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Exberliner Norihiko Dan: Chikei in Berlin

Alice Bardos

Modern architecture has always been known as a fast-paced medium of expression – something evident every day on the streets of Berlin. In the Architektur Galerie on Karl-Marx-Allee, Japanese architect Norihiko Dan carries the torch of change with the exhibition Chikei.

Chikei is a Japanese word that cannot be directly translated into English or German – it roughly means landforms, an interface between humans, as well as the source of creation and support for life. Chikei indeed starts at your feet, with a white, geometrical maze of a staircase that looks like it fell straight out of an M.C. Escher drawing. Following lights up the walls, viewers’ eyes are guided to four ethereal paper works that contrast the rigidity of the platform at the top of the stairs.

Dan utilises Japan’s traditional, playfully designed paper, but rather than folding it into origami shapes, he has crumpled them by hand and applied glue or water. The resulting sensual forms evoke mathematical, organic and even emotional connotations. The paper’s handmade contortions clash with the orignal geometric paper canvas shape, yielding biological, fluid structures. You are left wondering: do they embody air, water, land, life?
Perching on stands in peripheral alcoves are two architectural models which practically incorporate these natural and constructed aesthetic elements. Here you can visualize Chikei in man-made cityscapes and ponder, perhaps even subconsciously, Chikei’s role in the landscape of Berlin.
Architektur Galerie’s owner and director Ulrich Müller explains, „Chikei cannot be explained even when approached through Western deductive questioning methods.“ It is elusive, conceptually ever-growing, and perhaps for now, beyond full comprehension. This is in line with the concept of Architektur Galerie, which always displays installations devoid of heavy discursive contextualisation that might actually restrict people’s interpretive powers. In this space, Japan’s Chikei is free to build connections to Berlin and its viewers.

Chikei works from the bottom up, from the tangible stairs to the thought-provoking untouchable paper works, stopping at the limits of each different viewer’s imagination. Amid its under-lit textures and cavernous spaces, one thing is certain – Chikei takes viewers back to an almost primal conscious state to reflect about ideas of connectivity and origins. That is, if they accept Dan’s invitation.