In Focus

Hitoshi Nomura, Dryice

Japanese conceptual artist Hitoshi Nomura has explored many ways of thinking about time throughout his career as an artist. In the late 1960s, he created three-dimensional sculptural works in nature, and then photographed them in intervals, documenting their decomposition over time. Nomura selected materials with specific properties that would allow the camera to record their change in a relatively short period of time. He used dry ice and iodine for instance, because both substances sublimate, which means that the substances change directly from the solid state to the gaseous state, skipping the liquid state altogether. These materials also produce changes that are easily visible.

In Dryice, Nomura weighed and placed blocks of dry ice on rubber, cardboard, or canvas mats. Typically, the blocks were stacked in a grouping of six, mimicking a type of minimalist sculpture very dominant in the United States at the time. As he weighed and placed the blocks, Nomura recorded the weight, time, and date on the mat in white block letters. After the blocks were photographed in that position, he moved them to a clean spot on the mat and began the process of weighing and documenting them again. Thus, Nomura took many photographs of the dry ice as it succumbed to the elements, melting and evaporating over time.

During the second Exhibition of Contemporary Plastic Art in Kyoto, Japan, in 1969, Nomura created five iterations of the evaporation of the dry ice. Soon after, he exhibited photographs of Dryice, at the Tokyo Biennale, and they were recognized as works of art. This was a major breakthrough in the United States and Japan, recognizing that photographs could stand alone as works of art, not simply as documentation. Just as important though, this complicated body of work existed as the record of a performance, an act on the part of the artist that conceptually was as significant as the work he created.

Nomura's work resonates especially well with his American peers associated with Minimalism, and with his Italian counterparts of the Arte Povera movement, who likewise used common, often impermanent materials to make their work. Nomura states that he "knew about [minimalism] in 1966 and 1967, when Judd's works were introduced to Japan, but [he] didn't really have it in mind" when he created Dryice.

Adapted from

Jeffrey Grove, DMA unpublished material, 2011.