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Fertile invention


Synergy: Art, Architecture and Landscape - Works by Kisaburo Kawakami At Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, 13-14 Cornwall Terrace, NW1, until 15 March 2002

The wonder is what can be done with paper, how curves can result from straight lines, how small boxes suggest large ideas. Its magical use in Japan, for screens, lanterns, origami, must lie in Kisaburo Kawakami's bones and informs this exhibition. Paper or card, filleted into strips by a thousand immaculate cuts, folded or curved, explores at miniature scale ideas of space that are now the language of the world.

In the distant 1970s, Camden council had a department of architecture. On the edge of a Covent Garden being rapidly transformed and close to the Architectural Association, it was a cosmopolitan place. There worked colleagues from America, Argentina, Hungary, Iraq, Norway - and Japan. Kisaburo was a leading light, responsible for one element of the ambitious Alexandra Road housing scheme.

In the calm of the evening, though, he created castles in the air, ethereal constructions of paper - perhaps sculptures, or models of an abstracted architecture in which, Escher-like, impossible connections are the rule and there is no gravity. He also visited remote parts of these islands and brought back exquisite and unexpected photographs. Landscape entered his work through its 'basic natural laws, expressed in the language of the small repeated element arranged in endless permutations' as David Gray, of Lyons Israel Ellis & Gray, has written.

Later he moved to the AA and taught with Gray. Here Alvin Boyarsky, Kisaburo's friend and soul-mate, promoted two dazzling exhibitions of his sculptural work and its publication in a magnificent loose-leaf folder - the Plus Minus Box. He left soon after Boyarsky's sudden death but continues to lead his private creative life in London, realising large-scale sculptures in Japan to public commission, and working with major corporations on architectural projects - a productive alliance of meditation with business that, to Western eyes, would only be possible in his native country.

Examples of Kisaburo's smallest work in paper and of his larger pieces in board, card, or perspex, together with photographs of his installed major sculptural pieces, can now be seen at the Daiwa Foundation. In the enlargement of scale and fixing of his sculptures in permanent materials, there is a threat that their poignant fragility and astonishing delicacy will be lost, and much of the magic with them. Only sight of the original would tell. But what is indisputable is the constant invention and endless exploration of new permutations of form which certainly enrich the world.

James Dunnett is an architect in London

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