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Kensuke Todo Commission Update

ANU has commissioned renowned artist Kensuke Todo to produce a sculpture for the Hancock Library Courtyard. Kensuke Todo (1975-) is a contemporary sculptor with a longstanding connection to the ANU. He first attended the ANU School of Art in 1999 on exchange from Kyoto Seika University, later undertaking a Masters of Visual Arts (Sculpture) and a Graduate Residency in 2004. In 2014, he was the subject of a major survey exhibition at the Drill Hall Gallery for which he was named Canberra Artist of the Year by the Canberra Critics’ Circle. In 2019, his sculpture A height (2006) was donated to the ANU Art Collection by Randi and Robert Linnegar.

Todo’s new sculpture will replace an irreplaceable sculpture that was damaged during the hail storm in 2020. Recently a life sized maquette of the sculpture was installed to test how the sculpture would be positioned on site. This placement went exceptionally well and as such the building phase of the project will begin, with construction commencing in the coming weeks. It is expected to be completed in October 2024.

Kensuke Todo’s sculpture will be positioned within the pond in the Hancock Library Courtyard.  From a platform within the pond, two sets of staircases made in brass will form a diamond configuration, rising outwards in opposite directions before re-joining at the peak of the sculpture. For the artist, the staircases’ staggered gradient symbolises the teleological concept of progress imagined as a continual interchange between nature and technology. The intertwined shape of the staircase, mirrored in the surface of the pond, recalls the double-helix structure of DNA. Balanced on each of the landings are boulders of different sizes cast in bronze. Each boulder represents a different stage of life. From the central, uppermost platform, water will trickle down the staircases, around each rock and into the pond. According to Todo, the water element symbolises the curiosity of the mind and the constant flow of knowledge as we progress through life. This recalls the University’s motto, naturum primum cognoscere rerum – “first to know the nature of things”. The structure of the sculpture, balancing natural and man-made elements, suggests an equilibrium that must be maintained between humankind and the natural environment. The bronze and brass elements of the sculpture are intended to patinate with age, providing eloquent testimony to the passage of time and the attendant notions of progress and change.

The sculpture is scaled to the site: approximately 230 cm (height) x 380 cm (width) x 63 cm (depth). Based on preliminary calculations, the staircase will weigh between 300-400 kg, not including each of the three rocks, which may individually weigh up to 70 kg.

The formal elements of the sculpture reference Kensuke’s practice as well as specific aspects of the site. The son of an architecture professor, Kensuke had initially planned to study architecture, which remains an ongoing source of inspiration. Underlying his approach is the Japanese architectural concept of ma, the interval between two or more spatial or temporal events. As Gunter Nitschke explains, this interval is not empirically physical but is a “consciousness of place” which “coupled with subjective experience” elicits an atmosphere of energy that constitutes the binding core of experience. The recurring motif of stairs in Kensuke’s work can be understood as a means of addressing the liminal “between-ness” of ma.”

Recently, members of the Friends of the Drill Hall Gallery visited Kensuke Todo’s Studio at Strathnairn Art Gallery to view and discuss the maquette of the sculpture.

The Drill Hall Gallery acknowledges the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional custodians of the Canberra region, and recognises their continuous connection to culture, community and Country.