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Nawa, PixCell-Deer#24

Met curator John Carpenter on perception in Kohei Nawa’s PixCell-Deer#24, 2011.

This taxidermied deer has been completely transformed through the artist’s use of variably sized “PixCell” beads, a term he invented. PixCell is a portmanteau word combining the idea of a “cell” with that of a “pixel,” the smallest unit of a digital image. Whether intentionally or unintentionally on the artist’s part, PixCell-Deer#24 resonates with a type of religious painting known as a Kasuga Deer Mandala, which features a deer—the messenger animal of Shinto deities—posed similarly with its head turned to the side, and with a round sacred mirror on its back. For Japanese artists the deer was depicted often as a companion of ancient sages and had auspicious or poetic associations.

View this work on metmuseum.org.

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Created by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Video transcript

When I first saw this work, it was startling. In traditional Japanese art, deer have symbolism as messengers of the gods. Deer are connected with autumn poetry, and the cry of the deer is associated with longing for one’s lover. All of that traditional imagery is there, but the artist created something that changed the way that we looked at reality. He was trying to combine the idea of a biological entity, something with cells, with the idea of an optical device--pixel, of course, being the smallest unit of digital imagery. The core of this sculpture is a taxidermied deer. To the surface of the deer the artist has attached artificial crystal glass beads of varying sizes. The works reflects light but at the same time it seems to be a work from which light emanates. I feel that it’s not just a taxidermied deer, but a deer that has in some way been magically transformed. These beads act as lenses. What you see around it is intensified, is amplified, by the effect of the lens. The artist, Nawa, is subverting the sculptural experience. Instead of just focusing on the surfaces, you look into this biological entity. Your perception of reality, your normal expectations of how you view things, is completely confounded. It triggers you to leave a workaday view of reality behind and think of everything that you’re going to see after this in a new way.