In Passage, the Samurai sword, the rock garden, and the screen; or the rocks set in the pool of Waves are obviously references to what viewers will immediately respond to as Japanese. D.T. Suzuki describes the Zen aesthetic as based on 'wabi' and 'sabi' (Zen and Japanese Culture). Wabi is literally poverty; it refers to the utter simplicity of the Zen artwork. Wabi is probably most familiar to Western eyes as the brushwork of Zen paintings in which a simple stroke becomes a bamboo section or a bird in flight. What you see is what you get, but its very poverty or simplicity is its wealth or value. Sabi means solitude, or loneliness; it refers to 'rustic unpretentiousness'. Sabi would be most familiar in the simple handmade teacups of the Buddhist tea ceremony. Kubota takes this aesthetic one step further, not only alluding to the simplicity and unpretentiousness of the piece's construction but also revealing the technological simplicity and unpretentiousness of the piece. In Passage, the laser, the video camera and monitor, and the wires connecting them, are all visible. The technology itself is — adjusting to our acceptance of the technological revolution of the past few decades — also simple and unpretentious.
Pointless Circularity: The Art of Nobuo Kubota. from the catalogue for Nobuo Kubota: The Exploration of Possibility by Terrance Heath
By randomly gluing pre-cut wooden letters into a rectilinear box-form, Nobuo Kubota constructed a sculptural work that he calls a "phonic loaf." He then sawed the loaf-like object into slices, thus exposing the materiality and plasticity of alphabetic signs, as they existed in a chance operation with three-dimensional space. While the slicing of the phonic loaf revealed the physical and sculptural qualities of the letters, it also created a sequence of sculptural slices that are visual poems and potential optophonetic sound-scores in their own right. The exposed letters as forms, remnants, and particles, complete in themselves, assumed iconographic value — not conveying semantic import, but physically manifesting poetic language and performative sonics.
Three Intermedia Paradigms From Nobuo Kubota
By W. Mark Sutherland
Phonic Slice Rubbings
Next, Kubota made charcoal and graphite rubbings of the individual slices, offering an infinite number of variations on a theme, and an entirely different kind of aesthetic experience. Here the complete and partial alphabetical letters are pushed towards total abstraction. These rubbings (wall-mounted or contained in the bookwork) can be viewed conventionally as graphic copies from an original form or as visual poems and potential optophonetic sound-scores, ready for interpretation in a public performance.
W. Mark Sutherland
Similar to Phonic Slices, Deep Text is the bookwork version of an installation. Each of its 13 pages presents a grid of 64 cells, each of which contains the first letter of a word. On the second page, the same cell contains the second letter of each word, and so on, with blanks in the grid when words end. The process of reading becomes a physical, sculptural, performative gesture, compelling the reader to experience each page of the book as a clue on the trail of the hidden meanings.
The piece that is clearly a loop system is Phonic Traces, where I isolated the letters from words by strategically cutting the letters into two pieces, creating two new forms that are independent from the original form. By taking each letter and splitting it into two parts, I destroyed the source of the alphabetits sound and history. Having destroyed the original form, I gave the two pieces a new sound that contained remnants of the original. Visually, the shapes of the half pieces of letters become sculptural. When I constructed the new form with a sculptural attitude, the traces became a phonic/sonic sound language.
from Nobuo Kubota in Conversation with W. Mark Sutherland
If Phonic Slices is indicative of an “aleatoric” approach to art making and Deep Text is an exemplification of a “structural” approach to art making, Phonic Traces must be considered an act of hybridity predicated on the confliction of these differing methodologies.
W. Mark Sutherland
Nobuo's calligraphic work is closely related to both his sound and wood-based phonic work. The spirit of written and spoken language is abstracted and reconstructed in gestural lines that are reminiscent of the script of many languages. The script often acts as a way for Nobuo to notate his own verbal explorations and many of his sonic performances are 'readings' of these calligraphic pieces.
Early Calligraphic Work 1990
Nobuo Kubota's early calligraphic work related to this theme explores the cursive or calligraphic form derived from a number of sources: Arabic, Roman, Japanese and other cursive script types are expressed in a textual format that is no known language, but more a kind of notation and sonic expression represented as text. The Japanese arts of Shodo and Sumie are also referenced in the script and figurative self-portraits created during this time. They have a marked Japanese sensibility.
Sonic Scores 2002 - 2005
In this continuing exploration of calligraphy Nobuo adds overlaying, collage, and the photographic image to further explore the visual and auditory aspects of the script. In some of the figurative works, the gestural strokes dynamically express the soundscapes that the figure is making. In another, the script is over-layered as the sounds would be in one of Nobuo's sonic sound works. The closeup of his gestural script displays the detail of his sonic notation and one can almost imagine some of the sounds associated with them.
Calligraphy for Voices and Instruments
Kubota began to develop a personal style of calligraphy more suited to new vocal sounds, electronic vocal manipulation, and noise related sounds which belonged more to the term sonics around 2002. In early 2013, as he was examining some of these calligraphic scores drawn around the year 2004, his attention focused on three scores titled Sonic Scores for Double Bass, Cello, and Violin. These scores were drawn with a fine Chinese calligraphy brush on a 10 x 13 size paper, almost in miniature. He examined these scores under magnification and discovered a world of details and attitudes that were not obvious with the naked eye. As sonic scores, these details were important as suggestions for improvisation. Kubota also discovered another set of drawings that had been exposed to toner manipulation.
YYZ Exhibition Description
The Bending Machine 1992
This installation work displays Nobuo's architectural roots. This work also includes his artistic process as well as its product. In the Bending Machine, calligraphic script is expressed in ribbons of steel that have been curved by Nobuo's simple, elegant and very effective bending machine.
The results are ribbon-like script pieces that hang on the wall as though suspended in the air. The shadow play from these forms accent and add to the feeling that the script is dancing in light and shadows.
The bending machine itself draws vague memories of DaVinci's machines yet the simple elegance of the design and structure also harkens to Wrights Guggenheim.