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Between Life and Non-Life: Sachiko Kodama’s Black and Bridget Riley’s Pink

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Abstract

The contemporary world is so technological that humans are located on the verge of life and non-life. Computers, cyborgs, artificial intelligence, and androids permeate human society, and people are even fascinated by such menaces of the non-life. This paper clarifies why contemporary society loves the idea of the rise of artificial beings by analyzing the use of artificial colors – black and pink – by the cutting-edge female artists Sachiko Kodama and Bridget Riley.Media artist Kodama uses black liquid while the abstract artist Riley uses pink pigments as key materials. According to Asao Komachiya, black is the color of the blind; it appears on the verge of being and non-being. Meanwhile, Barbara Nemitz identifies pink as an artificial color that does not exist in the spectrum of sunlight. Both colors are highly evaluated in technological and consumer society and widely used on many goods. Kodama’s and Riley’s high reputation signifies that contemporary society likes the precarious artificial beings between life and non-life. Moreover, their original and unique works have realized the field of liberty as their extensive use of artificial colors black and pink indicates ultra-human.Kodama’s and Riley’s gender is also key. As Dora Haraway suggests in “Cyborg Manifesto” (1991), contemporary women, historically dealt with as peripheral existences, survive as ultra-human beings rather than the ancient goddesses. By considering significant female artists such as Kodama and Riley, we can understand not only the contemporary aesthetics of visual arts, but also the concurrent yearning of contemporary society for liberty, ultra-humanity, and non-life. Article received: April 17, 2019; Article accepted: June 23, 2019; Published online: September 15, 2019: Review articleHow to cite this article: Kato, Yukiko. "Between Life and Non-Life: Sachiko Kodama’s Black and Bridget Riley’s Pink." AM Journal of Art and Media Studies 19 (2019): 109-115. doi: 10.25038/am.v0i19.311
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http://dx.doi.org/10.25038/am.v0i19.311
Yukiko Kato
Satiama University, Japan
Between Life and Non-Life: Sachiko Kodamas Black and
Bridget Riley’s Pink
Abstract: e contemporary world is so technological that humans are located on the verge
of life and non-life. Computers, cyborgs, articial intelligence, and androids permeate human
society, and people are even fascinated by such menaces of the non-life. is paper claries why
contemporary society loves the idea of the rise of articial beings by analyzing the use of articial
colors – black and pink – by the cutting-edge female artists Sachiko Kodama and Bridget Riley.
Media artist Kodama uses black liquid while the abstract artist Riley uses pink pig-
ments as key materials. According to Asao Komachiya, black is the color of the blind; it ap-
pears on the verge of being and non-being. Meanwhile, Barbara Nemitz identies pink as an
articial color that does not exist in the spectrum of sunlight. Both colors are highly evaluated
in technological and consumer society and widely used on many goods. Kodamas and Riley’s
high reputation signies that contemporary society likes the precarious articial beings be-
tween life and non-life. Moreover, their original and unique works have realized the eld of
liberty as their extensive use of articial colors black and pink indicates ultra-human.
Kodamas and Riley’s gender is also key. As Dora Haraway suggests in “Cyborg Manifesto
(1991), contemporary women, historically dealt with as peripheral existences, survive as ultra-hu-
man beings rather than the ancient goddesses. By considering signicant female artists such as
Kodama and Riley, we can understand not only the contemporary aesthetics of visual arts, but
also the concurrent yearning of contemporary society for liberty, ultra-humanity, and non-life.
Keywords: black; Bridget Riley; color theory; cyborg; feminism; pink; Sachiko Kodama.
Introduction
Today, the Internet, social media, robots, androids, AI, the Internet of ings,
and their programing have become the core of our lives. ese mechanical and
non-living things have dominated the center of the world. ose who live in techno-
logical nations, including Japan – my home country – depend on non-living existenc-
es, yet at the same time, we are afraid of the age of ‘singularity’, when the mechanical
ability will surpass our own. ose who depend on cutting-edge technologies feel
both fear and power because of the existence of machines.
*Author contact information: ykato22@mail.saitama-u.ac.jp
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Kato, Y., Between Life and Non-Life, AM Journal, No. 19, 2019, 109−115.
is paper focuses on two living artists in this dicult age: British abstract artist
Bridget Riley (b.1931) and Japanese media artist Sachiko Kodama (b.1970). Inuenced
by the French Neo-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat, Riley went into the world of
abstract art. Although she herself dislikes being called an ‘optical artist, by the 1970s Ri-
ley had painted very minute abstract paintings that incorporated certain optical eects.
