MINIMALISM: Mono-ha “Object School” Group

MINIMALISM – Mono-Ha “Object School”

Throughout the tour of the carefully curated Minimalism exhibition, works that caught my eye were works by Lee Ufan and Nobuo Sekine, with both artists having  led the Mono-Ha movement in East Asia.

Mono-Ha “Object school” was an Eastern school of thought, which represented a group of 20th century Japanese artists. The core of the movement was the focus and appreciation of the nature of the materials, letting the object speak for itself which ties in the idea of “not-making”. As of minimalism, they rejected western notions of representation, focusing on the relationships of materials and perceptions rather than on expression or intervention.

The beginnings of Mono-Ha can be found in an article by Lee Ufan (1970-1971): “Sonzai to mu wo koete Sekine Nobuo ron (Beyond Being and Nothingness) – A Thesis on Sekine Nobuo.”
Link to article:

Lee Ufan 

An avant-garde painter and sculptor based in Japan, his art ideology revolves around an Eastern appreciation of the material as a rejection  to the Eurocentric thought of 1960s post-war Japan. His works juxtaposes the raw and natural against the industrial materials, choreographed in mostly unaltered, ephemeral states.

Relatum (1977), Lee Ufan, Steel and stones, three plates, 0.7 x 140 x 220 cm, three stones, approximately 40-50cm high.  Nationalgalerie, Berlin. Image from:
New Work (2008), Lee Ufan, Lisson Gallery, London, United Kingdom. Image from:

(I did not document the actual work used in the Minimalism exhibition, so I chose similar works from Lee Ufan’s series of “arrangements”. The work by Lee Ufan in the Minimalism exhibition was a choreography of large rocks and metal sheets alternating each other in a circle.)

In the Relatum series, his sculptural works are composed of untouched stone and industrial metal pieces. He refers to his sculptures as  kōzō,“living structures”, which deviates from traditional expression and towards the detached act of arranging or mediating. The detachment is in line with the Mono-ha’s engagement in “not making” and to focus on “the world as it is”.

The notion of encounter between the natural and industrial in his works can be adapted into our interactive work, where we explore the relation between industrial reflective and refractive materials and light, a natural element. We are exploring the behaviours of light with man-made objects in space through interactive arrangements. The role of the sculptor is now passed onto the viewer, where the “encounters” of light and object are determined by their actions.

Reference work for our Interactive II project: Behaviours of Light by JNZNBRK, Winnipeg, Canada. Image from:


Nobuo Sekine

Phase—Mother Earth (1968) Earth, cement Cylinder: 220 x 270 (diameter) cm, Hole: 220 x 270 (diameter) cm Installation view, 1st Kobe Suma Rikyū Park Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition, October 1 – Novermber 10, 1968. Photo: Osamu Murai. Image from:

While the actual work was not in the Minimalism exhibition, Phase – Mother Earth by Nobuo Sekine was featured in photograph documentation as one of the key works in the Mono-Ha movement. This work involves the excavation of a cylindrical volume of earth from the ground, and placing it next to the space produced. The work was considered a “thought experiment” where Nobuo Sekine challenged the laws and different phases of space. He brings to light the reality of the negative space – Can emptiness be considered as matter and thus, material?

The idea of defining an object using its negative is really interesting and in the eyes of minimalism, strips and defines the essence of the “thing” to its absence. Can objects be defined by the intangible, such as their absences (negative space) and shadows (as opposed to light)? In our narrative project, we would like to discover more about the implication of objects and scenario through their overlooked forms – their shadows. How real can the narrative be when it is replaced by its suggested existence? We would like to explore alternative and abstracted forms in a “sculpted space” where malleable reality is hinted through the manipulations of shadow, sound and space.



Mono-Ha goes beyond the idea of “not making” but taps on the relations between the nature of materials, be it tangible or intangible. The concepts are highly relevant to both our interactive and narrative projects in our theoretical concerns and execution. Our overarching exploration of the experiencing of the intangible in both our projects can draw inspiration from the Mono-Ha movements and Minimalism and we hope to be successful in highlighting the profound ideas based in these schools of thought in our works.

Interactive Spaces – Using the Intangible as material


Interactive art that inspires me combines new media technology with the physical to redefine the human artistic experience. New digital possibilities allow for inventive forms of interaction to experience art. The following examples of interactive art works manipulate and use the intangible (light, sound and new technologies) within a designed space that balance between physical beauty and revolutionary transcendence.

Wave UFO (1999-2002) by Mariko Mori

Wave UFO, 1999-2002 Brainwave interface, vision dome, projector, computer system, fibreglass 207 x 446 x 194 inches (528 x 113.4 x 493 cm)
Wave UFO, 1999-2002 at ARoS Museum, Aarhus, Denmark Brainwave interface, vision dome, projector, computer system, fibreglass 207 x 446 x 194 inches (528 x 113.4 x 493 cm)

Wave UFO (1999 -2002) is a large scale interactive installation by Japanese  digital artist Mariko Mori, whose futuristic works challenge reality. A streamlined ovoid-like structure is constructed with fibreglass to contain an interactive capsule within. To enter the space, the participant must ascend stairs of circular discs and through a bubble-like automated door. In the inner cavity of the structure, there are three chairs made of Technogel, which mould to fit the form of the participants who lie on them. A vision dome is stretched across the interior surface of the capsule where projections are captured.

Wave UFO (interior), 1999-2002 Brainwave interface, vision dome, projector, computer system, fibreglass 207 x 446 x 194 inches (528 x 113.4 x 493 cm)

Combining art with technology, this work involves fitting the participants, three at a time, with electrodes that measure brainwaves. The interaction combines neuroscience, computer graphics and sound to project the live “thoughts” of the viewers in the form of moving abstract cell-like orbs onto the vision dome where they are in view of. The use of architecture and engineering in the construction of space and the series of animations produced using the biofeedback create a transcendent and surreal experience of Mori’s futuristic visions.


SPECTRA (2004) by Ryoji Ikeda

Another interactive work that manipulates the intangible, sound and light, within a constructed space is Spectra (Terminal 5, JFK) by Ryoji Ikeda. The commissioned installation at JFK International Airport created was a luminal tunnel with a plunging vanishing point where the viewer is subjected to intense brightness of an utopian but unnatural state.

Spectra (2004), Meyer SB-1, CD player, HMI lamp 100m long, “Terminal 5”, JFK airport Terminal 5, NY, US (curated by Rachel K. Ward) Image from:

Within the space, sounds of ultra-frequencies are played which are inaudible to the human ear. As the viewers walk down the aisle, the movement causes subtle oscillation patterns around their ears. The dynamic experience of sound caused by the physical interaction with the space creates an ephemeral experience in travel.


CARNATE (in-pinking) by Rachael Archibald

“Exhibited” in virtual gallery Paper-Thin created by Daniel Smith and Cameron Buckley, Carnate is a virtual reality installation which explores light, space and material in another dimension. Paper-Thin is a virtual art platform that is designed to look like a real exhibition space, providing a grounding and familiar framework for artists to explore within without the constraints of the physical one.

Carnage (2015) Image courtesy of Paper-Thin
Carnage (2015) Image courtesy of Paper-Thin
Carnage (2015) Image courtesy of Paper-Thin

Carnage explores space with anti-gravitational boulder-like structures  and glowing walls and light. The virtual model and work expand the possibilities of space and installation but redefines the interaction with in works. The viewer navigates the modern art space using arrow keys on a screen that can be access anywhere and at anytime due an open database. It is an alternative to experiencing art but it questions the experience of a space on a two-dimensional surface.



Your thoughts come to life in Mariko Mori’s UFO