Returning to the conversations she had with Handa, Horn recalls in particular that “he said: ‘I’m not so much interested in doing another sculpture, I’m fascinated by smell, wind and shadow, this kind of energy, a palm tree turning with water dripping. You have an idea and you’re like a cat around the milk, trying to find the most visionary way to make things concrete.’ I suggested that it would be good for him to explore performance – making things exist and then disappear again. He made a drawing, and I made a drawing. This is often the way to communicate with each other.”
She also remembers recommending Handa live in Berlin because “I had so many connections there through my professorship, and in Berlin he became part of his own generation and scene rather than sitting here in the countryside and watching me make sculpture.”
The apartment where Handa was to live, however, presented something of a challenge at first. “It was on the periphery of Berlin,” Horn explains. “People try to break in because it is on street level, so we needed strong locks. It used to be a music shop called Halbwelt (Half World). It means half hell and half heaven, but it also means red-light district. And when Handa arrived, there was nothing inside – not even a light.”
Once Handa settled in, this strange location became very stimulating. “Many things came back to me in Berlin,” he says. “Memories and sensations that I thought I had lost. I was very fortunate to have Rebecca, and boundaries became blurred when I was sleeping near the street where cars rush by. I brought a big fan back from India, and all the papers were blowing round. I tested things. Before your hand touches an object, I feel the temperature and humidity of it. I was really touched when Rebecca talked about her work and described wrapping an egg gently. She cherishes these sensations, and I got a lot from her.”
Handa shows me some extraordinary new drawings, explaining that one especially apocalyptic image was made after his powerful imagination convinced him that “I saw there was a tornado in my room”. Another drawing conveys his feeling that he “was lost in a jungle, going to the bathroom in the middle of a dark night”. And the complexity of Handa’s emotions grows vividly clear when he produces a drawing calledBlack Mountain Black Smoke. “It becomes an atomic reactor,” he tells me, “and then it becomes a furnace. It becomes summer. It becomes hope.” Handa is fired by positive emotions, as well as more disturbing impulses, nowhere more than in a drawing he callsDitch Delta: “The figure is in a huge room where the floor is painted like a riverscape going in different directions. He feels at ease because it’s closer to the ocean. The water is not clean – there is a smell. But I grew up by the sea, and I like to ‘surf the world’ in my work.”
Nowhere did Handa surf more successfully than in his Berlin apartment, where he made a dramatic installation towards the end of his mentoring year. “We talked about him doing something in the apartment, moving through the space,” recalls Horn. “He came up with transforming this very strange apartment in a totally crazy way. He pushed his bed through the window, so part of his body was in the room and part outside in the greenery, like floating in the air. And he ordered an upside-down palm tree, moving and rotating with water on top. It was a smelling sculpture. He invited the whole street in, so they decorated the palm tree like a Christmas tree – it was very Masanori!”
Handa smiles and explains with satisfaction that “when Rebecca proposed I do this show in my apartment, I truly appreciated it. She was helping me to do it my way. It made me feel so happy, because I realized it might be a gallery space. I really felt moved by her suggestion, and I felt it was the right thing to do.”
Extracted from an article written by Richard Cork forMentor & Protégé, a magazine documenting the 2008/2009 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.
Richard Cork is an award-winning art critic, historian, broadcaster and curator, whose books includeVorticism (1976), Art Beyond The Gallery (1985), David Bomberg (1987), A Bitter Truth: Avant-Garde ArtandThe Great War (1994),Jacob Epstein (1999) andEverything Seemed Possible, a four-volume selection of his writings on modern art (2003).