At that time, her geometrical works skillfully used articial colors like pink. ese works
are never sti but are rather quite vivid and lively. In fact, Riley is a very humane person
who dislikes mechanical interventions and prefers direct communications. Kodama, on
the other hand, is known for her meditative art, which uses the magnetic liquid called
‘ferrouid’. e leitmotiv of her art is minimalistic black. Although Kodama calls herself
a ‘media artist’, her personality is humane as well, and according to her, the source of her
inspiration is located in the nature of her homeland of Shizuoka, Japan.
ese two female artists are ingeniously exploring the border between life and
non-life in such an age when life is threatened by non-life. Here, I focus on their cre-
ativity and charms while simultaneously reading for clues for those of us who have to
survive this dicult age.
Black and pink: the colors on the border of our existence
Kodama uses black in her art. She began using ferrouids, the leitmotiv of her
art, in 2000. Her leitmotiv has not changed from the works Protrude, Flow (2001) to
Éblouissant (2017).
Technically speaking, the black liquid – the feature of Kodamas works – con-
sists of nanoparticles of iron oxide, which are colloidally melted in oils. It is a smooth
and non-stagnated black (that actually includes a little brown as rusted iron) that
gleams in the light. According to Kodama, these works produce meditative eects,
and comments on her work have included “I feel like I am looking at the ocean waves”,
“Your works have certain meditative eects”, and “I can look at these works blankly”.1
Morpho Tower (2006) has become a representative work of her ferrouid art
since the year 2000. e black owing liquid and cylindrical tower are the cores of
her art. For most of her ferrouid art, electromagnets are used to generate a magnetic
force when wrapped by copper wires or iron. e strength of the electrical currents
in copper wires is computationally programmed in advance by Kodama, who tries to
get viewers to go deeper into the works psychologically. e works give us a certain
rhythm of nature, like ocean waves or trees swaying in the wind.
is is the color ‘black’ that is the core of Kodamas hybrid art: the combination
of meditative art and technological media art. Color theorist Asao Komachiya denes
black as the color of non-existence. Komachiya says, “Logically speaking, the color
black does not appear even when it exists under the condition of darkness. Our per-
ception does not work when no stimulus exists. Our eyes see things when a certain
1 Sachiko Kodama, Myakudō suru jiseiryūtai Art, Bessatsu Nikkei Science Art suru Kagaku, Nikkei Science,
2016, 9.
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Kato, Y., Between Life and Non-Life, AM Journal, No. 19, 2019, 109−115.
light is oered. According to this logic, the eyes never work when the light is not giv-
en.2 In other words, the color black appears in the border between working eyes and
non-working eyes, or between existence and non-existence. Komachiya points out
that black does not appear even though it exists and that black is a paradoxical color
of dialectics.3
Komachiya also mentions the “Purkinje phenomenon, in which our eyes per-
ceive black shiing from red in the sunset darkness.4 Kodamas work Éblouissant
in dim light is reminiscent of the darkness of sunset when red things shi to appear
black. In short, black is the color on the border of existence and non-existence. Its
ethereal nature is favored by Japanese traditional architectural space which Junichiro
Tanizaki expresses in his essays.
Kodamas black reminds us of Tanizakis In Praise of Shadows (1933–34). Ta-
nizaki says:
e wonderful feeling that comes from using lacquerware takes place
in the moment between removing the lid and soundlessly bringing the
bowl to your lips. It is a time to gaze at the contents that have settled si-
lently in the deep, dark recesses of the bottom of the bowl and appreciate
how the color of the lacquer matches that of the broth. It is impossible
to distinguish what is there in the darkness, but one feels the slow liquid
movement of the broth in the bowl, sees the slight beads of moisture at
the bowl’s edge, then notices the steam rising as it carries the aroma –
oering a faint hint of the taste before the coup even enters the mouth.
[…] I think when Westerners speak of the ‘mysteries of the Orient’ they
are very likely referring to the uncanny silence of these spaces.5
Such esoteric, meditative time on the border of existence and non-existence is
brought by technological black of Kodamas works. Her technologies are connected
with the traditional ‘mysteries’ of Japan and other Asian countries.
Meanwhile, Riley began using pink more frequently around 1960, when she
shied from gurative paintings to abstract. For example, we see pink in her Pink
Landscape (1960) and the murals on the 10th oor in St. Mary’s Hospital in London
(1987, 2014). e former work, which draws the scorching heat of Siena, is painted in
pointillist style in pink. e work gives us a feeling of warmth as well as a void. e
latter is composed of beautifully colored stripes and, true to Riley’s impersonal style,
contains no sign of compassions or sappy emotions regarding the patients. e mu-
rals emit a strong introspective light in the hospital atmosphere, where life and death
intersect and the individual must carry the full weight of their burden. Considering
2 Asao Komachiya, Iro no Fushigi Sekai (Harashobō, 2011), 293.
3 Ibid., 294.
4 Ibid., 301.
5 Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows (Sora Books, 2017), 38, 47.
