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Thresholds [between Worlds]

Linda Cassens Stoian, M.A., Critical Spatial Artist and Theoretician
Basel, May 2010

In the unusually harsh winter of 2009/10 during an artist residency in Basel, Switzerland, Jun Azumatei's began his latest series of paintings 'Cherry Blossoms'. The winter's seemingly never-ending stretch of sub-zero temperatures often made it difficult for Azumatei to wander outdoors taking photographs, his usual routine. Therefore he decided to tackle a task which he had been avoiding: sorting the images stored on his computer. Glancing through the random folders, he was suddenly captivated by some images of cherry blossoms he had taken the previous year in Japan.

Adopting the subject as his next motif, Azumatei decided to continue photographing cherry blossoms in Switzerland and use these new images as well as some of those he had taken in Japan as the basis of a new painting series. When Azumatei was able to go outdoors again he was surprised - and inconvenienced - to discover that cherry blossoms are not only a different color in Switzerland, but also much smaller. This dilemma, however, led to an innovation in his artistic method. Previously Azumatei himself had taken all the photographic images applied as the basis of his paintings. 1 Now he decided to ask a friend in Japan to take images for him and send them via email. In this way Azumatei has extended his desire to work with images that are charged with personal meaning and at the same time belong to everyone, as with his images of the sky. Now from the beginning these images are not the result of a personal 'I' or 'my' but rather the common 'we' or 'our'.

Indeed such poignantly familiar content has to be treated carefully in order to be able to trigger personal memory without being simply kitsch. Azumatei's approach and technique succeeds through his sensitivity for delicately balancing the figurative and the abstract. His installation of paintings floating on top of slender poles underscores the gap between these two worlds. As viewers we find ourselves on the brink of a number of other thresholds: the longing in winter for spring; looking down on the balanced plates in order to see up into the trees; remembering the fruit tree blossoms of our own cultures in relating to the immediate presence of another culture; and also lingering in the paradox of a painting method - with its historical longevity and grueling handwork - based in the instantaneous perishability and mechanical ease of contemporary digital images.

1 His painting method entails fixating a photograph to a piece of wood and then applying layers of paint on top of the photo. Without any traces of brushstrokes, the technique is applied in such a way that areas of the photo’s original content and colors are intensified and made more concrete, while other areas are painted over and thereby altered, either being made more abstract or changed altogether. As well, sanding the layers down in between painting achieves a polished result which is enhanced through varnishing in the end. Azumatei’s has developed this procedure over a number of years and most recently used it with a sky and cityscape motif.