Robert Palumbo and Tamiko Kawata

Disquiet
October 29, 2022   -   January 8, 2023

“Disquiet” connects Robert Palumbo’s photographic works on traditional Japanese papers with
the safety-pin sculptures of artist Tamiko Kawata, who was born in Kobe in 1936 and grew up in
Tokyo.

Palumbo’s photographic prints include a series of images rescued from dry-plate glass negatives
originally made in Japan in the 1930’s. Many of the original, fragile emulsions have now
completely vanished through deterioration, with only these versions surviving. The 1930’s were
a decade of disquiet in Japan, characterized by the rise of right-wing patriotism, the weakening
of democracy, domestic terrorism, and the pull of war.

During the pandemic and the American election of 2020 and its aftermath, Palumbo
experimented with ways to express his personal disquiet through photographic works.
Inspired by the Japanese glass negatives, and by his new friendship with Tamiko Kawata, he
began using traditional Japanese materials with his own photographs, including handmade
Japanese kozo, unryu, and bizan papers, and kakishibu and indigo glazing. These works include
meditations on the human form, natural studies, abstractions of a gun range, and of the
carbon-damaged glaciers of Alaska.

Tamiko Kawata emigrated to New York from Tokyo in 1962 after studying sculpture and design.
She faced many challenges as she struggled to assimilate, including being unable to find
American clothing that fit her slight frame. She discovered American safety pins, not commonly
used in Japan at that time, and used them at first just to tailor her clothes. She eventually used
the pins to create intricate organic forms which became a bridge between her old life in Japan
and her new life in New York.

“Rampo’s Love” (brass safety pins, 1996) was inspired by a tragic story by the Japanese mystery
writer Edogawa Rampo, in which a man’s form is reduced to just his torso after a fire. Still
deeply in love with his wife, he lives out his life accompanying her wherever she goes. She has
not shown this work before, waiting for the shiny brass pins to tarnish.

“Haystack” (steel safety pins, 2022) was inspired by the beautiful forms of haystacks in the
farmers’ fields of upstate New York, triggering visual impressions that reached deeply into her.
These raw steel pins were made exclusively for Kawata before being coated or treated by the
manufacturer.