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Kato, Y., Between Life and Non-Life, AM Journal, No. 19, 2019, 109−115.
these factors, for Riley, pink is the color that can express subtle feelings of gurative
and abstract art on the border between life and non-life in scorching heat as well as in
the hospital.
In her book, Pink: e Exposed Color in Contemporary Art and Culture (2006),
Barbara Nemitz points out that the color pink does not exist in the solar spectrum.6 In
fact, the Munsell color system puts a non-existential color magenta between red (long
wavelength) and violet (short wavelength). Goethe’s color theory (1810) regards purple
(Purpur) as the supreme color. Pink, just like black, is a color on the border; it is fragile
and unstable. Pink appears in the dawn, sunset, and cherry blossoms, all of which are
transient. To borrow Nemitzs words, “Pink is simply too beautiful to be true.7
Pink is not only an articial and unstable, ctional, and dreamy color but also a
color of esh – that of the actual borders of our body, such as lips and vaginas. In this
sense, pink has a profound existential meaning.8
While Kodama is trying to surpass the eeting human existence with black,
Riley expresses the subtle ambiguity of the border between life and non-life with pink.
e two artists create their works with these two colors on the border of life. Both black
and pink have been favored in Japan traditionally as well as contemporarily, as evident
in the Japanese dim architectures, lacquerwares, cherry blossoms, and pop-cultural
pink and black. Not surprisingly, both Riley and Kodama have many fans in Japan.
On the border between life and non-life:
why are we fascinated with non-life existence?
Why are we humans fascinated with non-life existence? To answer this ques-
tion, I rst oer examples from Japan. In the modern and contemporary culture in
Japan, we have taken a very positive attitude toward ‘machines’, which are representa-
tives of non-life existence. e Japanese have a passion for the border between life and
non-life, such as the manga characters Atom Boy, Draemon, and Gundam; the virtual
character Hatsune Miku; and the recent android development eorts of people such
as the scientist Hiroshi Ishiguro.
To borrow the words of one Japanese scholar of aesthetics, Ken-ichi Sasaki, this
is something similar to the Japanese anity with meguri (natural cycles). At the begin-
ning of the chapter titles “Ten to Hito no Meguri” [Cycles of the Heavens and People] in
his book Nihon-teki Kansei [Japanese Sensibilities, 2010], Sasaki quotes a tenth-century
poem by Tachibana Tadamoto. e poem tells its recipient not to forget that, no matter
how great a distance may separate us, just as the moon returns its cycles (meguri), we too
will meet again.9 As Sasaki points out, the feelings of reassurance and hope aroused by
6 Barbara Nemitz, ed., Pink: e Exposed Color in Contemporary Art and Culture (Ostldern: Hatje Cantz,
2006), 27.
7 Ibid., 41.
8 Ibid., 28.
9 Ken-ichi Sasaki, Nihon-teki Kansei [Japanese Sensibilities, 2010] (Tokyo: Chuko Sinsyo, 2010), 159
113
Kato, Y., Between Life and Non-Life, AM Journal, No. 19, 2019, 109−115.
the cycles of the heavenly bodies and the seasons oen underpin our thought processes.
He writes that “It is worldview based on the hope that even knowing how unreliable the
other person may be, the repetition of good cycles will intervene for the better.10
e feeling of reassurance aroused by meguri, which started from the venera-
tion of nature, reminds us of the extreme love of regularity and formalism in Japanese
culture. Japanese culture in part does not t with Western homocentrism represented
by the Renaissance culture. It might be due to our vulnerability and sensitiveness. Jap-
anese culture, since the modern opening of the country, has expressed veneration for
machinery. Such love of machinery runs counter to homocentrism, and we Japanese,
without noticing it, avoid human vulnerability. e machine, which semi-permanent-
ly cycles, is a target of veneration, as is the moon.
Yet Western culture also cannot go without machines, just like Japanese culture,
as we can see in the recent developments of articial intelligence. e dierence is
that, in Western culture, ‘loneliness’ is a key, which cogito [cogito, ergo sum /I think,
therefore I am/] since Descartes and pragmatic thought derived from American cul-
ture bring about.
It is when people are at the extreme of introspection and isolation that they lose
the ability to distinguish between machine and human being. In his treatise Discourse
on the Method (1637), which lay the foundation for modern Western philosophy, René
Descartes compared himself when thinking to a traveler wandering alone in the for-
est.11 When he dismissed all uncertainties and concentrated solely on his thinking self
[cogito], he felt that animals were like machines.12 is idea of “animals are machines”
led in 1748 to Julien Oray de La Mettries theory of man as a machine, which links to
articial intelligence and the concept of human substitution in the present day.13
en what happened when machines intervened in the actual world? Charles
Babbage (1791–1871), who invented the world’s rst calculator, let it calculate the vast
amount of data in voyage records. In other words, it was the ‘extension’ of human abil-
ity. In 1936, Alan Turing (1912–1954), made the prototype of the modern computer,
the Turing Machine, by cryptanalyzing the ‘enigma’ during the Second World War.
