s a story by Russian author Tolstoy that seven diamonds became the constellation Great Bear in the northern sky. Don’t you think your Seven Diamonds is another contemporary legend placed by you?


DC : I love this idea and this is also a part of the piece. I knew Hokkaido was a legendary place, and to bring a new legend is something I especially like.

That is the sort of thing that makes us look at things differently. As human beings we love to be told stories and legends. That probably gives us the idea that there's something behind reality.



CS : In years to come people might forget who made this monument. How do you feel about it?

DC : I don't feel bad about it. We don't wonder who build roads... We use them. It doesn't matter if someone sees this piece without thinking it's an art work, he or she will explore it all the more.



(1)Tokachi Millennium Forest

(2)P3 art and environment is an organization that has been producing art projects since 1989. It was founded as a part of cultural section of Tochoji Zen Temple in Tokyo. After holding last exhibition at Tochoji auditorium in '99, it explores various forms of art projects in different sites as an independent body. P3 is in charge of selecting artists participating in Tokachi Millennium Forest.