How Turing thought about machines can be read in his famous paper entitled “On
Computing Machinery and Intelligence” (1950),14 in which he invented the Imitation
Game that judges whether the counterpart in the conversation is a human being or a
machine. In this thesis, Turing claimed that the question “Can machines think?” (es-
sentialism) can be replaced by the question “What will happen when a machine takes
the part of A in this game?” (pragmatism).15 is is a breakthrough of paradigmatic
10 Ibid., 167.
11 René Descartes, Discours de la method (Paris, Librairie philosophique J. Vrin, 1967), 24.
12 Ibid., 56–60.
13 Christoph Asendorf, Batteries of Life: On the History of ings and eir Perception in Modernity, trans. Don
Reneau (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press), 1993.
14 Alan M. Turing, “On Computing Machinery and Intelligence,Mind 59 (1950): 433–60, reprinted in Mar-
garet A. Boden, ed., e Philosophy of Articial Intelligence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990): 40–66.
15 Ibid., 40–41.
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Kato, Y., Between Life and Non-Life, AM Journal, No. 19, 2019, 109−115.
shis because one does not ask what machines are, but instead how machines act,
which is a radical shi from essentialism to pragmatism.
e 21st century, the age of singularity, when the machines ability surpasses
the humans, is also the age of the extreme pragmatism. If machines are regarded as
equivalent to human beings, the meaning of act (how one acts) surpasses the meaning
of perception (how one feels). In other words, one does not care how we feel; only
how we act. is is the world of extreme pragmatism, where one can only know how
people act and not what people feel. e psychologist Jessie Bering says, “We all have
our doubts from time to time – I’ve steered, square in the eyes, my share of somnam-
bulistic students who I would swear were cleverly rigged automations.16
Such extreme loneliness can be found in Japan, where people are very deli-
cate and have a strong sense of doubt. As previously mentioned, Japanese culture has
been attracted to machines, robots, and androids. In his novel For Humans to Become
Androids [Hito wa androido ni naru tameni, 2017], Hiroshi Ishiguro writes about a
human girl who opens her mind only to an android counselor. e counselor’s favor-
ite phrase is “Human beings are born to become androids”. e human girl acquires
an eternal android body and chooses to live in space.17 Like this girl, many Japanese
dream of a life in which they change to an eternal existence from vulnerable human
beings. is might be an admiration for the eternal being because the Japanese live in
unstable human and natural conditions.
In developed countries like Japan in the 21st century, a mutual monitoring soci-
ety has developed in extreme pragmatism. at means one only sees how other people
act. In such a society, we cannot tell life from non-life. e arts of Kodama and Riley
are appealing in such a hybrid world, where life and non-life are mingled.
Peripheral women: considering Kodama and Riley through gender
Women have long dreamt of the ultra-human existence. Mary Shelley (1797–
1851), who wrote Frankenstein (1818), dreamt of the border between the human and
the ultra-human. In her novel, the scientist Frankenstein invented an ultra-human
being, and that being committed a number of murders. In addition, Ada Lovelace
(1815–1852) imagined that Babbages calculator could deal with any information oth-
er than numerals.18
To be a woman has historically been connected to being an ultra-human. Don-
na Haraway, in her famous book Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: e Reinvention of
Nature (1991), points out that peripheral women, if they have power, have been de-
ied since ancient times. However, what Haraway dreams for women is existence as
16 Jesse Bering, e Belief Instinct: e Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life (New York: W.W.
Norton, 2011), Chapter 1.
17 Hiroshi Ishiguro and Ichishi Iida, Hito wa androido ni naru tameni [For Humans to Become Androids], (-
kyō: Chikuma Shobo: Chikuma Shobo, 2017), 247f.
18 Sydney Padua, e rilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (London: Penguin Books, 2015), 25.
115
Kato, Y., Between Life and Non-Life, AM Journal, No. 19, 2019, 109−115.
cyborgs, which is the ultra-human position in another sense.19 It is cyborg feminism,
which counts how women act in society rather than how they show mercy to it. is
is the new way of self-assertion in this pragmatic society.
For women, overcoming life is a dream and one of the few choices in which
they can overcome gender issues. By using black and pink, the colors on the border
of our existence, Kodama and Riley have gained certain freedom that overcomes life.
ey never swarm, but rather realize freedom in the history of art.
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Article received: April 17, 2019
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